Saturday, June 9, 2018

First Impressions: Texas 2018

1. Scott Dixon did it again and now the only men ahead of him in IndyCar victories are A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. While the Team Penske cars appeared to get it wrong and struggle with blistering tires and fuel mileage, Dixon led the Honda train. Just like last week at Belle Isle, while other cars were quick, Dixon was quicker and while other had bobbles with fuel nozzles and tires, Dixon's crew was spotless and Dixon went from stalking his prey to jack rabbit on the run only tonight he would not be caught. It would have been interesting to see if Dixon could have won this race had it stayed green while some tried to make it on three stops and it appeared Dixon was set on a four-stop race. Heading into the Indianapolis 500 he had yet to lead a lap let alone win a race. Two weeks later he has two victories and leads the championship by 23 points before spring has burned into summer. Watch out boys and girls.

2. Simon Pagenaud gets his first podium finish of the season and his first top five finish of the season and this was a terrible night for him. The tires blistered the least for him of the Penske drivers but he was nowhere near the pace of Dixon and the other Hondas in the second and third stints of this race. However, cautions fell his way and he was able to hold off Alexander Rossi in the closing stages. He had nothing for Dixon but he got all that he could tonight and that is a big boost for the Frenchman considering how frustrating the first half of the season has been. The championship isn't out of his reach but he is miles back and needs to go on a tear.

3. This was a frustrating night for Alexander Rossi and he finished third. He was fast and once again might have been the fastest car tonight but he kept losing time on pit lane and it erased everything he did and he had to start over again. He may have been in Dixon's shoes had it not be for those delays. It is hard to be angry at a victory, five podium finishes and seven top five finishes through nine races but he probably should have three victories and he tossed a runner-up finish out the window at Belle Isle and more importantly 21 points. He trails Dixon by 23 points in the championship. He is quick but he needs to be smart in the second half of the season.

4. James Hinchcliffe gets off the snide with a fourth place finish. It is amazing what missing the Indianapolis 500 can do to you. He had five top ten finishes through the first five races and this is his sixth top ten finish in nine races. For most guys that is great but missing the Indianapolis 500 kind of drowns out that success. In one blow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports went from a Penske/Andretti challenger for middle of the field and it is odd to see. I am not sure what to make of Hinchcliffe at this point of the season.

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fifth and I think it is unfortunate we had to last few cautions because Hunter-Reay stopped for a splash of fuel before the restart with 63 laps to go and he was running really conserve lap times to make it to the end. I am not sure it would have worked but Hunter-Reay did well tonight.

6. If Graham Rahal can start a race in the top ten he will win. He went from 20th to sixth tonight and through nine races he has eight top ten finishes and he has started outside the top ten for six of those top ten finishes. Rahal has been solid but he needs to step up another level to be a championship contender.

7. Takuma Sato made it a stellar night for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with a double top ten finish as he finished seventh. This is his fourth top ten finish of the year. He has been good, kind of what you would expect of Sato but he hasn't torn up equipment.

8. S├ębastien Bourdais was always on the four-stop strategy but he was in the top ten for most of this race. I think eighth was the best he could have done though and that isn't bad when you consider the rough few weeks he had at Indianapolis and Belle Isle.

9. Ed Jones was at the back at the start and kept the car on the lead lap and finished ninth. This is his first top ten finish on an oval since he finished third last year at the Indianapolis 500. He has picked up some ground in the championship the last two weekends but he has been too bipolar to know if this everything starting to click or if a rough patch is in his near future.

10. You may hate Charlie Kimball but he finished 10th again and he is responsible for all three of Carlin's top ten finishes. Carlin just needs to eek out results. It has been rough and the team has yet to have a great day but these are building blocks.

11. Spencer Pigot did nothing and finished 11th. I don't think he was mentioned once tonight but it is a good result for him,

12. Max Chilton was dead fucking last for a lot of this race and he finished 12th. Once again, building blocks for Carlin.

13. Josef Newgarden was in prime position for a top ten finish but he jumped the final restart, was penalized and finished four laps down in 13th. You kind of forget he started on pole position. He suffered the worst blisters of the Penske drivers and that hurt his night but the mortal wound was self-inflicted. He has lost a lot of ground and this is his first bit of adversity with Team Penske. Can he turn it around?

