Sunday, April 15, 2018

First Impressions: Long Beach 2018

1. Alexander Rossi. He good. He good. Three races, three podium finishes and the third race of his third IndyCar season sees him pick up his third career victory and his first victory on a street course. Not a bad list of racetrack to win at when looking at Rossi's CV: Indianapolis, Watkins Glen and Long Beach. The man was bad fast all weekend. Everyone was chasing him and nobody caught him. Everybody had plenty of chances to beat him with late cautions but he held off Scott Dixon on a restart (even though Dixon would have to serve a penalty a few laps after that) and he held off Will Power twice. At Watkins Glen, Rossi held off Dixon and didn't put a wheel wrong and the same occurred today. The guy isn't scared by anybody on this grid.

Rossi could have won at St. Petersburg. Arguably he had the best car at St. Petersburg and you could say the same thing for Phoenix considering he was responsible for over half the passes in that race and who knows what would have happened if he did not have the early penalty. We have a new championship leader. He was everyone's sleeper for 2018 before 2017 ended. Nobody is surprised now. There are plenty of races left. A lot can happen but I doubt Rossi is going anywhere.

2. I am not sure Will Power was the second best guy today. Top five? Sure. Second? He caught a break when Sébastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon could not get into the pit lane prior to the caution for Zachary Claman De Melo's accident in turn nine and Josef Newgarden was also caught out by that caution while a half-dozen drivers found themselves solidly in the top ten after being outside it for most of this race. It is a good bounce back after Phoenix and the last two years we have seen Power have terrible starts to a season only to have strong summers but it not be enough to make Power a title contender. A second today could go a long way in August.

3. Ed Jones was the biggest benefactor from the Claman De Melo accident. He went from perhaps a top ten finish to podium contender and after a podium slipped out of his fingers last week he gets one that probably should have gone to someone else. You take what you can get though. Jones has been good through three races with Ganassi but he is still off Dixon and that is something he will have to work on but this should be a confidence boost heading to Barber.

4. Zach Veach might not have deserved a fourth place finish in his fifth career start but he looked good today and this was definitely the best race of his IndyCar career. I think he was going to finish in the top ten but he caught a break and got a lot more than even he probably expected. He had one or two runs on Jones but really didn't have it to get some hardware. Last year, he was thrown into the deep end at Barber in a substitute role for an injured J.R. Hildebrand. It will be interesting to see what difference a year and an actual testing program makes.

5. Graham Rahal shot himself in the foot in turn one lap one, as he locked up the tires, spun Simon Pagenaud and was handed a drive-through penalty immediately. It appeared he was not going to get back into this one but the way the cautions fell and his pit strategy got him into the top ten. Rahal is sitting in an impressive position when you consider he had to start last at St. Petersburg in a car that could compete for the podium and had to go to back after three laps today and still finished fifth. If he can start at the front and not run over somebody early he can win races and he could be a championship challenger.

6. Marco Andretti benefitted from the late cautions but he had a good start to the race. He quickly went from 20th to 14th and was on the fringe of the top ten for a fair portion of the race. It seems he keeps stubbing his toe in qualifying and that keeps him for starting in the top ten. He even admitted that he is putting himself behind the eight ball with his qualifying performances. He has run well at Barber and I hope he can put together a solid weekend from start to finish.

7. Josef Newgarden loses the championship lead and it is hard to say he should be disappointed with a seventh place finish but he had a top five car and probably could have been on the podium. The key thing is he is finishing in the top ten and is racking up points. He is going to win another race or two this season and he going to be on the podium another five or six times. It is days like these where he finishes seventh instead of 15th that makes a difference in the championship picture.

8. Tony Kanaan finished eighth and normally this is where I would say he did nothing and finished eighth or wasn't a factor and he wasn't a factor but he was solidly in eighth all day and gave Newgarden a run for seventh. Kanaan has plateaued but if plateauing means picking up top ten finishes and likely being a contender for a victory or two on the ovals than I think most drivers would take it.

9. James Hinchcliffe picked up a ninth place finish and this seemed to be as good as it was going to get for him. His tires fell off really quickly in the first stint and it cost him a lot of positions and any chance of a top five finish. The good news for him is he has three top ten finishes from the first three races and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has made a big stride forward.

