Sunday, July 8, 2018

First Impressions: Iowa 2018

1. Wow. I don't know where to begin after that finish but let's start with James Hinchcliffe being consistent all day. He was passing cars on the first stint and went from 11th to the top three before his first stop. He was stellar and he kept up the pace throughout the race. He never faded while other cars did and he stalked Josef Newgarden, who dominated this race, but in the final stages Hinchcliffe was aggressive while Newgarden was conservative. Hinchcliffe blew pass Newgarden and after being caught with his pants down it was too late for Newgarden to chase down the Canadian. Hinchcliffe deserved this victory. He kept his foot on it all day and Newgarden let his guard down. It was surprising to see but James Hinchcliffe pulled a victory out of nowhere when everyone thought this race was over before we even reached lap 200. He deserved it. It is a big boost for him and the team and it is a great wave of momentum to ride into his home race.

We need to get to the finish.

2. IndyCar ran out of time. Ed Carpenter clipped the wall with six laps to go. By the time the pace car was released and picked up the field there were four laps to go. The pits opened with three laps to go. By the time the field was bunched back up there were two laps to go. When coming to the white flag lapped cars were still mixed between lead lap cars and they could not be moved out of the way and the next time by was the checkered flag.

Caution laps go by so fast at Iowa. The only way it could have been prevented was a red flag but even that would have caused problems and taken a lot of time. It would have been even greater of a mess to sort. There could have been a red flag immediately but a lap would have still been lost because the cars have to get bunched behind the pace car. The earliest they could have had everyone behind the pace car was four laps to go. Let's say they stopped on pit lane with four laps to go. There wasn't enough time. The next time they could have opened the pit lane for stops but you would have had a bunch of cars exiting the pit lane with the coming to two laps to go and you would have had to still organize the cars as they exited pit lane and by the time that was sorted out it would have been the white flag lap and there wasn't enough time.

It is unfortunate but it was an extraordinary circumstance. It is the nature of Iowa and we may never see this again but it a consequence of the procedures needed for an organized race. IndyCar could have said we are going green with two laps to go no matter what but that would have ignored the rulebook in place in terms of opening the pit lane and moving lapped cars to the back of the pack. Somebody would have ended up screwed either way. Would you rather have been screwed because the rules were followed or been screwed because the rules were ignored? Either way you are screwed but I guess you rather be screwed and know the procedure was followed.

IndyCar didn't have enough time and it was no one's fault. It was just the circumstances. It stinks but let's not loose our cool and demand table to be flipped over. This was a great race. We had 284 green flag laps of racing and we saw nearly 1,000 passes, 955 passes to be exact. The ending was anti-climatic but the entire race was great.

Now we can get back to the rest of the field.

3. Spencer Pigot finished second, his first career podium finish, his first career top ten finish on an oval and he was great today. He was in the top five for most of it and was really pushing Newgarden and Hinchcliffe. He deserved this podium finish. It is one good result in what has been a rough year for him and Ed Carpenter Racing and he might be back on the back foot next week but you have to take the positives when you can get them. Hopefully there are more days and results like these for Pigot.

4. Takuma Sato finished third! He worked his way to front with Hinchcliffe and he stayed there all day. He wasn't flashy but he kept his nose clean and he has his first top ten finish at Iowa. It has been a good year for Sato. He hasn't been in contention for victories but he has been solid and he brings the car home with good results.

5. Josef Newgarden thought the race was going to be restarted and took tires and instead of finishing second he was dropped to fourth. He rolled the dice on a restart and it never came. He sacrificed nine points with the decision. But it probably shouldn't have been a decision he and his team were forced to make. Newgarden stomped the field today and all I can say is he thought he had this in the bag and was caught out when Hinchcliffe caught and passed him. He and Tim Cindric were caught napping. That was very un-Penske of this team and they are going to get chewed out. These guys will be on their toes for the remainder of the season and it will not happen again. Despite coughing up as many points as he did, Newgarden has gotten back into the championship conversation. He trails Scott Dixon by 33 points, a healthy gap but one that can easily be overcome.

