Monday, August 29, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: In Case of Emergency

IndyCar had one of its closest finishes in series history. Lewis Hamilton went from the back to the front again. There were first time winners in all three NASCAR national touring divisions. Nissan's dominance in Super GT came to an end in the series biggest race. An Australian hit an impressive milestone while two different Australians drank from a boot. It was American muscle vs. American muscle in Virginia. Chris Buescher is just inside the top thirty. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

In Case of Emergency
The two and a half month intermission between the start and the finish of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was unprecedented. It was one of those situations that probably won't happen again next year or in five years or in fifty-five years. I don't think the rulebook needs to be completely re-written but perhaps it would be better for IndyCar to be safe rather than sorry if a lengthy rain delay should ever happen again.

When you look at the IndyCar schedule, there are many gaps in the schedule. The races are spread out but not as much as some would like however there are gaps in case of emergency. Perhaps IndyCar should take two or three off weeks and designate them as necessary rain dates in case Texas should repeat itself but possibly at another track.

When you think about rainouts, it is difficult for tracks. Tracks become the bad guys and that isn't fair. The tracks can't control the weather and I am sure tracks hate rainouts just as much as the rest of us but some fans can't return if a race is pushed back a day and some fans might be turned off from buying tickets for the following year as they just ate $40-$100 and didn't get their value. Instead of running the risk, fans keep the money in the bank, the attendance drops and then IndyCar is looking at another event that is on life support.

Designated rain dates could solve this problem. Perhaps allow one rain date per race weekend so a Saturday night race could be run on Sunday or a Sunday race on a Monday but make it so no race could be postponed two days. Designated rain dates would allow fans to get to see the race they bought tickets for, as it would just move to an open weekend. It benefits the track as those fans get the price of admission and the track could possibly sell more tickets, souvenirs, concession and etc. It benefits the television partners, as the race will be able to take place on a weekend when more people can watch and not the middle of a Monday when people are at work. IndyCar should want this. Even if designated rain dates were established some fans still wouldn't be able to make it but I think most would be able to squeeze in one more trip to the race track on a weekend and it would be for the best of IndyCar and its tracks.

One issue is where would the designated rain dates be put? There are 16 events on the 2017 IndyCar calendar and putting one at the end of each third of the season is difficult. The fifth race is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which is the start of a five-week stretch of on-track action. The off weekend after Texas is a valuable one to the teams and that shouldn't be taken from them. The earliest imaginable date would be between Road America and Iowa, which is July 4th weekend and would be difficult to sell for tracks as people will likely choose normal holiday plans over a rescheduled race. The next possible date would be between Toronto and Mid-Ohio in the middle of July. After Mid-Ohio is a two-week break and either of those could be used for a make-up, if necessary.

Another issue is while the dates might work for IndyCar, they might not work for the tracks. Iowa is in a tough position because a NASCAR weekend is the last weekend in July. It really has no wiggle room but perhaps a concession would be made if really bad weather were to delay that race. Mid-Ohio is another track with a NASCAR date two weeks after the IndyCar date. Some races, street circuits in particular, can't just move to another weekend if the weather comes. Street races have to be completed on the designated weekend or they won't be completed at all.

One final issue is what if a race after the designated rain dates is postponed? Looking at the 2017 schedule, there is an off weekend between the penultimate round at Watkins Glen and the finale at Sonoma so in all cases it appears that wouldn't be a problem but sometimes things happen out of our control. The September 11th terrorist attacks pushed the Loudon NASCAR Cup race back to the day after Thanksgiving, the week after the originally schedule finale at Atlanta. As much as we would like to respect Sonoma as the season finale, circumstance may arise where a race has to be pushed back to the week after and Sonoma loses the luxury of crowning the champion. That isn't likely but that should always be in the back of our minds.

Another Texas scenario may not happen in IndyCar again for a long, long time but maybe IndyCar should be one-step ahead in case Mother Nature decides a race won't be happening when scheduled or the day after that. It could be beneficial to the teams, fans and tracks and IndyCar should do what appeases all three factions.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Graham Rahal but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the Belgian Grand Prix.

Prema Motorsports teammates Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi split the GP2 races from Spa-Francorchamps. Charles Leclerc and Jack Aitken won in GP3.

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan., his first career victory. Brett Moffitt won the Truck Race, his first career victory.

Michael McDowell won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Road America, his first career victory.

The #38 Lexus of Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa won the Suzuka 1000km. The #61 Subaru BR-Z of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi won in GT300.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won the IMSA race at VIR. The #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow won in GTD.

The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Mike Conway won the ELMS race from Circuit Paul Ricard. It is the team's third consecutive victory. The #12 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Enzo Guibbert, Paul Petit and Eric Trouillet won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith won in GTE.

Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup split the Supercars weekend at Sydney Motorsports Park. Whincup's victory was the 100th in his Australian Supercars career.

The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Dominik Baumann and Maximilian Buhk won the Blancpain Sprint Series race at the Hungaroring. The #33 Audi of Enzo Ide and Christopher Mies won the qualifying race.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes it return to Watkins Glen for the first time since 2010.
Monza hosts the Italian Grand Prix.
NASCAR runs the Southern 500.
FIA WEC makes its debut at Mexico City.
MotoGP heads to Silverstone.
WTCC will be at Motegi.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Impressions: Texas 2016

1. The first impression of the Firestone 600? Finally! Finally this race is over and what a race it was. Graham Rahal stole it. James Hinchcliffe led over three quarters of the race and Graham Rahal led the final lap by just 0.0080 seconds. The fifth closest finish in IndyCar history and closest at Texas Motor Speedway. Rahal fought his way to the front but for the most of this race he was stuck around fourth and fifth battling with Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. The final few cautions may have got him make in contention and he made it count. He made an over-under move on Hinchcliffe into turn three and he just beat Hinchcliffe to the line. It was unpredictable, incredible, surreal, intense and worrying all at the same time. We all weren't sure what this race would have in store. I doubt anyone expected it to come down to three cars being covered by less than a tenth of a second.

2. James Hinchcliffe finished second in a race he dominated. If only Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon could have negotiated turn one better. Maybe Hinchcliffe would have won this by a run away. Maybe Carpenter would have caught him and beat. Either way, Hinchcliffe had a great night. I am not sure anyone expected him to pick up in the lead and manhandle this race. The pain of finishing second by eight-tenths of a second. How long will it take for that to set in? 

3. Tony Kanaan really wasn't a factor in this one, just like Rahal. He hung around the top five but couldn't challenge on the long runs. However, he took tires late and went toe-to-toe-to-toe and finished third. He could have won it. A few years ago at Iowa, Kanaan dominated and then Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden railroaded him at the end dropping him to third. Now he finished third but nearly did the railroading. 

4. Simon Pagenaud finished fourth in a race where he made his car better on each stop. Will Power did it last week and he ended up in victory lane. Pagenaud did it and got a top five that didn't appear possible. He has increased his championship lead to 28 points over Will Power. It isn't a comfortable margin but we saw last year how every point matters. This was a championship-caliber day from Pagenaud.

5. Hélio Castroneves was involved in two accidents, changed both front and rear wings and finished fifth. Some how he escaped this one. He had a good car but not a great car. He couldn't keep up with Hinchcliffe all night but it nearly played into Castroneves' court.

6. Charlie Kimball did nothing and finished sixth but that is who Kimball is. Maybe by 2018 he will be a championship contender because each year he gets a little bit better.

7. Carlos Muñoz did nothing and finished seventh. Remember, he started on pole position for this race. He really wasn't a factor but yet he was the top finishing Andretti Autosport entry again.

8. Will Power lost some ground in the championship with his eight-place finish but he has done really well at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. He isn't out of this. 

9. Juan Pablo Montoya was the worst Penske entry and he finished ninth. It has been that kind of season for Montoya. 

10. Sébastien Bourdais stole a top five at Pocono on Monday. He stole a top ten at Texas on Saturday. He has never raced at Watkins Glen before in an IndyCar. Don't rule him out next week.

11. Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 11th, 12th and 13th. Hunter-Reay looked good at the start but his tires didn't last beyond 20 laps in a stint. Just when it appeared he was turning it around at Pocono, he suffers another set back. Hunter-Reay seemed to be happy after testing at Watkins Glen. Perhaps he can pull off another surprise like he did there in 2008. 

12. Gabby Chaves did nothing and finished 14th. Max Chilton got in an accident but finished in 15th. Mikhail Aleshin appeared to be a late challenge and then got in an accident and Jack Hawksworth had nowhere to go.

13. Ed Carpenter might be his own worst enemy. Five starts and an average finish of 21.8 and this 18th matched his best finish of the season. Heck, he only finished one race this season and that was Iowa, 16 laps down. Mechanical issues did ruin his races at Indianapolis, Iowa and Pocono but running just the ovals looked good the first few years. The last two years may prove it to be a mistake. It maybe time for Carpenter to relegate himself to Indianapolis 500 only.

14. Scott Dixon has had a bad year by Scott Dixon terms. He probably gets a top ten if he and Carpenter don't get together. He could finish outside the top five in the championship for the first time since 2005. He hasn't lost anything. He just hasn't had a break between mechanical failures and contact. Expect him to rebound in 2017.

