Sunday, June 11, 2017

First Impressions: Texas 2017

1. Where to start? Let's just get the results out of the way and we will start with Will Power, who won but I am not sure if he had the best car or if he was the best survivor. Tonight, being the best survivor was all you needed to be. I feel like Will Power led 150 laps. I have no clue. He may have only led 50 laps. This race was chaotic. He gets a big boost for his championship hopes.

2. Tony Kanaan finished second. We will talk about Tony Kanaan in a moment.

3. Simon Pagenaud finished third. He seemed to be in third all night.

4. Nobody passed more cars tonight than Graham Rahal. He went ninth to fourth at least three times in the final dozen laps.

5. Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing survived and for the second consecutive race they get a phenomenal finish. Tonight was fifth-place, a career best for Chaves and Harding Racing in the team's second race.

6. Marco Andretti just survived and finished sixth.

7. Even when Conor Daly finishes seventh he gets taken out. A career-best for him on an oval and he still hasn't finished on the lead lap on an oval.

8. Max Chilton nearly finished this race without a front wing in eighth.

9. Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato got together with five laps to go. It cost both of them a shot at the victory. I would say it hurt both of their championship hopes but everyone was taken out tonight so it really didn't hurt either of their hopes tonight as they rounded out the top ten.

10. Bravo to Ed Carpenter Racing for repairing its cars and getting back out on track and finishing 11th and 12th with Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand respectively. Both deserved better than that though.

11. Josef Newgarden was just a bit too ambitious tonight and he ended up in the wall. He still finished 13th.

12. This was a pretty good race for the first 150 laps and then it hit the fan. Let's start with the accident. Tony Kanaan came up on James Hinchcliffe entering turn three; Hinchcliffe was pinched into Mikhail Aleshin, Hinchcliffe and Aleshin spun across the race track and collected Ed Jones, Tristan Vautier, Carlos Muñoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carpenter and Hildebrand.

Kanaan was handed a stop and hold penalty for 20 seconds and it put him two laps down. I thought he should have been parked. It was a dangerous move and he may have not intended to take out seven cars but he did. And Kanaan has a history of over-aggressive moves at Texas. Last year, he walked the line. He has been penalized for blocking before at Texas. He is a veteran and one of the most respected guys on the grid but he has this tendency on ovals.

13. I don't know what to go to next. Let's go to what transpired after the red flag for the lap 152 accident. Firestone did not have a great weekend. The tires were blistering at the test in April and Firestone didn't have enough time to come up with a solution. And I won't peg this one on Firestone. They get it right 9,999 times out of 10,000 and this was the one time in 10,000 they got it wrong and there were tire failures, most notably to Hélio Castroneves. It was bound to go wrong once but I am sure there are plenty of Firestone workers annoyed after this one.

It was a mixture of things that led to tonight: not enough time for testing, Texas Motor Speedway putting down a chemical compound for the NASCAR race, IndyCar being in the gut of its season and not allowing additional testing. It was a combination of things going wrong.

With the tire issues in mind, IndyCar threw two competition cautions within the final 90 laps of the race over concerns about the tires. I understand that but never in motorsports history has the decision to implement competition cautions mid-race been successful. Fans don't applaud competition cautions being added to the race especially mid-race. I understand IndyCar did it on the grounds of safety but I would have rather IndyCar not thrown the caution and rather told the teams they had to pit under green every 30 laps just to keep the race going. Competition cautions come off as the race being too controlled by the officials. People don't like an over-officiated game in any sport. Motorsports is no different.

Amazingly, because IndyCar only held Tony Kanaan for 20 seconds and because there were two competition cautions it allowed him to cycle back onto the lead lap and finish second. That is just dump luck for the series. If they held him for an addition ten to 15 seconds he is three laps down and he still finishes in the top ten but not second.

14. Let's get to the racing on the night and for the first 150 laps, it was really good but I hesitate to say it was great. To me, the entire field shouldn't be covered by five seconds the entire night and that was the case. Maybe that would have changed if we had an extended green flag run and had two or three green flag pit stops but that didn't seem it would ever be the case.

I liked the racing Texas had the last few years because drivers really had to drive the cars and fight when tires were falling off. You really got to separate the field and the cream rose to the top. You don't get that when everyone is within five seconds of each other. It is a tough balance to find but I think IndyCar went too far in the direction of the IRL-era racing we had at Texas. I don't know what next year will bring but if Firestone figures out the tire issues and I am sure Firestone will fix it and if IndyCar runs less downforce (and not add push to pass on ovals but that is another story but does anyone think after this race that it needed more passing?), I think the racing can get back to that happy medium.

15. I got to say, this felt like IndyCar circa 2005-2011 where everything was done on the fly and everyone wasn't sure what was going on or what would happen next and any sliver of great racing was soiled by uncertainty in the procedure and that sucked tonight because it seemed like a fair amount of the motorsports world was watching and enjoying the first third of the race and then it all went to hell. Hell, Fernando Alonso called into the race and Kevin Lee got a "why not" out of him when asked if he would ever consider joining IndyCar full-time. Do you really think after what happened in this race after he hung up the phone he is seriously considering it?

16. I will say that IndyCar did a great job under the red flag getting all the drivers interviewed not just on TV but on radio as well and it filled the time nicely. This wasn't IndyCar's greatest night but there were a lot of people working hard at their jobs and they deserve praise because they stepped up in a bad situation and made the series look good despite everything that was happening on the race track.

17. And one final one, I almost forgot to mention Dale Coyne Racing, which had a great night and saw both its cars in contention for the victory and it was led by Tristan Vautier, who had been out of a IndyCar since August 2015. Vautier made it very tough on Coyne on whether or not Esteban Gutiérrez should be the full-time substitute for Sébastien Bourdais.

18. Let's take a week off, watch Le Mans and get back to it at Road America in a fortnight.