Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brain Dump: May 2017

I just need to write about a handful of things I have been thinking about over the last two weeks and instead of saving it all and trying to dedicate time for a post for each I need to get it out all at once.

What Is a Good Race?
Will Power led 61 of 85 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hélio Castroneves led the other 24 laps. All four lead changes occurred during pit cycles. Power won by over five seconds. For a portion of the race Power and Castroneves was nearly ten seconds clear of Scott Dixon in third. There were no cautions. Some wanted a debris caution. 

However, beyond the front two, there was a sufficient amount of passing from third to 16th. Graham Rahal went from 20th to sixth. Spencer Pigot went from 16th to sixth back to 15th after stalling on his first pit stop and back up to fifth. As the race went on, Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud worked their ways by Castroneves. Takuma Sato went from 22nd, last on the grid to 12th. Josef Newgarden got two pit-lane speeding penalties and clawed his way back to 11th on the final stint. 

There was passing and plenty of battles but not for the lead. Most will say it was a boring race but a race isn't just the leader. Do we watch races incorrectly? Should we stare at the leader and wait for someone else to come into frame or freelance and jump from watching the leader to watching 12th to watching fifth to watching a car who makes a pit stop and is the first to do so? The problem is we can freelance while at the track and watching in person but for majority of people who view a race over television we are subject to the director. We don't get a say over what car we watch. 

That aside, if one driver dominates a race, can it be a good race? There are going to be days when a driver is clicking on all cylinders and no one can hold a candle to him or her. A race can be a beat down and be a good race especially if you look beyond the leader. 

One final thing, the hypocrisy of fans. Some wanted a caution Saturday just to mix it up. We had an untimely caution at St. Petersburg and people were aggravated, especially Scott Dixon and company because it shuffled the deck and leaders during that first stint were now mid-pack. So if people were upset that a caution cost a fast driver a victory in one race, why are they rooting for a caution to cost a fast driver in another? You can't have it both ways.

Alternate Tires
This kind of connects to the point above. You couldn't go off-strategy in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It couldn't be stretched into a two-stop race. Everyone had to make three pit stops for fuel. Everyone was forced to do the same thing. A team couldn't strategize a way to the front. Some will say that is a good thing but if people are going to complain about a race being boring then they should be ok if a team goes off strategy to have a fighting chance. 

This got me thinking about the tires. We have a primary and an alternate tire. The alternate is faster but the problem is the tires last the length of the stint regardless of compound. I can't remember what driver said this but I think it was Ryan Hunter-Reay; either way a few years ago someone said something along the lines of drivers should have to pit once for fuel but pit three times for tires. Instead of everyone trying to conserve fuel it would all be about tire conservation and that is a little more varied as tire degradation comes down to how hard a driver is on tires, downforce level and if the driver is in traffic. 

If people want to get rid of fuel conservation then the tires shouldn't last a fuel stint and the alternate compound should be gone halfway into a stint. Take the race on Saturday where the stints were about 22-24 laps for fuel. The alternate tire should be junk by about lap ten or 12 of a stint and then it becomes a catch-22. You could have the extra bit of grip for the first half-dozen laps of a stint but by halfway through they are junk and you either need to come in early and make an extra pit stop or try to tough it out and make it to the end of a tank and hope you don't drop through the field like a rock. 

Imagine how a race would change if drivers on alternate tires pulled away over the first few laps of a stint but by halfway through were running over half a second slower than drivers on the primary tire. I know the goal with the universal aero kit is to remove topside downforce from the cars and hopefully that will help the racing but the alternate tire could be much less durable. 

Quick switch to NASCAR. I saw this story last week about NASCAR bringing back merchandise trailers after doing a giant tent for the last few years. 

Lee Spencer of wrote that the tent was not popular with fans because, "they missed the interaction with the retailers and regular visits by their favorite drivers." I haven't been to a NASCAR race in a few years and it was probably a few years before the tent became the thing but my question is why did drivers stop doing appearances because of the tent? They couldn't figure out how a driver could do an hour of autograph signings at the tent? It seems like a bullshit excuse as to why drivers stopped making those visits. IndyCar and IMSA and other sports car series have figured out how to do autograph sessions without each driver having a merchandise trailer. Nobody at NASCAR could figure that out? 