15. Takuma Sato had an accident in the only ten-minute practice session. It wasn't his fault. The suspension failed but this isn't a good look for him considering he didn't complete a lap at Pocono, the race his sponsor ABC Supply sponsors and now his practice accident came in AJ Foyt Racing's home race. If he wasn't at Watkins Glen I would not be surprised.

16. Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden didn't restart. Daly did a good job as a pit reporter/driver analyst. 

17. The racing reminded me of Fontana from last year. In the first 15 laps of a stint, the cars were packed together but after that they spread out and considerably so. There was the long green flag run at the start but then after Dixon's accident, the race never got another long green flag run and the cars stayed packed together. That isn't pack racing. Some fixate on the blips when the seismograph is actually pretty stable. 

18. We are now off to Watkins Glen. That is fantastic. IndyCar nearly went to Boston. What were they thinking? Two races to go. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule Provides Continuity

Three races remain in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season but the 2017 schedule was released today and it was a monumental feat for North America's premier open-wheel series.

All 15 events from the 2016 season will return in 2017. It is the first time IndyCar has retained 100% of the races from a previous season since the 2007 season. Along with all 15 events returning, Gateway Motorsports Park will return to the IndyCar schedule and the race will take place under the lights 366 days from today. Gateway hosted seven IndyCar races from 1997-2003, the first four were apart of the CART schedule with the final three being IRL events. Seven different drivers won at the track and they are Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Al Unser, Jr. Gil de Ferran and Hélio Castroneves. Team Penske won three of the seven races including the final two at the track.

There was one date shift that has created a very big break right after the season gets started. Phoenix moves from the first weekend in April to the final weekend in April after Barber on Saturday April 29th. With Phoenix moving, there will be a month-gap between the season opener at St. Petersburg on March 12th and the second round of the season at Long Beach on April 9th. While that isn't ideal for IndyCar, it is better than the series rushing and trying to find a stopgap solution. Perhaps in 2018 a well-planned event could fit into late-March.

Personally, I would love to see an oval dropped into that early spring gap. Homestead once hosted an IndyCar race at the end of March but I really wonder how many races the state of Florida can host in the first three months of the year. Think about it? There is the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of January; two weeks later is the start of Speedweeks with the first weekend hosting Daytona 500 qualifying and then the Daytona 500 itself. After a week off, Daytona Bike Week starts. After another week off, IndyCar is at St. Petersburg and then the 12 Hours of Sebring takes place. Deep down, I would love to see IndyCar go to Darlington at the end of March because I want to see what it would look like and I think Darlington could be a surprise market. As much as we think the south in NASCAR country, Barber Motorsports Park has put on a great event each year and it is down the road from Talladega. I think Darlington could do well as it gives local race fans another event and there would be plenty of space between it and the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.

Despite the early break, the IndyCar schedule has kept that fast paced start to the season. After successive weekends racing at Barber and Phoenix, the series will take a week off before starting three consecutive weeks of action at Indianapolis with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 qualifying and then the Indianapolis 500. The Belle Isle doubleheader returns the week after the "500" and Texas wraps up a five consecutive week run of on-track action.

Road America rounds out the month of June. July has three races in a four week span with Iowa and Toronto in successive weekends before ending the month at Mid-Ohio. Just like 2016, there will be two weeks off between Mid-Ohio and Pocono but, just like 2016, Pocono will be the start of three consecutive weekends of racing from Pocono to the return to Gateway and Watkins Glen will stay on the schedule at Labor Day weekend. Two weeks after Watkins Glen will be the season finale at Sonoma.

One thing that hasn't been announced is start times for the 2017 races. We know Phoenix, Texas and Gateway are scheduled for Saturdays, so those will likely night races. If there is one thing we all could agree on is Pocono should not be scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET. That race should be scheduled to go green no later than 1:00 p.m. ET. There are 11 races scheduled for the same day as NASCAR Cup races but most of those are races that are scheduled to happen before NASCAR night races (both Indianapolis races, Watkins Glen), before NASCAR races in the Pacific Time Zone (St. Petersburg, Road America) or will be in the Pacific Time Zone (Long Beach, Sonoma). However, with most NASCAR races scheduled to start between 2:00 p.m. ET and 3:00 p.m. ET in 2017, perhaps an races, such as Mid-Ohio, could be run at noon ET before a NASCAR race starts at 3:00 p.m. ET (in this case Pocono).

We could see more venues added for 2018. Portland has been in the conversation of returning to the IndyCar schedule for the last few months. Portland use to take place during the Portland Rose Festival in June but with the already crowded June slate for IndyCar, the race would have to take place at another time. I doubt Portland could go in late March. Maybe it could fall in August. International races are apparently still on the table as Mark Miles mentioned a potential international race in February 2018. International is a broad term. It could mean Mexico City, which was a rumored destination for IndyCar this season in February. However, international could also mean a flyaway race to China or Dubai or somewhere else around the globe. We are at the point though where Mark Miles has been saying international races are going to happen since 2014 and they have yet to happen and it's not just one race that has failed to materialize, it has been China and Dubai and Brasilia.

Overall, I think IndyCar did a great job with the 2017 schedule considering it maintained stability from one year to the next. The one concern I do have is many events are contracted through 2018, which isn't a bad thing but my concern is what if a half-dozen events decide after 2018 not to renew? IndyCar could be in a dire situation come 2019. That probably won't happen but it's the doomsday scenario that none of us want to see happen. Maybe after 2017 a few races will sign another extension through 2019 or 2020 or maybe even further into the future.

I have said it before and I will say it again, the IndyCar schedule can't get much better. Outside of adding another two or three ovals, preferably Fontana, Milwaukee and/or one of Kentucky, Michigan, Richmond, Loudon or Chicagoland and adding Austin and maybe Laguna Seca, the IndyCar schedule is great. Road America is back. Phoenix is back. IndyCar should probably do all it can to revive Texas and Iowa and continue to cultivate Pocono. Mid-Ohio and Barber get great crowds. Long Beach is phenomenal. St. Petersburg has solid footing. Toronto's future is a little shaky considering how beat up the track is and the event doesn't grab the same amount of attention in Toronto that it once did. With all that said, if the 2017 IndyCar schedule were to remain for the next twenty years, I don't think many would complain.

Today's announcement was great for IndyCar. For the first time in a long time, there appears to be some continuity in IndyCar.

Hinchcliffe Leads Texas Restart

Rain shouldn't affect the conclusion to the Firestone 600
After over two and a half months, the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway will restart. With 71 laps already completed, the teams will look to complete the final 177 laps on Saturday night at 9:20 p.m. ET.

James Hinchcliffe led when the rain returned on that Sunday afternoon and the Canadian will restart from first place. The Canadian's best finish at Texas was fourth in 2012 and that was the only time Hinchcliffe has finished on the lead lap at Texas. The eight laps Hinchcliffe led in the 2012 race were his only laps led in his career at Texas prior to him taking the lead back in June. Hinchcliffe enters with four consecutive top ten finishes and three consecutive top ten finishes on ovals. Ryan Hunter-Reay is coming off a spectacular run at Pocono where he started 22nd, took the lead before 50 laps completed and then had to charge from 12th to third in the final 22 laps after over coming an electrical glitch that dropped him from the lead and put him a lap down. Hunter-Reay has three podiums this season, tied for the most podiums without a victory this season with Hélio Castroneves.

Mikhail Aleshin will restart third with the Russian coming off his first career podium on an oval and his first career pole position. Aleshin finished seventh in his only Texas start in 2014. Aleshin has led 120 laps this season, the most for a Honda driver. Will Power was victorious last week at Pocono and cut the gap in the championship to 20 points behind Pagenaud. Power has five top ten finishes in his career at Texas. Ed Carpenter will restart in the fifth position. Carpenter had a mechanical issue end his race at Pocono after starting in the top ten at the 2.5-mile track. Carpenter's average finish this season is 22.75. Gabby Chaves will restart in the sixth position. The Colombian driver has not competed since Iowa. His best finish this season was 12th in the first Belle Isle race. This likely will be Chaves' final appearance in the 2016 season.

Hélio Castroneves restarts the Texas race in seventh position, just ahead of Charlie Kimball, two of the three drivers who came together on the pit lane at Pocono on Monday. Castroneves has six consecutive top ten finishes at Texas. Kimball has two consecutive top ten finishes at Texas after his best finish in his first four starts at the 1.5-mile track was 17th. Carlos Muñoz was ninth at the time of the red flag. Muñoz was the pole-sitter when the race started back in June. It was the first pole position of his career. He finished sixth at Texas last year. Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top ten. Montoya has finished third and fourth in his two IndyCar starts at Texas.

Sébastien Bourdais picked up his first top five on an oval since his victory at Milwaukee last year last week at Pocono and the Frenchman will restart 11th. Bourdais had started the race in 18th position. His best Texas finish is 14th. Graham Rahal follows his former Newman-Haas teammate in the running order and Rahal has finished outside the top ten in the last three Texas starts. Alexander Rossi will restart 13th despite charging through the field early in the race only to have the tires fall off and drop him through the running order. Rossi currently holds fastest lap in the race at 211.666 MPH. Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan round out the cars on the lead lap. Dixon had started second. When the race restarts, Pagenaud's point lead will dwindle to three points. In 16 Texas starts, Kanaan has 13 top ten finishes.

Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton are all one lap down while Jack Hawksworth will restart two laps down. Sato had started the race from fourth position. Andretti hasn't finished in the top ten in an even year at Texas since finishing third at 2010. Chilton's 13th-place finish at Pocono was his first top fifteen finish since finishing 15th at the Indianapolis 500. Hawksworth's 14th-place finish on Monday was his best finish on an oval since finishing 13th at Iowa last year. Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden will not restart the race after their accident on lap 42. Daly's best finish on an oval this season was 16th at Phoenix and Pocono. Newgarden had three top five finishes and four top ten finishes in his other four oval starts this season.

NBCSN's coverage of the restart of the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 27th with the restart happening at 9:20 p.m. ET. The field will have a warm-up session at 5:35 p.m. ET for the first half of the field and a session at 5:50 p.m. ET for the second half of the field. Kevin Lee will be in booth with Leigh Diffey on Formula One duty and Brian Till on sports car duty. Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy join Lee in the both and Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

Monday, August 22, 2016

First Impressions: Pocono 2016

Will Power takes the checkered flag
1. How did Will Power win this race? I am still not sure. He didn't work his way to the front early like Ryan Hunter-Reay did (more on him in a moment) but the Chevrolets had better fuel mileage in this race. The Hondas could do about 30 laps for a stint. The Chevrolets easily did 32-33 laps. That added up as the race went on. He also benefitted from a caution from the hands of his teammate, Simon Pagenaud. Twenty-three consecutive races Pagenaud had finished and contact exiting turn one has opened up the championship. Twenty points separate the two drivers with three races to complete and when Texas restarts next Saturday night, Power will be fourth and Pagenaud will be 15th. Power will be tentatively on 32 points from Texas while Pagenaud will be on 15 points. Pagenaud is ahead entering but will need to be making up ground as soon as the green flag falls.

2. Mikhail Aleshin dominated the first half of the race and then the fuel strategy game bit him. He had one stint that I think was only 28 laps because Hunter-Reay stopped two laps later and then the rest of the field started cycling in. It looked like he would settle in about fifth or sixth but he fought in that final stint and ended up second. He couldn't run down Power, which was interesting considering how Power didn't really look that strong in the sessions leading up to the race but Aleshin was at the front all weekend. This was a remarkable result and a great comeback after throwing away a victory at Mid-Ohio

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the darling of the crowd today. He went from 22nd to the lead in 50 laps and just after taking the lead on the penultimate restart, his car lost power and he coasted into the pit lane, only to regain fire but not soon enough to stay on the lead lap. However, he benefitted from the wave around on the final caution, got back on the lead lap and went from 12th to 3rd in the final twenty laps. It is stuff of legend. The crowd forgot about the leaders until about two to go and were focused on Hunter-Reay pick his way through the field. You can't help but feel he had a victory get away with him but he added a chapter to his lore and he restarts second at Texas on Saturday.

4. Josef Newgarden was up front all day. He could have been on the podium. Unfortunately for him, he is now a sitting duck in the champion. He trails by hundred but he is going to lose ground to everybody. Newgarden is on the cusp of being a challenger but barring him winning Watkins Glen and Pagenaud and Power both having terrible days, Newgarden will be on the outside looking in at Sonoma. He has had a really good season regardless but one too many incidents kept him from fighting for the title.

5. Sébastien Bourdais finished fifth after going fuel only on the final pit stop. It was a gamble that paid off. Some times you have to make your own results and that is what Bourdais did. Newgarden did it at Pocono in 2014 and that was a turning point for his career. Bourdais' career doesn't need a turning point but I bet he won't turn down a top five on a day when it appeared he was going to have to fight just for a top ten.

6. Scott Dixon finished sixth but was never a factor in this race. His car got better through out the race but never reached the level of the front-runners. Dixon likely won't retain the Astor Cup but he hasn't had a terrible season. Other than a mechanical failure at Road America and an odd accident at Mid-Ohio, Dixon has had a good season.

7. Carlos Muñoz ran in the top five all day but fell back to seventh. He is really impressive. If  Andretti Autosport doesn't retain him, he would be a big addition at KV Racing or A.J. Foyt Racing or he would be a great teammate for Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

8. Juan Pablo Montoya finished eighth but he languished back for most of this race. I don't know why the Penske cars got stronger throughout the race but Montoya did and he ended up in the top ten after it appeared he wouldn't be close.

9. Tony Kanaan finally got his first career top ten finish at Pocono. It appeared he would challenge for a top five but he faded late. This has been a good year for Kanaan.

10. James Hinchcliffe, just like Aleshin, started well but he was bit by fuel strategy and fell back. He got a top ten but his day could have been much better.

11. Graham Rahal finished 11th and Marco Andretti finished 12th. Neither could get through the field.

12. Max Chilton finally has a good day and finished 13th. Jack Hawksworth finished 14th, which is a great day for A.J. Foyt Racing.

13. Charlie Kimball finished a lap down in 15th, which is remarkable considering Alexander Rossi climbed over Kimball. IndyCar either needs to look for a way to reduce the chance of contact on the pit lane or have a severe punishment for contact on the pit lane. There is no reason contact should ever take place on the pit lane. I suggested on Twitter that IndyCar have a volleyball referee stand behind each pit box so teams would have a better viewpoint for a crew member to see if someone is coming. The other thing that I don't get is IndyCar doesn't use the first half-dozen of pit stalls at Pocono, nor does the series use the final half-dozen pit stalls. The pit lane is built to hold 43 stock cars. There is plenty of room for 22 IndyCars. The series should spread them out a bit and maybe even consider making pit lane speed a little slower. Even worse was Hélio Castroneves was taken out in the incident and he got the worse of Rossi's underbelly.

14. Speaking of Rossi, he had a really good race going until that incident. I honestly thought he would win the first two 500-mile starts of his career. I would love to see him get a sophomore year in IndyCar.

15. Dale Coyne Racing just doesn't have it on ovals. Conor Daly finished 16th, two laps down and Pippa Mann was 17th, three laps down. I feel it is mostly the team lacking the resources to succeed on ovals. We have seen Daly have success this year on road and street circuit. Mann has never really shown she has that special something. I wonder how many chances she will get.

16. Ed Carpenter can't get a break and had another mechanical failure. Takuma Sato qualified third and it all looked promising for him in front of ABC Supply delegates... and then he spun exiting turn three on lap one. I think that straw has broken the camels back. Sato must be a lame duck driver for these final three races.

17. Despite the rain and the postponement, this was a great weekend. The crowd today was better than I expected. I thought it would feel like a high school football game I would go to growing up with about 3,000 in attendance. It was bigger than that. I don't think it broke 10,000 but if you said 7,500 people were there, that is a good showing for IndyCar on a Monday.

18. Now the teams head to Texas and the championship has been revived.

Musings From the Weekend: Pitching A Tent

It rained at Bristol, Brno and Pocono. Two races were delayed a day. One takes place this afternoon. Cal Cructhlow won a MotoGP race. How about that? And Crutchlow wasn't the only British winner this weekend. There were a handful of first time winners this weekend. A champion ended a winless drought. More manufacture shenanigans are taking place in DTM and Martin Tomczyk is involved again but this time he is the offending party. Let's hope they don't repeat Barcelona 2007. Chris Buescher finally cracked the top thirty. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pitching A Tent
IndyCar has had some really good race weekend attendance this year at road courses. Barber had another stellar crowd. The return to Road America was better than expected and Mid-Ohio was another packed house. Many credit the success of these races to the camping friendly facilities. People can stay at the track all weekend. They can bring a tent or a mobile home. They can walk around the track and not be far from shelter in case the weather changes for the worse. Fans can sit out at night around a fire pit. People can mingle.

While camping may contribute to the success of road course weekends, it hasn't helped IndyCar oval races. Other than Indianapolis, the other events are staggering. Phoenix just came back and let's see what year two brings but Texas is a shadow of what it once was. Iowa is good but not as great as it was in the early years. Pocono is doing well enough to stay on the schedule but the event didn't take off like we all hoped it would after 2013.

While ovals aren't as picturesque as road courses, they are still good for camping. NASCAR races prove that. While the IndyCar oval races might not draw campers, you can't help but notice the packs of RVs crammed into infields at each NASCAR race. It has become a selling point to NASCAR events. You can spend three days at the track, park your RV, fly your flag and call it a weekend. Places like Talladega have become famous for its infield culture.

Why hasn't IndyCar had the same success in terms of camping for its oval races? People clearly do camp at IndyCar races but I highly doubt the reason why people don't camp for IndyCar oval races is the lack of elevation changes. Could it be that camping for an IndyCar race isn't emphasized enough? Or could it be that the race fans that camp out for the NASCAR races are tapped out and can't afford an additional weekend taking the RV to the track? Camping at races isn't cheap and while places such as Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio, where IndyCar is the premier race weekend for race fans to camp at, for the ovals the IndyCar race is in some cases third in the pecking order, unless its Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If IndyCar and the tracks can figure out how to attract campers, it would improve attendance of the races and possibly turn IndyCar oval races into a money-making enterprise, which it turn would increase the secure of these races long term.