14. Quickly through the field: Marco Andretti might have been able to challenge Dixon, Pagenaud and Rossi had it not been for a clutch issue on one of his pit stops. He was running well. Gabby Chaves got a blocking penalty and finished 15th. Zach Veach was the stud of the first stint and a half then brushed the wall, had to stop and finished 16th. Zachary Claman De Melo was quick and aggressive but may have pushed the envelope a bit too much tonight but his incident with Will Power was a racing deal in my eyes and an unfortunate coming together when one car drifted slightly up the track. Power has had these seasons where he wins a bunch but his bad results are really bad and it has hurt him the last two seasons. Robert Wickens was another guy caught in lapped traffic and contact with Ed Carpenter ended what could have been a top five finish. Wickens was brilliant again. He is going to win a race. A.J. Foyt Racing. Matheus Leist went up in smoke after five laps and Tony Kanaan brushed the wall, damaged the right rear suspension and he completed only 31 laps. Not the homecoming the team was hoping for.

15. Let's start with the blue flag and I am going to say that if you can get a penalty for blocking a driver should get a penalty for consistently ignoring the blue flag. Granted, it may be hard to observe on an oval with cars constantly buzzing around you but it seemed lapped traffic played a big role in the middle of this race during the long green flag run. Claman De Melo was one of the notable violators and he wasn't the only one but he was the one brought to light.

The lead lap is not a right. It is a privilege. No one is guaranteed the lead lap. You need to be fast enough to earn it and some times you will not be fast enough. But the whole idea that a lapped driver has the right to hold up lead lap cars is preposterous. Think about it for a second. If you don't want drivers blocking and racing out their mirrors what you are saying is you want drivers focused on what is ahead of them. If a car is a lap down in 15th the car that driver should focused on is the car in 14th, not the car behind which might be third or fourth or fifth. That lapped car has the right to race but that driver needs to know he or she isn't racing the cars immediately behind him or her on track.

Cars are going to be a lap down or two or three some nights and that is ok. We saw tonight that you could finish a lap down and still end up in the top ten but we have to stop acting like someone has the right to the lead lap and has the right to hold up lead lap cars. Going a lap down doesn't mean your race is over and you should pull off the racetrack but you aren't racing the leaders, you are racing the car directly ahead of you.

Part of this stems from cautions and the wave-arounds and maybe that should be changed as well. After the second caution the leaders stopped but the wave around cars didn't stop until five laps later and when there were 64 laps to go, right on the cusp of making it on fuel. A lapped car should not get an advantage for being a lap down and you may hate to hear this but NASCAR had it right when it introduced the wave around. If you get waved around, you can't pit. There are flaws to that method, there is a major flaw with the concept of waving cars around in general, but maybe this should be looked into. We shouldn't have a car that is ninth catch and break, get back on the lead lap and then be able to stop and be able to make it to the end on fuel while the leaders will have to stop one more time and effectively handing a race victory to a car that just so happened to be a lap down at the right place at the right time. There should be no reward for being a lap down. There should be a reward for being able to stay on the lead lap. We can table this discussion for a rainy day but I think you can see what I am getting at.

16. I thought the racing was fine. I said this a few years ago but this is different from what we knew Texas for being. Different isn't better and it isn't worse. It is different. I thought it was interesting to see who got the tire wear right and it evolved into who could make it on three stops and who would be forced to four. If anything, I would like to see the tires degrade more next year. I want drivers to be scrambling 30 laps into a stint.

As for the aero package, I think part of the fear stemmed from when practice was held. Everyone was nervous after a practice session held at 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. local time and another session at 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. local time. Green flag for this race was 7:45 p.m. local time. These cars are temperature sensitive and we have seen it time and time before. We saw it two weeks ago at the Indianapolis 500. It was over 90┬║ F for the race but when practice began the temperatures were in the mid-70s. The temperature dropped and this race wasn't single-file. There wasn't a pass at the end of every straightaway every lap but that isn't realistic and I think we need to have a conversation for what is realistic to expect from a race and we can have that conversation on Monday. More importantly, I think the drivers need to experience race conditions before deciding what the race is going to be after a pair of practice sessions.

An issue with this weekend is IndyCar can't practice during race time the day before because of the NASCAR Truck race. My solution would be practice for two-and-a-half or three hours starting at 8:00 p.m. local time on Thursday, allow the drivers to experience race conditions and then qualify Friday night and race Saturday. That would be a brutal schedule for the teams considering they have been non-stop at a racetrack since the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and just had a doubleheader last week. I don't want the teams to have an even more grueling schedule but I am trying to come up with another solution to help this race. You can't move this race deeper into summer. That is crazy. You can't move it up either. I am not sure what else IndyCar and Texas Motor Speedway can do.

17. Now we get a nice two-week break. Some drivers are going to Le Mans while others are staying home. Some teams are testing at Road America next week, which doesn't help with the schedule these teams have but hey, the teams are partly doing it to themselves. Enjoy the break; enjoy Le Mans; Road America and the second half the season will be here shortly.