I understand why the series went with the tent but the merchandise trailers were what made NASCAR different and it was fun to mosey around and when a driver or two or three came out it was fun watching people get excite and seeing the slightly disorganized chaos of it all. People would flock to a trailer getting a hat or t-shirt or die-cast car signed. 

As for giving people a climate-controlled experience, which I get because I have been to tracks when it is pushing triple-digits and you want a relief from the heat. Instead of a tent, couldn't tracks build a cover paddock area? I keep thinking of Adria International Raceway, which has an entirely enclosed paddock. Each track could have that and allow the merchandise trailers to be at the track while giving the fans a more comfortable shopping experience.

The Brickyard 400 Future
Staying on NASCAR but circling back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Brickyard 400 appears to be one of the final hurdles keeping the 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule from being released. The cause for the delay is over whether the race should be moved to the IMS road course and whether the race will move up a few weeks in the schedule.

Moving it to the road course aside, there are a few things wrong with moving the Brickyard 400 up a few weeks. First off, it is situated at the end of July and is the fourth race in the NBC portion of the schedule. Last year, the Brickyard 400 was the highest rated race on NBCSN, which was also the highest rated Cup race on cable, third-highest rated NBC property race and this year's race will be on network NBC. Unless the race is only moving up a week or would follow the July Daytona race I can't see NBC letting this race go to the Fox portion of the schedule and there is nothing from the Fox portion of the schedule that could be moved to NBC's portion that would rival the numbers the Brickyard 400 does for the network. Unless Fox would start alternating Daytona 500 coverage every other year like it did with NBC from 2001-2006 and I don't think Fox is game for that.

Second, moving the Brickyard up a week or two would put Indianapolis-Kentucky back-to-back, the closest track to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I can't help but think this will only negatively affect attendance at both races and the Brickyard 400 attendance can't afford to get any worse. You could already say having Kentucky and Indianapolis two weeks apart is spreading the fan base thin. Unless Kentucky is moving up a few weeks or back a month or so, I am not sure where Indianapolis could go if it moves forward in the schedule.

Of course if you are moving Indianapolis and Kentucky up another race has to move back and the races in June prior to Daytona are Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma. Pocono already has a race the last week of July and Michigan has a race mid-August. Sonoma could move but perhaps Fox really wants one of the two road course races.

Ending with the Indianapolis 500 entry list, 25 of 33 cars are numbered under 30. The only entries above 30 are Zach Veach (#40), Buddy Lazier (#44), Jack Harvey (#50), Pippa Mann (#63), Jay Howard (#77), Charlie Kimball (#83), Gabby Chaves (#88) and Alexander Rossi (#98). 

That is kind of boring. It just seems like everyone just takes the lowest available number. Somehow the #6 wasn't picked and the #13 was neglected yet again. Those are the only numbers under 20 that aren't being used. 

I want to see someone try something different. For example, the #85 has only made the Indianapolis 500 once and that was in 1971 with Denny Hulme. The #87 has only been in the Indianapolis 500 twice (1959 with Red Amick and 1987 with Steve Chassey). The #69 was last in the race in 1989. The #66 hasn't been in the race since 2001. Gary Bettenhausen was the last driver to race the #46 and that was in 1980. The #79 has only been in the race four times and most recently was in 1994 with Dennis Vitolo. 

I want to see some variety, which is why I kind of like competitors selecting numbers in Formula One and MotoGP. You get drivers choosing numbers for there own odd reason. Maybe a driver choses #72 because he or she was born on July 2nd or maybe a driver picks #64 because his or her father wore that number playing offensive tackle in college football. Maybe a driver picks #58 because he or she grew up on 58 Farm Road.

I wish teams and drivers were more creative with number selection that is all.