Batting 0-for-3
Brandon Igdalsky couldn't have had a worse year for Pocono Raceway. Zero of the three major race weekends at the track took place on the schedule date. He had three Monday races. What are the odds of that? It shouldn't be a cause to panic. You can't control Mother Nature but it is astonishing nonetheless. It makes you wonder if Igdalsky and Pocono Raceway would donate money to Goodyear and Firestone to start developing a wet weather oval tire. Or maybe he will consider putting up lights. Pocono might look good at night but that might end up costing a fair amount of money. 2017 can't get any worse for Pocono Raceway

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Cal Crutchlow but did you know...

Jonas Folger won the Moto2 race at Brno. John McPhee won his first career Moto3 race.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race at Bristol. Austin Dillon won the Grand National Series race on Friday night. Ben Kennedy won his first career Truck race on Wednesday.

Robert Wickens and Marco Wittmann split the DTM races at Moscow Raceway. Wickens took the championship after his Saturday victory and Wittmann retook the lead with his victory on Sunday.

Sébastien Ogier won Rallye Deutschland, his first WRC victory since Rally Sweden in February.

Yuhi Sekiguchi won the Super Formula race from Twin Ring Motegi. It was Sekiguchi's first career victory and he won the race from his first career pole position in his fourth career start.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Texas to hopefully finish the Firestone 600.
Formula One is back in action at the Belgian Grand Prix.
NASCAR returns to Michigan.
The Suzuka 1000km will keep you up after the IndyCar race.
GTLM and GTD will do battle at Virginia International Raceway.
ELMS will run four hours around Circuit Paul Ricard.
Supercars will be at Sydney Motorsports Park.
Blancpain Sprint Series is in Hungary.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Tale From A Rainy Day

Wet socks weather
I didn't want to go to Pocono today. I knew it was going to rain. It was 100% chance of thunderstorms last Sunday. I knew the race wouldn't be started.  All I could think of all week was the car getting stuck in the muddy parking lot.

This race couldn't have been scheduled for a worse time. Actually, the scheduling wasn't the problem. This race had been scheduled for months. I couldn't have started a new job and relocated at a worse time. I am exhausted. I have been on trains, touring apartments and trying to learn new names, faces and bus schedules. I wanted a day off and attending a race isn't a day off. It is a chore. Make sure you have the tickets, pack your bag/cooler, charge your cellphone, get in the car, drive over an hour or two, find a parking spot, try to remember that parking spot despite no markers and no distinguishing landmarks, have the bag checked and then try and fill the time before green flag and then try and find your seat. And then you have to rush the exits with the 15,000-20,000 other people you attended the race with and navigate traffic. It sucks. Why do people do it? Why do I do it?

The parking lot wasn't full. I am not sure I have ever parked that close to the front door. I walked in and the place wasn't a ghost town but I breezed through the line to get validated for paddock access. Inside, it felt more like an NASA regional event. A couple hundred people were hanging around but it wasn't as suffocating as last year.

Drivers are magnets. One gets noticed and two fans go over for autographs. Then another four notice and go over for autographs. Then two-dozen people scamper over and the driver is heading for his hauler doors. Some drivers have a stronger attraction than others. People swarm the colorful haulers of Andretti, Penske and Ganassi and the teams put up barricades to create a buffer zone. The teams on the end, Foyt and Coyne, don't put up barricades. While Graham Rahal stands on the steps and preaches to the congregation, Conor Daly is chatting with two blonde women. A few approach for handshakes but they move along. Gabby Chaves is sitting on a golf cart and no one bothers him. If he were entered in the #19 Honda would it be any different?

The bright side of this rainy day was I got a lot of nice photos of drivers and cars, preparing to race and those of years yonder. I actually like that Pocono has had vintage IndyCars at the race the past two years. I almost feel it is something that could help the race if it could be coupled with historic cars. I know the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca was happening simultaneously with the Pocono race but perhaps Pocono could become a destination for those on the east coast who couldn't make it out west. Probably not though.

It was a beautiful day at 8:00 a.m. ET and it was nice until about noon. Some were in denial trying to talk away the rain even when it spat on their camera lens. The pavement darkened. Green flag time approached. I was waiting by the exit. I knew it was going to be called. The driver introductions just kept providing some with false hope. Others saw through the attempt to act like everything was going to plan when it was clear conditions weren't getting any better. I knew they were going to wait to 3:00 p.m. ET. They were waiting for the television window. It is aggravating for attendees. If IndyCar was going to wait until 3:00 p.m. ET to decide whether or not to postpone the race, just tell the people that. Simple communication, like a quick announcement over the public address system, is all attendees want and it goes a long way. People don't want to be left in the dark or in this case pouring rain.

I headed to the car at 2:45 p.m. ET. I figured I would wait there until hearing the announcement and then I would go. I checked my phone at 3:00 p.m. and there was the confirmation of what I expected for over 24 hours. I started the car and headed home. Tomorrow I will repeat the steps just a few hours earlier and while negotiating the throngs of people heading to work and dreading another Monday.

Morning Warm-Up: Pocono 2016

Mikhail Aleshin stunned everyone Saturday and won pole position
Mikhail Aleshin was the surprise pole winner for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. The Russian driver ran a two-lap average of 220.445 MPH. This is Aleshin's first career IndyCar pole position but this is his the second front row start of his career. He started second in second race of the Houston doubleheader in 2014 and he finished second in that race to then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Simon Pagenaud. This is Aleshin's first pole position since 2012 in Formula Renault 3.5 at Barcelona. He finished second in that race. Aleshin finished seventh in his only Pocono start in 2014. Josef Newgarden was just over two-tenths of a mile per hour behind Aleshin and will round out the front row. This is Newgarden's third front row start of the season. He won at Iowa from second on the grid and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 from second on the grid. He finished second last year at Pocono from fourth on the grid.

Takuma Sato was the only other driver to break the 220-MPH barrier in qualifying and he will start third. This is Sato's best starting position of the season and his best starting position on an oval since Iowa 2011 when Sato won his first career pole position. Joining Sato on row two will be Hélio Castroneves. This is the first race since this year's Indianapolis 500 where no Penske car has started on the front row. Castroneves' best finish at Pocono was second in 2014. Castroneves has not won a 500-mile race since the 2009 Indianapolis 500. All of Castroneves' 500-mile victories have been at Indianapolis. Carlos Muñoz qualified fifth, the top Andretti Autosport entry. Muñoz has finished in the top five in both his Pocono starts. His average finish in 500-mile races is 8.667 with three runner-up finishes including this year's Indianapolis 500. James Hinchcliffe has yet to finish on the lead lap in a Pocono race and he will start sixth. Hinchcliffe hasn't even completed 500 miles in race laps at Pocono. He failed to complete a lap in 2013 and finished a lap down in 2014. He missed the 2015 race due to injury.

Alexander Rossi will start a career-best seventh on an oval and this is his first career top ten starting position in his IndyCar career. He has finished in the top ten in his last two oval starts. Rossi could become the first drier ever to win his first two starts in 500-mile races. This is his first time competing at Pocono. Will Power joins Rossi on row four. Power's only 500-mile race victory was Fontana in 2013. Power's best finish at Pocono was fourth in 2013 and 2015 He is currently second in the championship. Tony Kanaan has been a factor in all three Pocono races since it returned to the calendar in 2013 but he has never finished in the top ten at the track. Kanaan's most recent victory was the 500-mile race at Fontana in 2014. Ed Carpenter rounds out the top ten. He hasn't had a top ten finish since Iowa last year. His only 500-mile race victory was Fontana 2012.

Graham Rahal qualified 11th with Jack Hawksworth joining him on row six. Rahal has failed to finish the last two Pocono races. He scored his first career 500-mile race victory at Fontana last year. This year's Pocono race is scheduled to come 28 years to the day Bobby Rahal won at Pocono. This will be Hawksworth's best start on an oval in his career. His previous best was 13th in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, his first career oval start. He finished 20th in that race. Hawksworth missed the 2014 Pocono race due to injury and had a loose wheel and contact with Charlie Kimball knock him to a 22nd place finish last year. Marco Andretti will start his home race from 13th on the grid. Andretti has not started in the top ten since starting eighth in last year's season finale at Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud will join Andretti on row seven. This is the first time Andretti out qualified Pagenaud since Mid-Ohio last year when Andretti started 12th and Pagenaud 15th. Pagenaud has finished 23 consecutive races dating back to last season. His last retirement was the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Juan Pablo Montoya will start 15th, his worst starting position this season since starting 17th at Indianapolis. He has finished on the podium in both his career IndyCar starts at Pocono including a victory from pole position in 2014. He finished third last year. Charlie Kimball joins Montoya on row eight. Kimball finished second at Pocono in his first start at the track in 2013, when the race was 400-miles. He finished fifth in this year's Indianapolis 500. Kimball has led five laps this season. Max Chilton will make his debut at Pocono from 17th on the grid. Sébastien Bourdais starts 18th and he looks for his first top ten at Pocono. Scott Dixon qualified 19th, his worst starting position at Pocono. Ironically, Dixon has never started in the top ten at Pocono. Conor Daly rounds out row ten and he looks for his first lead lap finish on an oval. Pippa Mann and Ryan Hunter-Reay round out the field. Hunter-Reay did not make a qualifying attempt after an accident in first practice.