10. Charlie Kimball took nothing and turned it into a tenth place finish, the first top ten finish for Carlin. Kimball has been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde driver. He seems to piss off a lot of people but he has a tendency for getting top ten finishes and he is fan friendly. It has been a tough start for Carlin and I think the team really needed a boost. This should give it a shot in the arm but I still think results are going to be tough to pick up.

11. Where do we start with Scott Dixon? We already covered his pit lane woes and how it cost him a podium finish but he rallied after that penalty, charged to an 11th place finish and was just over three-tenths behind Kimball for tenth and you are probably more surprised that he didn't pull off a top ten finish because this is the man who went from 17th to fourth last week at Phoenix. He has been stellar at Barber and I think he will be the man to beat.

12. Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing deserve praise because the birthday boy was on the cusp of a top ten finish all race. This team is punching above its weight considering it is a part-time team. I hold Harvey in high regard and think he is an underrated driver. This team isn't on track again until practice for the Indianapolis 500 and it is a shame because I think Harvey could be a rookie of the year challenger if he was full-time.

13. Matheus Leist finally avoided the gremlins and finished 13th and on the lead lap, ahead of Sébastien Bourdais, who deserved better for the second consecutive race.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field, Ed Carpenter Racing is more lost than last year. Jordan King had a good race going before his brakes faded and then his brain faded when he decided to make a move on two cars on the lead lap when he was a lap down and spun Bourdais, who was in the top ten. King had a good day going but another odd mechanical issue cost him. Then you have Spencer Pigot, who finished 15th but a lap down and he has not matched the drives he showed last season that got us really excited. Kyle Kaiser finished 16th in what was a good day for Juncos Racing. He kept his nose clean and completed 84 laps and René Binder will be back in the car next week. I am not sure what happened with Max Chilton but he has doing pretty well before he ended up a lap down. Gabby Chaves was not mentioned all day and finished 19th.

15. When it rains on Ryan Hunter-Reay it pours. Slight contact with Dixon into turn one on lap one damaged his right wing end plate and forced his to stop for a change. He charged up the order and found himself in contention for a top five finish. He had a bobble exiting turn five and kept it out of the barrier but Takuma Sato had nowhere to go and slight contact cut down Hunter-Reay's rear tire and he limped around and lost a lap. He got his lap back only to be impeded after Bourdais spun in the hairpin and then he slapped the barrier, broke his suspension and that ended his day. He should have had three consecutive top ten finishes to start the season. The bad thing is when he has fallen into this rut the previous two seasons he normally has stayed in it for six or seven races. He cannot afford to do that this year.

16. Robert Wickens had his first bad day in IndyCar and it was out of his control. He got stuck in gear on a pit stop while in the top ten. He is 12th in the championship and five points ahead of Veach for best rookie but has been miles ahead of all his fellow rookies.

17. We need to recognize Simon Pagenaud and his streak of 3,084 consecutive laps completed over 22 races dating back to 2016. It had been a while since we had a lap one turn one accident at Long Beach and it is unfortunate his day was done before you knew it. Even more disappointing is Pagenaud is 16th in the championship on 44 points, behind the likes of Veach, Sato and Pigot and only one point ahead of Kimball. This is a big hole he has gotten himself into.

18. I am going to blow off some steam real quick, and this is a personal thing so feel free to skip it. For the second time in three races Twitter has locked out my account during a race. I am not sure why. I tweet a lot during races. It is kind of my thing but each time Twitter locks me out it says it is because of a rules violation. I have to admit, considering all the garbage that is posted on Twitter and the cesspool it truly is but we choose to keep swimming in, tweeting constantly about an IndyCar race and intervals between the top five cars and pit windows shouldn't be close to breaking the rules.

Can it be annoying what I do? Sure, I can understand if people want me to shut up. I am conscious of what I am doing and I bet many don't want it cluttering their time lines even if they love IndyCar racing but for some this commentary has been helpful, whether it is someone in New Zealander who can't watch the race because they don't have access to it or someone at the race and is able to get context for what is going on. Don't get me wrong, I am no saint because of what I do. I am just a guy on Twitter. There is no honor in that but if this is going to be a weekly thing then I am going to be pissed.

I really want to call Twitter and get an explanation from a living and breathing human being beyond I tweet too much. I really wonder if they look at the substance because this isn't harmful. It is excessive but it is innocent when considering some of the shit that Twitter allows to happen and turns away from.

19. With all that said, there is a race next week and it is at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park. We are getting into the swing of things.