Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Impressions: Texas 2016

1. The first impression of the Firestone 600? Finally! Finally this race is over and what a race it was. Graham Rahal stole it. James Hinchcliffe led over three quarters of the race and Graham Rahal led the final lap by just 0.0080 seconds. The fifth closest finish in IndyCar history and closest at Texas Motor Speedway. Rahal fought his way to the front but for the most of this race he was stuck around fourth and fifth battling with Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. The final few cautions may have got him make in contention and he made it count. He made an over-under move on Hinchcliffe into turn three and he just beat Hinchcliffe to the line. It was unpredictable, incredible, surreal, intense and worrying all at the same time. We all weren't sure what this race would have in store. I doubt anyone expected it to come down to three cars being covered by less than a tenth of a second.

2. James Hinchcliffe finished second in a race he dominated. If only Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon could have negotiated turn one better. Maybe Hinchcliffe would have won this by a run away. Maybe Carpenter would have caught him and beat. Either way, Hinchcliffe had a great night. I am not sure anyone expected him to pick up in the lead and manhandle this race. The pain of finishing second by eight-tenths of a second. How long will it take for that to set in? 

3. Tony Kanaan really wasn't a factor in this one, just like Rahal. He hung around the top five but couldn't challenge on the long runs. However, he took tires late and went toe-to-toe-to-toe and finished third. He could have won it. A few years ago at Iowa, Kanaan dominated and then Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden railroaded him at the end dropping him to third. Now he finished third but nearly did the railroading. 

4. Simon Pagenaud finished fourth in a race where he made his car better on each stop. Will Power did it last week and he ended up in victory lane. Pagenaud did it and got a top five that didn't appear possible. He has increased his championship lead to 28 points over Will Power. It isn't a comfortable margin but we saw last year how every point matters. This was a championship-caliber day from Pagenaud.

5. Hélio Castroneves was involved in two accidents, changed both front and rear wings and finished fifth. Some how he escaped this one. He had a good car but not a great car. He couldn't keep up with Hinchcliffe all night but it nearly played into Castroneves' court.

6. Charlie Kimball did nothing and finished sixth but that is who Kimball is. Maybe by 2018 he will be a championship contender because each year he gets a little bit better.

7. Carlos Muñoz did nothing and finished seventh. Remember, he started on pole position for this race. He really wasn't a factor but yet he was the top finishing Andretti Autosport entry again.

8. Will Power lost some ground in the championship with his eight-place finish but he has done really well at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. He isn't out of this. 

9. Juan Pablo Montoya was the worst Penske entry and he finished ninth. It has been that kind of season for Montoya. 

10. Sébastien Bourdais stole a top five at Pocono on Monday. He stole a top ten at Texas on Saturday. He has never raced at Watkins Glen before in an IndyCar. Don't rule him out next week.

11. Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 11th, 12th and 13th. Hunter-Reay looked good at the start but his tires didn't last beyond 20 laps in a stint. Just when it appeared he was turning it around at Pocono, he suffers another set back. Hunter-Reay seemed to be happy after testing at Watkins Glen. Perhaps he can pull off another surprise like he did there in 2008. 

12. Gabby Chaves did nothing and finished 14th. Max Chilton got in an accident but finished in 15th. Mikhail Aleshin appeared to be a late challenge and then got in an accident and Jack Hawksworth had nowhere to go.

13. Ed Carpenter might be his own worst enemy. Five starts and an average finish of 21.8 and this 18th matched his best finish of the season. Heck, he only finished one race this season and that was Iowa, 16 laps down. Mechanical issues did ruin his races at Indianapolis, Iowa and Pocono but running just the ovals looked good the first few years. The last two years may prove it to be a mistake. It maybe time for Carpenter to relegate himself to Indianapolis 500 only.

14. Scott Dixon has had a bad year by Scott Dixon terms. He probably gets a top ten if he and Carpenter don't get together. He could finish outside the top five in the championship for the first time since 2005. He hasn't lost anything. He just hasn't had a break between mechanical failures and contact. Expect him to rebound in 2017.

15. Takuma Sato had an accident in the only ten-minute practice session. It wasn't his fault. The suspension failed but this isn't a good look for him considering he didn't complete a lap at Pocono, the race his sponsor ABC Supply sponsors and now his practice accident came in AJ Foyt Racing's home race. If he wasn't at Watkins Glen I would not be surprised.

16. Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden didn't restart. Daly did a good job as a pit reporter/driver analyst. 

17. The racing reminded me of Fontana from last year. In the first 15 laps of a stint, the cars were packed together but after that they spread out and considerably so. There was the long green flag run at the start but then after Dixon's accident, the race never got another long green flag run and the cars stayed packed together. That isn't pack racing. Some fixate on the blips when the seismograph is actually pretty stable. 

18. We are now off to Watkins Glen. That is fantastic. IndyCar nearly went to Boston. What were they thinking? Two races to go.