NBCSN's coverage of the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled or 3:09 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Track Walk: Pocono 2016

After two weeks off, IndyCar returns to action at Pocono
The ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway marks the penultimate oval race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. This is the first of three consecutive weeks of racing for IndyCar with the completion of the Texas race set for next Saturday and Watkins Glen the Sunday after that. Eighteen drivers enter the 13th race of the season with the mathematic possibility of winning the Astor Cup. Team Penske has won eight races this season and has won eight times at Pocono Raceway, leading all teams. Team Penske is the only team that has won multiple times this season and is one win away from matching the team's second-most victories in a season. If the team sweeps the final four races, it would match the team's record for victories in a season at 12, set in 1994 with Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 21st. Green flag is at 3:09 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is on Olympic duty), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (90 minutes).
Qualifying: 1:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped delay coverage at 12:00 a.m. Sunday)
Final Practice: 5:00-5:30 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 3:09 p.m. ET (300 laps).

Championship Picture
Simon Pagenaud leads the IndyCar championship with 484 points after the Frenchman picked up his fourth victory of 2016 at Mid-Ohio almost three weeks ago. Pagenaud has doubled his career victories after entering the 2016 season with four victories. He has yet to win on an oval with four victories coming on permanent road courses and four on street circuits. Pagenaud has three top tens in all three of his Pocono starts with two sixth-place finishes and a seventh. He led 30 laps in last year's race from second on the grid.

Will Power is second in the championship on 426 points and the Australian has the second-most victories this season with three. Power enters with five consecutive podium finishes and six on the season. Only Pagenaud has more with seven podiums. Hélio Castroneves makes it a Penske sweep of the top three for Team Penske and the Brazilian sits on 373 points. Castroneves has not won this season and has only three podium finishes. He has not finished in the top ten on an oval this season with his best finish being 11th at Phoenix and Indianapolis.

Josef Newgarden trails Castroneves by nine points in the championship table. While having eight top ten finishes from 12 races, three of Newgarden's other four finishes have been outside the top twenty. Newgarden finished second last year at Pocono. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are tied on 357 points with the tiebreaker belonging to Dixon as the New Zealander has a victory while Kanaan's best finish is second at Road America. Kanaan has not finished ahead of Dixon in the championship since 2005 when he was runner-up to Dan Wheldon and Dixon was 13th.

James Hinchcliffe is the top Honda driver in the championship on 329 points. The Canadian is one-point ahead of Carlos Muñoz and five points ahead of Graham Rahal. All three drivers are coming off top five finishes at Mid-Ohio. Hinchcliffe has three consecutive top ten finishes. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten in the championship with 318 points. Only Kanaan, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power have more top ten finishes this season than Kimball.

Alexander Rossi is two points behind Kimball in the championship and he looks for his third consecutive top ten finish on an oval. Juan Pablo Montoya has 299 points and has failed to finish in the top ten in the last three races, just like Ryan Hunter-Reay, who sits on 294 points. Sébastien Bourdais is the lowest race-winner in the championship on 283 points. Takuma Sato rounds out the top fifteen on 257 points. Mikhail Aleshin, Conor Daly and Marco Andretti are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the championship with six points cover Aleshin (243) and Andretti (237).

A Chance For Honda's Revival?
Alexander Rossi's Indianapolis 500 victory is the only time Honda has found the top of the podium in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and even if Honda sweeps the final four races, the Japanese manufacture will have fewer victories than last season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won last year's Pocono race after starting eighth and leading 29 of 200 laps. The American driver is coming off of three consecutive finishes outside the top ten and last year Hunter-Reay won at Iowa after four consecutive finishes outside the top ten. His victory last year came after two retirements at Pocono. One after being hit from behind by Takuma Sato while entering he pit lane and the other because of an electrical issue.

Carlos Muñoz enters Pocono with the best average finish at Pocono among Honda drivers. His third and fifth gives him an average finish of 4.0 in two starts at the 2.5-mile track. Muñoz scored his first podium finish on a permanent road course at Mid-Ohio and he has three podiums on 2.5-mile tracks in his career. He has never had consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career but if Muñoz could return to the podium in the final four races, it would match his career-best podiums in a season.

Marco Andretti has had a rough 2016 season and has had misfortune at this home track. In 2013, a miscalculation in fuel strategy cost him a victory despite leading 88 laps from pole position. The following year Andretti would start fifth but an early pit lane speeding infraction forced him to the back and he charged to finish ninth. Last year, Andretti started 22nd and made it into the top five before an accident ended his race with 62 laps to go.

James Hinchcliffe is the top Honda in the championship but the Canadian has never had good fortune at Pocono. In 2013, he started third but didn't make it through turn one on lap one and in 2014; he would finish a lap down in 12th despite starting sixth. His teammate Mikhail Aleshin made one start at Pocono in 2014 and he finished seventh after running in the top ten for most of the race.

Graham Rahal's title hopes were ruined last year at Pocono after a poor pit stop and then being run into by Tristan Vautier. He has yet to finish on the lead lap at Pocono and he has regressed each year at the track having finishes of 18th, 19th and 20th in each of the last year respective years. He finished fifth at Phoenix but 14th and 16th in the other two oval races at Indianapolis and Iowa.

Dale Coyne Racing hasn't had a top ten finish on an oval since Justin Wilson finished seventh at Pocono in 2013. The team's last top five finish on an oval was Wilson's fifth in that year's Indianapolis 500. Conor Daly has yet to finish on the lead lap in his previous four oval starts and he has only finished once on an oval, his IndyCar debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Daly will drive the #88 Jonathan Byrd's Honda this weekend in honor of the late-Bryan Clauson. Pippa Mann returns for her second start of the season in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Mann was the top Dale Coyne Racing finisher in the Indianapolis 500 by finishing 18th, one lap down.

Since returning to Pocono in 2013, A.J. Foyt Racing has had at least one car finish outside the top twenty in each race but Takuma Sato did finish sixth last year, his only top ten on an oval last season. The team hasn't had a top five on an oval since Darren Manning finished fifth in the inaugural Iowa race in 2007. The team's last oval podium was Airton Daré's victory at Kansas in 2002 and the team hasn't had multiple top ten finishers since Homestead 2002 when Eliseo Salazar finished fifth and Daré finished tenth. 

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on August 21st and first since 2005, when Dan Wheldon won at Pikes Peak. It was the final IndyCar race held at Pikes Peak.

This will be the 166th 500-mile race in IndyCar history.

Bobby Rahal won at Pocono on August 21, 1988.

Team Penske has won at Pocono eight times.

Only three other active teams have won at Pocono: A.J. Foyt Racing (four times), Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

A.J. Foyt won both rain-shortened Pocono IndyCar races. The 1975 race ended after 170 laps and the 1981 race after 122 laps.

Alexander Rossi could become the first driver to win multiple 500-mile races in a year since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000. Rossi could become the first American to win multiple 500-mile races in a season since Rick Mears in 1991. Rossi could become the first driver in IndyCar history to win the first two 500-mile races in a career.

The last driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono in the same season was Al Unser in 1978. Unser won the Triple Crown that season.

Teo Fabi, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only foreign drivers to win at Pocono.

Juan Pablo Montoya holds the Pocono track record with a 223.871 MPH two-lap average. He has finished first and third in his two Pocono starts.

Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott Dixon are the four drivers to have three top ten finishes in three Pocono starts. Newgarden and Dixon have the best average finish for drivers with three Pocono starts at 5.0.

Power has the best average starting position at Pocono at 3.0 but the Australian has never won a pole position at Pocono. Pocono is one of four tracks on the IndyCar schedule Power has not won a pole position at. The others are Phoenix, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and Iowa.

Power and Tony Kanaan are the only drivers to lead in all three Pocono races since 2013.

With his retirement at Mid-Ohio, Scott Dixon has two finishes outside the top twenty this season. Only once has Dixon had more than two finishes outside the top twenty in a season. That was 2005 when he finished outside the top twenty at Motegi, Indianapolis, Richmond and Kentucky.

Max Chilton's average finish in his three oval starts this season is 13.667. His average starting position in oval races is 11.333.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.227 with a median of three.

The average number of lead changes at Pocono is 18.13 with a median of 16. Last year's race saw a race record 33 lead changes.

The average number cautions at Pocono is 7.142 with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 40.523 with a median of 39. Last year's race set a record of most cautions in race history at 12 and caution laps at 74. 