6. Robert Wickens followed Newgarden down pit lane and instead of finishing third he finished fifth. At Phoenix, Wickens didn't take tires and it cost him a victory. Today he took tires in hopes of a shot at victory and he never got the opportunity but once again it was a stellar day for Wickens. The race came to him. He lost some positions early but worked through it and made up positions. He was in the top five and worked his way onto the podium but... I can't call it a bad decision but a bad break has him settling for fifth.

7. Will Power finished sixth and that was as good as he was today despite starting on pole position and leading laps early. He didn't have it but he was good. He got a top ten. What else can you ask for? This is another year where the Iowa pole-sitter was really in contention for the victory and I can't figure out why Iowa is such a crapshoot for the pole-sitter.

8. Graham Rahal was lost at the start of this one and he busted his butt to finish seventh. He just worked at it and it paid off. This has been a good year for Rahal but he needs that little bit more.

9. Simon Pagenaud finished ninth and through 11 races Team Penske has yet to have multiple cars finish in the top five this season. It is another odd fact of this season.

10. Ed Carpenter caused the final caution but he kept running and he finished ninth. Carpenter wasn't really going to do better than ninth today but Ed Carpenter Racing needed this team were both cars ended up in the top ten.

11. Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport had the day from hell but he finished tenth and gained ground in the championship. Maybe Rossi would have finished sixth or seventh if he didn't stall on his first pit stop but he wasn't going to win this one.

12. S├ębastien Bourdais did 95 laps on his first stint and he finished 11th. That was the best he was going to do today.

13. Scott Dixon had a bad day. It was bound to happen and he is still the championship leader. He lost some ground but he is still sitting pretty.

14. Let's run through the rest of the field: Ed Jones stopped early on the first stint for tires and nobody else followed causing Jones only to lose positions and never challenge again for the top ten. Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton just kept running and finished 14th and 15th respectively. I will get to Marco Andretti and the other three Andretti Autosport cars in a moment. Tony Kanaan was lost this weekend and finished 17th. Zachary Claman De Melo was in this race? He was 18th. Gabby Chaves and Matheus Leist were the only retirements.

15. Andretti Autosport had a complete 180┬║ turn from ten days ago when IndyCar tested at Iowa. It went from top four times at the test to all four cars or three of the four cars in the top ten in practice to two cars starting in the top five to every little thing going wrong. Marco Andretti didn't have it after first practice. We covered Rossi stalling in the pit lane. Ryan Hunter-Reay could not talk to his crew and ran the first 220 laps with no way to tell his crew how to fix his car. He was in the top ten through all of it and then the left rear chamber shims fell out causing the car to be unbearable to drive and that ended his day. Zach Veach was in the top ten, had a tank slapper exiting turn four and his shot at a top ten was over. Somehow through all of it Rossi gained four points on Dixon and remained third and while Hunter-Reay lost two spots in the championship and is now fourth he only lost seven points to Dixon. Rossi and Hunter-Reay aren't out of it.

16. Why doesn't IndyCar have more short tracks? Sneak preview for tomorrow but I am writing about IndyCar and oval racing and the difficult the series is having to find successful venues but why can't this racing take place at Richmond or Memphis or the Nashville Fairgrounds? Why can't the series make Loudon work or why couldn't Milwaukee draw a crowd but Road America an hour north gets 50,000 people for race day? Could IndyCar make Darlington work? What other short track could be an option? How about Bristol even though a crowd of 60,000 would look like a ghost town?

This was a great race today and I know Josef Newgarden nearly won by a lap but a race is more than the leader. There was passing everywhere for positions and then a race happened at the front and we got a surprise winner. Yeah, the ending was unfortunate but sometimes you have back-and-forth football games end on ten-second runoffs. It sucks, it happens, we live and we cannot overlook everything that happened before it.

17. Next week we have Toronto as a post-World Cup Final dessert. Will you be too stuff and drained or will you have enough energy for the race?