Saturday, April 29, 2017

First Impressions: Phoenix 2017

1. Let's start with the aero package. It is disappointing that after last year's Phoenix race IndyCar didn't say, "let's make sure that doesn't happen again." I am sure enough drivers and fans are going to express dissatisfaction and changes are going to come and hopefully before the next two short oval races later this year at Iowa and Gateway. That isn't good enough for the series and everyone within the series knows it. I have faith that changes will be made in the right direction and they will be done quickly.

2. I don't want to say Simon Pagenaud didn't deserve this victory but it felt like whoever ended up in front was going to win because you needed to have a death wish if you wanted to attempt a pass tonight. However, with passing being excruciatingly difficult Pagenaud and his team found a way to the lead and won the race, his first oval victory and tenth in his career, and that is all that matters at the end of the day. For the second consecutive year, Pagenaud leaves Phoenix as championship leader. He didn't concede it once he got it last year.

3. Will Power finished second and he finally had a fine day. He wants more horsepower and less downforce on short ovals and he has been preaching that for over a year. Let's listen to the man.

4. J.R. Hildebrand made the most passes on the night and he finished third and gave Power a run for his money for second. This is a great way to come back after missing a race due to a broken hand. Hopefully that momentum carries over to the remaining races.

5. Surprise! Hélio Castroneves finished fourth after starting on pole position and leading, I don't know, the first 77 laps? This is what he does. He finishes fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh every race but can't keep up with the leaders.

6. Scott Dixon finished fifth and did nothing. There aren't many races where you can say Scott Dixon did nothing.

7. Tony Kanaan finished sixth and did nothing.

8. Ed Carpenter went from 21st to seventh and may have made one pass all night.

9. Charlie Kimball finished eighth and did nothing. He didn't even hit anybody.

10. Josef Newgarden was contending for a podium but he had to make two wing changes and contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay forced him to stop from third. He went from being on Pagenaud's rear in the championship to being much further back after a ninth-place finish.

11. Carlos Muñoz finished tenth and didn't do a damn thing. Congratulations to A.J. Foyt Racing on finally getting a top ten finish.

12. Ed Jones finished 12th in his first IndyCar oval race and completed 247 of 250 laps. Not bad. He has been fun to watch this season.

13. James Hinchcliffe had horrible fuel mileage and it cost him a top ten finished and he finished 12th.

14. Ryan Hunter-Reay brushed the wall while in the top ten and he called it a night 80 laps early but still finished 13th. Conor Daly was 70 laps down the entire night after a gearbox issue but was still running at the finish 14th

15. I have no idea what happened to Alexander Rossi. I think he brushed the wall and he finished 15th. Takuma Sato smacked the wall and brought out a caution. Andretti Autosport keeps finding a new way to get hit in the crotch.

16. Mikhail Aleshin, Marco Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais, Max Chilton and Graham Rahal all failed to complete lap one. I tweeted just prior to the race that I thought there would be an accident lap one because I thought Aleshin would lose it or Hunter-Reay would lose it by going to the outside on the start. I was right on the former. Aleshin gets a lot of praise but 50/50 chance is he bins it. The other four drivers were collateral damage and unfortunately it ended the fairy tale start to the season for Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing.

17. A few off-track things I want to get to. If you didn't know, ESPN has been laying off a ton of people and included in those are Allen Bestwick and Dr. Jerry Punch. If they are gone, two men who did more than just IndyCar but also college football, college basketball and college hockey, I have to think Eddie Cheever, Scott Goodyear, Jon Beekhuis and Rick DeBruhl have all also been handed their walking papers. Bestwick and Punch have both said they will continue through Belle Isle but when Bestwick signs off after that Sunday race, he and likely all of them are gone.

A lot of people have wanted the ABC/ESPN team gutted and frankly wants the series off the network. I have been critical of the network's use of Cheever and Goodyear but I was a proponent to Bestwick taking over the reins to the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 coverage prior to Marty Reid being fired and Dr. Punch, Beekhuis and DeBruhl are a solid pit reporting team.

There is no positive from the ESPN layoffs and it only creates more questions as the network's IndyCar deal extends through 2018 and the lead commentator and senior IndyCar broadcaster are gone and I can't imagine ESPN kept the other four guys on through 2018. I am starting to wonder if ESPN will buyout its final year but I don't think the network would do that. If the final year of the deal is honored, what does the announce team look like? I can't imagine after laying off an unfathomable number of people ESPN is going to hire a few people to do five weekends of IndyCar racing and I can't imagine ESPN bringing the NBCSN crew in on loan but it could be the easiest solution.

We knew the next IndyCar television deal was going to be negotiated over the course of this season but now a whole set of questions have arisen over 2018.

18. While one network is in flux, I have to make a comment about NBCSN's crew and in particular the pit reporters. I caught the end of the qualifying show and it featured Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Robin Miller and Marty Snider all sitting on the pit wall, a somewhat common thing the crew has done after a race or session dating back to the Texas rain delay when they talked to just about everyone on pit road. It is a relaxed atmosphere and it is refreshing but NBCSN has done a great job of putting together a diverse group of pit reporters.

You have Miller, the experienced some would call curmudgeon who has seen it all, Lee and Snider, generation X-ers, Lee who got into the series during the split and Snider who has covered almost every form of motorsports and Hargitt, a millennial woman who is in the same age bracket as many of the drivers and of the demographic the series tries to attract to the broadcast and race track. They all bring different mindsets and ideas to the broadcast and that is good for the presentation of the series.

19. Finally, I want to send my prayers and thoughts to John Andretti, who is fighting stage four colon cancer. It sucks. It just sucks to hear he is going through such a thing. There is so much I want to say but for now I will say John Andretti has come off as nothing but a soft-spoken gentleman and besides that he is an underrated talent as a driver. He never lit the world on fire and dominated a championship but he raced everything and anything and was competitive in it all.

20. May is Monday.