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 19 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 6 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 46 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 59 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 49 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti wins the race, surpasses 1,000 laps led in his career and he has two other teammates finish in the top ten, one of which will be Ryan Hunter-Reay. Juan Pablo Montoya will be the top finishing Penske entry. The driver who leads the most laps will lead at least 45 laps. Ed Carpenter gets his first top ten finish of the season. There will be fewer than seven cautions. Pippa Mann finishes at least three laps down. Honda leads more laps than Chevrolet. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: What I Feel Going Back to Pocono Raceway

The NASCAR race at Mid-Ohio was raced in the wet and then the dry and then in the wet again. Justin Marks took a surprise victory. The average speed of the race was 53.437 MPH. Sam Hornish, Jr. spun like a top. Darrell Wallace, Jr. was all over the place. Andy Lally nearly had a top five. Former Indy Lights driver Alon Day nearly had a top ten. There was a first time winner in MotoGP. Valentino Rossi fired his Moto3 rider. The Newman name is on verge of returning the Road to Indy ladder system. Álvaro Parente lost his championship lead in Pirelli World Challenge to Patrick Long. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

What I Feel Going Back to Pocono Raceway
Everything feels like it happened yesterday since last year's IndyCar race at Pocono. That might explain why I am still in disbelief that Justin Wilson is gone. He was just here. He was just high-fifing a spectator while walking back to the paddock after an engine failure at Milwaukee. He was just on the podium at Mid-Ohio after challenging Graham Rahal for the victory. He was just here. I saw him during driver introductions. I have a picture of his blue and silver #25 Honda zooming by on track.

Despite being at the race, I didn't see Wilson's accident. I saw Sage Karam spin from the lead and threw my hands up and head back in disbelief that the local kid who had been up front all race lost a chance at victory while leading. It took a moment to realize another car had hit the barrier. I had seen the replays but the screen about a quarter-mile away from down the front straightaway couldn't translate to me what had happened. The long delay with cars humming by at caution speed created itchiness in the crowd. No driver was walking away from the car. The helicopter came to life and flew away from a silent grandstand but full of nervous hearts.

I always wanted to go back to Pocono and I wanted IndyCar to come back to Pocono. I think if there is one thing learned from Dan Wheldon's accident is there was no closure and Las Vegas Motor Speedway became the enemy to many. To some, the track is the reason why Wheldon is gone and some never want to see IndyCar go back there. I can't grasp that logic. If IndyCar stopped racing at any track a driver perished at then the Indianapolis 500 wouldn't exist, Phoenix wouldn't have returned to the schedule this year and Toronto would have ended twenty years ago. Creating safer catch fences and a racing package that prevents pack racing were sound discussions to have after Wheldon's accident but many made it about the track and the relationship frayed so quickly between IndyCar and Las Vegas that there has been no closure and to many in the IndyCar community it is a wound they won't acknowledge and it will never heal until it receives proper attention.

Returning to Pocono is proper attention. I didn't want it to become another festering wound. It was a freak accident. Something that could have happened anywhere and it did the year prior during the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, only James Hinchcliffe got out with a concussion and Justin Wilson didn't. It was an accident through and through and neither the series nor Pocono Raceway could be charged with negligence.

I am excited because it is another race to attend and another chance to gather with 20,000 thousand-plus people (I am probably going to get eviscerated for suggesting 20,000 people will attend Pocono) to celebrate IndyCar and the thrill of competition but I know there will be a sense of reflection on the life of Justin Wilson. I expect to see a couple hundred of those off-white Justin Wilson memorial shirts; I know I plan on wearing mine. Do I expect to see tears? Maybe. Maybe if a moment of silence is held during pre-race festivities or something else is done to honor Wilson but I do expect people to be smiling and laughing and swarming Mario Andretti for autographs while he sits on his scooter. I expect young boys and girls to come exhilarated to meet drivers they idolize and leave with the dream of racing one day. I look forward to the always-welcoming staff at Pocono Raceway. The Igdalsky family provides one of the friendliest facilities and I cannot commend them enough for keeping that atmosphere through all these years as sporting events have become edgy and ushers at football and baseball games can give you a hard time as you look for your seat.

Justin Wilson will be watching, at least that is what I would like to believe, and I would like to believe he will smile when he sees the fans strolling around the paddock and the cars in the garage. Hopefully he can do something about the weather forecast and make sure showers don't arrive on Sunday afternoon.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Justin Marks but did you know...

Andrea Iannone won MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix, his first MotoGP victory and Ducati's first victory since Casey Stoner won the 2010 Australian Grand Prix. Johann Zarco won for the fifth time and fourth time in the last five Moto2 races. Joan Mir won in Moto3, his first career victory.

Bryan Heitkotter swept the weekend in Pirelli World Challenge's GT class at Utah Motorsports Campus. Anthony Mantella and Scott Heckert won in GTS.

Jason Johnson won the Knoxville Nationals, preventing Donny Schatz from winning the event for a tenth time.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar returns to Pocono raceway.
MotoGP does not take a week off and heads to Brno, Czech Republic.
NASCAR makes it's annual August trek to Bristol.
DTM heads to Moscow Raceway.
Sébastien Ogier looks to defend his Rallye Deutschland victory. He hasn't won since Rally Sweden in February.
The fourth round of the Super Formula season takes place at Twin Ring Motegi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule Talk

We are in August and while IndyCar teams are testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen and some are enjoying trips to Rome (Scott Dixon), 2017 is getting closer. The schedule is anticipated to be unveiled by the end of the month and it would likely come at one of the two remaining race weekends this month at Pocono or Texas.

Like any other year, many events we already know as tracks have already announced race dates or others series (Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA, IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge) have released schedules with dates and tracks that correspond with past IndyCar races. Here is what we know:

March 12: St. Petersburg (Released by promoter)
April 9: Long Beach (Released by promoter)
April 23: Barber (Released by IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge)
May 13: Grand Prix of Indianapolis (Released by promoter)
May 28: Indianapolis 500 (Released by promoter)
June 3-4: Belle Isle (Released by promoter and IMSA)
June 25: Road America (Released by Pirelli World Challenge)
July 9: Iowa (Released by promoter)
July 30: Mid-Ohio (Released by Pirelli World Challenge)
September 17: Sonoma (Released by IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge)

Ten events have been confirmed with five events from the 2016 season still hanging in the balance. Let's start in chronological order from 2016 race date on the five other races:

Phoenix is probably the most interesting of the five events yet to be confirmed for 2017. Phoenix was the first Saturday in April this year but 2017 poses a slight problem. The 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Final Four is scheduled for the first Saturday in April 2017 in Glendale, Arizona and that is a head-to-head that would be a disaster for IndyCar. Attendance would be down. Perhaps the race could be held Sunday but that would defeat what Phoenix International Raceway wanted all along. Many have felt Phoenix could be pushed back a few weeks to the end of April to move it further away from the NASCAR race and hopefully draw a larger crowd for IndyCar. April 15-16th is Easter weekend and with Barber already tentatively confirmed, the next best date for Phoenix would be April 29th.

The problem with moving Phoenix to the end of April is it would create a month-gap between the first two rounds of the IndyCar season. There is nothing waiting in the wings to swoop in and fill the gap between St. Petersburg and Long Beach. Homestead isn't returning and IndyCar isn't going to make a spring break trip to Mexico City. I can't see the series taking a month off between the first two rounds and I think Phoenix will have one year on a Sunday before returning to Saturday night in 2018 and maybe pushing it back a few weeks if IndyCar can find something to fill the St. Petersburg-Long Beach gap.

We don't know about Texas but the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is confirmed to be racing at Texas on Friday June 9th. All signs point to IndyCar returning to Texas in the middle of June but who knows how this August date plays out? Eddie Gossage might love being one of the final few races of the season and love his race being in the championship discussion. I doubt that but crazier things have happened. However, expect Texas in the middle of June.

Toronto is interesting. The pit lane change was rough, the track is falling apart and the 30-year-old event has only one-year left on its deal. The track needs work but I doubt the city is going to pay for a repave and IndyCar doesn't have the money to fund it. Toronto will likely return and likely return in the middle of July but will Toronto be there in 2018? That is a question for August 2017.

Pocono re-upped with IndyCar for one-year after 2015 and the race will run in August for the second time this year. I am biased because Pocono is my home race and I hope it returns but this is the race most on life support. The crowd hasn't been disappointing to me. Traffic has always been a bitch leaving and there are a lot of people roaming the paddock pre-race but the inconveniences I and other Pocono IndyCar attendees face doesn't mean the race is successful for the Igdalsky family. I want it to return but wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't.

(Update: Pocono Raceway announced a two-year extension with IndyCar through the 2018 season. Dates for 2017 and 2018 have not been confirmed).

Watkins Glen was an 11th-hour replacement for Boston and nothing is guaranteed beyond this Labor Day weekend. However, you would hope that the track and IndyCar would like to give this relationship a second chance and a second chance that is longer than one weekend that had three and a half months to prepare for. Hopefully, the Watkins Glen race can put together an impressive race weekend on a shoestring and returning for Labor Day weekend 2017 seems like nothing but a no-brainer.

Outside of those five events, the only serious track that could be added to the IndyCar schedule is Gateway Motorsports Park. The 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois, a border town with St. Louis, has been in the conversation the last few years and now it appears to be serious for a return and likely run in August. Gateway does have lights and a Saturday night race makes sense for a mid-summer race.

Here is what the schedule would look like if IndyCar achieves 100% retention for 2017, yet to be confirmed races have an asterisk:

March 12: St. Petersburg
April 2: Phoenix*
April 9: Long Beach
April 23: Barber
May 13: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 28: Indianapolis 500
June 3-4: Belle Isle
June 10: Texas*
June 25: Road America
July 9: Iowa
July 16: Toronto*
July 30: Mid-Ohio
August 20: Pocono
September 3: Watkins Glen*
September 17: Sonoma

The obvious gap for Gateway is between Mid-Ohio and Pocono. Looking at the latter half of the IndyCar schedule, one has to consider that IndyCar and NASCAR share NBC Sports Network as a television partner and that must be taken into consideration. I don't think Gateway would fall the week after Mid-Ohio but it could be the week before Pocono. NASCAR is at Michigan that weekend but that Saturday night, August 12th, would be a perfect date. The NASCAR Xfinity Series is at Mid-Ohio that day and if that race is the same time in 2017, it could provide a nice lead-in and a Saturday evening full of racing with the Mid-Ohio race leading into IndyCar coverage at 7:00 p.m. ET. Gateway could fall between Pocono and Watkins Glen but I think the teams would like to avoid three consecutive weeks of racing.

Taking Gateway into account, here is what the schedule could look like:

March 12: St. Petersburg
April 2: Phoenix*
April 9: Long Beach
April 23: Barber
May 13: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 28: Indianapolis 500
June 3-4: Belle Isle
June 10: Texas*
June 25: Road America
July 9: Iowa
July 16: Toronto*
July 30: Mid-Ohio
August 12: Gateway*
August 20: Pocono
September 3: Watkins Glen*
September 17: Sonoma

I think if IndyCar could achieve 100% retention in its 2017 schedule that would be a massive victory for the series. Consider that IndyCar hasn't had 100% retention rate of races since 2007, when all 14 races from 2006 returned and Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle were added. As much as we talk about television network changes and years of being a spec-series hurting IndyCar, having a constantly changing schedule hasn't helped IndyCar either. Consider that since 2007, 15 venues have fallen off the IndyCar schedule. You could create a schedule with those events alone.

IndyCar has a really good schedule and adding Gateway only makes it better. If IndyCar went to Fontana in October, where it never should have been moved from, another shorter oval and Circuit of the Americas or Laguna Seca, that would be IndyCar schedule nirvana.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Give Concussions Time

The Olympics started from Brazil. Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR race from Watkins Glen. Brad Keselowski, in what only can be described as a sheer act of bravery, raced twice on one of the most dangerous tracks in motorsports. Chris Buescher is three points outside the top thirty. Nissan continues to control Super GT. Mazda can't win in IMSA. An Argentine world champion won one final time in front of his fellow countrymen. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Passing of Bryan Clauson
Bryan Clauson died Sunday from injuries suffered Saturday night at the Belleville Midget Nationals. Clauson was 27 years old. The California-born driver's 112 USAC victories have him ranked fifth all-time in USAC victory and Clauson won two championships in both USAC's sprint and midget divisions. Clauson competed in 26 NASCAR Grand National Series races for Chip Ganassi Racing from 2007-08 with his best finish being a fifth at Kentucky and his only pole position came at Daytona International Speedway. Clauson made three Indianapolis 500 starts and this year he scored a career-best 23rd-place finish and led three laps.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the Clauson family.

Give Concussions Time
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. missed another race as the two-time Daytona 500 winner suffers from concussion-like symptoms. Earnhardt, Jr. has missed the last five races and previously missed two races in 2012 after suffering a concussion.

While we wait for Earnhardt, Jr. to return behind the wheel of the #88 Chevrolet, we speculate because we are human and there is nothing better to do. Will he return for Darlington? Can he still qualify for the Chase? Will he ever race again? We speculate because concussions have no solid recovery period. It's not like when Josef Newgarden fractured his collarbone at Texas and he was given a two- to six-week time frame for recovery. We had an idea when he would return and for Newgarden he was back in two weeks. Concussions are much more fluid. James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion in the 2014 Grand Prix of Indianapolis and was back in the car less than a week later. During 2015 Formula One preseason testing, Fernando Alonso suffered a concussion at Barcelona on February 22nd and missed the Australian Grand Prix on March 15th.

When it comes to concussions, returning to competition comes down to when an individual feels better and for some drivers, the symptoms last a few days and life goes on but for others and in this case Earnhardt, Jr., the symptoms are longer lasting and a return seems like it may never return.

These questions about Earnhardt, Jr. returning and many speculating he will never race again are familiar to me. Living in Pittsburgh and having a family of die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fans, Sidney Crosby's concussion in January 2011 caused many tense discussions and brought to the surface old fears of the franchise suffering another downward spiral. When it first happened, we all thought Crosby would be back soon. When April came and Crosby had yet to return, we all thought he would return for the playoffs. When he didn't return for the playoffs, then people started giving nervous. The hope was Crosby would be back and fully fit for the 2011-12 season but I had plenty discussions with cousins and others saying he was done and we had seen the last of Sidney Crosby in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. It took Crosby almost two years to get back to regularly playing again. He played 22 of 82 games in the 2011-12 season. Over five years removed from the initial concussions and Crosby has added his name to the Stanley Cup for a second time and had a second gold medal draped around his neck but for time is precious in sports. An athlete only gets so many chances at the highest level.

Crosby is an example that you can take your time recovering from a concussion and still return to the pinnacle. Earnhardt, Jr. might not race again this season but sacrificing a shot for a championship in 2016 for four or five chances down the road and a better quality of living after he retires from competition makes sense. Earnhardt, Jr.'s prolonged battle with concussion-like symptoms should also make NASCAR consider scheduling for the future. Earnhardt, Jr. and his doctors believe his current situation dates back to an accident at Michigan on June 12th. NASCAR had the week off after Michigan but Earnhardt, Jr. raced three consecutive weeks before stepping out of the car. If the effects of concussions take this long to surface in individuals, perhaps NASCAR should consider shortening the schedule by a few races to give the drivers a few more weeks off during the season to all drivers more time to recover from accidents and any other bumps and bruises. Two weeks ago, I suggested shortening the season by four races so the Chase would begin before football season starts and end before the heart of the football but in that suggestion it came that the teams would have an off-week after every five or six races with the final 11 races being contested in 11 consecutive weeks.

Another thing all motorsports series (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One and everything in-between) need is more extensive monitoring process. Of course, that is easier said than done. Motorsports series aren't like team sports where each team has a set of doctors and teams have their own training facilities that players visit every day. Drivers are all over the place. While many NASCAR drivers live in the Mooresville, North Carolina-area and plenty of drivers from other forms of motorsports live around Indianapolis, there are drivers that live in Florida and California and then there are drivers who live abroad or are constantly traveling abroad. Unlike many team sports where two to four games are played a week, a race happens on the weekend and for the most part a driver is free to do whatever he or she wants from Monday to Thursday.

Another difficult part is getting driver to comply with the monitoring. Brad Keselowski has had his fair share to say about concussions but considering he had a hard accident at Watkins Glen less than two weeks ago in testing and it took a month for the symptoms to catch up with Earnhardt, Jr. to sideline him, how would Keselowski respond to being monitor by NASCAR for four weeks? I am sure Keselowski isn't the only driver who would wipe his or her hands of the situation when passing the initial test after an accident but concussions aren't as simple as that.

More studies are being done on the effects of concussions and more and more athletes are donating their brains to science to further the understanding of what sports can do to the human brain but those answers might not come for decades. What we can control being is observant when we suspect a concussion could be imminent and being more precautions when a concussion is diagnosed

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Denny Hamlin but did you know...

Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won the IMSA race from Road America in the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca of Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon won in PC. The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won in GTLM. The #33 Riley Motorsports Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in GTD.

João Paulo de Oliveira and Hironobu Yasuda won the Super GT race at Fuji in the #12 Team Impul Nissan GT-R. The #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 of Takashi Kobayashi and Shinichi Takagi won in GT300.

Tom Chilton and José María López split the WTCC races in Argentina.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Watkins Glen.

Chad Boat won the 39th annual Belleville Midget Nationals and is now in the running for a chance to win an Indy Lights ride in the Jonathan Byrd's Indy Challenge.

Coming Up This Weekend
After three weeks off, MotoGP is back in action and makes its first appearance in Austria since 1997.
Pirelli World Challenge returns to the former Miller Motorsports Park, now Utah Motorsports Campus.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympic Roots Are in Motorsports Soil

Today is the first day of competitions for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, as the opening group stage matches of the women's soccer tournament take place. Other than men's soccer on Thursday, all other sports do not get underway until Saturday after the Opening Ceremony on Friday night. If you think the background shots of the Barra Olympic Park look familiar and you were a motorsports fan from the mid-1970s to the early-2000s, you aren't mistaken. You have seen that marshland before.

The playground for Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Carlos Reutemann is now a multi-sport complex where Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic are #1 seeds in the tennis draws, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky are two of the most notable faces in swimming and the United States, Russia and China do battle on balance beams, trampolines and uneven bars. The 3.126-mile road course previously known as Jacarepaguá is now the home for many events at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

"It's a twisty circuit," described James Hunt during the formation lap for the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix. "It's very hard work this circuit. It's bumpy. There is no real peace" Hunt concludes. Today, the Olympic Tennis Center sits where the Formula One paddock was once located.  Located in turn one, "Molykote," is a racetrack but a different racetrack, the velodrome. Carioca Arena 1 and 2, the venues for basketball and judo and wrestling respectively, are located in turn three of the trapezoid speedway that CART zoomed around in the late-1990s. Rio Olympic Center, home of gymnastics is at "Nonato." The international broadcast center was once a braking zone at the end of the long back straightaway (later front straightaway for CART) into the Sul curve. It is fitting the aquatic center is located where the left-hander "Lagoa" (lagoon) brought drivers back toward the start/finish line. More tennis courts are scattered in what was the final corner, "Vitória" (victory).

Jacarepaguá hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix from 1978 and 1981-1989 and the track was the scene of many dramatic moments for Formula One in the 1970s and 1980s. Emerson Fittipaldi finished second in the 1978 race, scoring the first podium for Fittipaldi Automotive. Jacarepaguà was the site of the catalyst for the FISA-FOCA War in 1982 after Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Keke Rosberg finished first and second but were disqualified for illegal water tanks that released water. In response to the disqualifications, FOCA teams Brabham, Williams, McLaren, Lotus, Ligier and Arrows boycotted the following round at Imola, leaving 14 cars to compete the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix. Ayrton Senna made his Formula One debut in Rio de Janeiro driving for Toleman in 1984. He retired after eight laps because of a turbo failure. Nigel Mansell won the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix, the final to be held at Jacarepaguá. It was the first victory for a car with a semi-automatic gearbox in Formula One. Maurício Gugelmin finished third in his home race, his only Formula One podium and the final podium for March Grand Prix.

Six years after Formula One left for Interlagos, MotoGP made its first appearance at a slight modified Jacarepaguá circuit. Luca Cadalora won the inaugural Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix ahead of Mick Doohan. Doohan would win the next two races in Rio. Norick Abe won the 1999 race, his first victory in over three years as he led a Yamaha 1-2 with Max Biaggi in second and Kenny Roberts, Jr. rounding out the podium. The following year Valentino Rossi would score his second 500cc victory and the Italian would win four consecutive. Rossi ended with six victories at Jacarepaguá with victories in the 125cc and 250cc classes prior to 500cc/MotoGP dominance. The final time MotoGP visited Rio was July 4, 2004. Makoto Tamada won his first MotoGP race ahead of Max Biaggi, Biaggi's fourth runner-up finish at Jacarepaguá, and Nicky Hayden finished third to round out a 1-2-3 finish for Honda.

While MotoGP raced in Northern Hemisphere's autumn, IndyCar made spring trips to Rio de Janeiro in March and May. André Ribeiro won the inaugural Rio 400 for Tasman Motorsports ahead of Al Unser, Jr. and Scott Pruett but CART's first trip to Rio is remembered for Mark Blundell's accident that forced him to miss the next three races with a broken foot and ankle. Paul Tracy won the 1997 race after Bobby Rahal ran out of fuel coming to start the final lap. Greg Moore finished second in the first two Rio races and in 1998 he broke through and took the victory with an audacious pass Alex Zanardi that involved Arnd Meier as pick and slamming the door from the outside on the Italian in turn one with five laps to go. Juan Pablo Montoya and rain dominated the 1999, as the start was delayed and Mother Nature caused one caution but Montoya ended up victorious completing all 108 laps. Adrián Fernández won the 2000 race, the final time CART went to Rio. Alex Tagliani started on pole position in his third career start and led 76 of 108 laps only to have an accident end his race with five laps remaining.

One thing I realized when I went through all these races held at Jacarepaguá is no American won at the track, not even when CART race on the speedway. Now, the expectation is for Americans to flourish and win gold medals on ground where the likes of Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal and Nicky Hayden couldn't achieve glory.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Hold It For the Finale

Penske had a 1-2 finish at Mid-Ohio and five IndyCar drivers won on Family Feud. Formula One returned to Germany in front a respectable crowd that saw the local drivers not fair so well and a driver drink from his boot. British drivers had a very good day at Hockenheim. The Pirelli World Challenge GT championship was becoming a runaway until a McLaren overheated. There are two new championship leaders in Road to Indy series. There was a surprise winner in Finland. The Mercedes-Benzes fought back from penalties at the 24 Hours of Spa. Two riders won their second consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours. The NASCAR Cup race was rained out again at Pocono and hopefully the race will be run today. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Hold It For the Finale
With four races remaining, Simon Pagenaud heads to Pocono with a 58-point lead over Will Power. If Sonoma were the next race, only Pagenaud and Power would be mathematically eligible for the championship. However, the amount of championship eligible drivers is depended on how many cars start the season finale.

For most of the IndyCar season, 22 cars have been entered at each race with a few races that featured only 21 cars and then the two Indianapolis races, which saw fields of 25 and 33 cars. While grids are slightly down from the 2015 season, the quality of the fields has been stout and a few drivers are trying to breakthrough and run a few races before the end of the 2016 season. Jack Harvey, runner-up of the last two Indy Lights seasons, has been linked to a race at Watkins Glen with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Harvey has done enough to earn a shot in IndyCar but IndyCar should do all they can to make sure that if Harvey is only going to do one race in 2016, he competes at Sonoma and not Watkins Glen and IndyCar should make sure at least two other additional drivers join Harvey on the Sonoma grid.

The maximum points that could be scored at Sonoma is 104 points, 100 for victory, a point for pole position, a point for leading a lap and two bonus points for leading the most laps. If 22 cars enter Sonoma, the most points that can be made up at that race are 88 points. The fewest points that can be scored in an IndyCar race with double points is ten points but that can only be achieved if 25 cars are entered. If 25 cars enter Sonoma, the most points that can be made up are 94 points.

IndyCar should want as many drivers as possible to be championship eligible come Sonoma. Unlike other forms of motorsports where the number of championship eligible drivers isn't determined by how many drivers start a race, a driver's chance at history shouldn't depend on the grid size. You could also argue a driver's chance at history shouldn't depend on double points but that is another discussion. It wouldn't hurt IndyCar to have another driver or two in the championship fight.

The difficulty for IndyCar is how and where those extra few cars are going to come from. It is one thing to get 25 and 33 cars for the Indianapolis races but outside those two rounds, the other 14 IndyCar races are difficult sells. IndyCar TV ratings are up but aren't close to the level where a driver or team could pull money out of thin air and enter a race on a whim. Harvey is one guy that has been working on something and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ran three cars last year a the Sonoma finale when Mikhail Aleshin returned but Harvey is one driver and IndyCar would need two more driver/team combinations to get to the largest spread of points.

Another possible option as an extra entry for Sonoma is Robin Frijns. Frijns tested for Andretti Autosport at Mid-Ohio a few weeks ago at the IndyCar young driver test and the Dutchman has expressed interest in IndyCar. Frijns competed in Formula E for Andretti Autosport and will return for the 2016-17 season. The 25th entry is difficult to come up with. Ganassi, Penske and Coyne aren't going to run an additional car at Sonoma. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ran a second car for three races with Spencer Pigot. Ed Carpenter Racing might need to run a third car if Josef Newgarden is in that bubble zone where a few extra entries would make him championship eligible and J.R. Hildebrand has earned that third seat for being the only test driver in IndyCar. A.J. Foyt Racing is a mess and should be barred from running a third-car until it figures out how to run two cars efficiently. KV Racing could be another one to run an additional car.

With the Indy Lights champion crowned the week prior to Sonoma at Laguna Seca, I would love to see Indy Lights and Mazda scrape together the funds to run the Indy Lights champion in the IndyCar season finale. It would be a great chance for the Indy Lights champion to get exposure and it would get the Indy Lights champion valuable seat time in the DW12. Another driver I would love to see be considered for an additional seat at Sonoma is Oriol Servià. The Catalan driver sits on 199 IndyCar starts and it would be nice to see him reach the 200-mark before this season is out. We could go on and on listing drivers we would like to see racing IndyCar instead of sitting on the sidelines; Sage Karam, Matthew Brabham, Gabby Chaves and so on. Regardless of who the drivers are, IndyCar should want 25 cars at the final race. Although, it might not matter considering how far Pagenaud is ahead and shows no sign of slowing up.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix.

The #99 Rowe Racing BMW of Maxime Martin, Alexander Simms and Philipp Eng won the 24 Hours of Spa.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Cooper won the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Mid-Ohio. Lawson Aschenbach won the GTS race. The second GTS race was postponed due to rain and will be made up at Laguna Seca.

The #21 Yamaha of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Alex Lowes won the Suzuka 8 Hours.

Santiago Urrutia swept the Indy Lights races from Mid-Ohio and took the Indy Lights championship lead. Nico Jamin swept the Pro Mazda races. Anthony Martin won all three U.S. F2000 races.

Sergey Sirotkin and Alex Lynn split the GP2 races from Hockenheim. Antonio Fuoco and Jake Hughes were victorious in GP3.

William Byron won the Truck race at Pocono. Erik Jones won the Grand National Series race from Iowa.

Kris Meeke won Rally Finland. Meeke has won the last two rallies he has participated in.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR heads to one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world in Watkins Glen.
IMSA heads to another one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world in Road America.
Super GT will be at Fuji.
World Touring Car Championship returns to Argentina, home of twice defending WTCC champion José María López.