Wednesday, July 31, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: July 2019

We are in the second half of 2019 and the heat of summer has some taking a break while others are preparing for a vacation. Most series are in the second half of their seasons and we are starting to envision who will be the champions for this year. It is getting to be the sad time of the year. The days are get shorter, the races are becoming fewer and far between and soon it will stop and we will have to wait again.

But enough with that; there is still plenty of races ahead of us and we should look to what is happening in 2019 while 2020 is starting to appear on the horizon.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

Formula One is having fun again. Let's start there...

Brawn: Vietnam circuit designed to create great racing
There was a time when circuits were just created and great racing happened. I am sure there were some things taken into consideration when designing circuits in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s but modern circuits, such as Vietnam, can be meticulously designed using years of data.

Circuit of the Americas was designed taking into consideration Silverstone, Hockenheim and Istanbul. Vietnam is being handled the same way with bits of the Nürburgring, Monaco, Suzuka and Sepang blended into one circuit. It is kind of kitsch to just take a handful of the best corners from three or four circuits and forming one circuit. It is kind of like trying to build the best human possible except that is not possible and doing the same for a circuit is not necessarily going to work.

The one thing Vietnam will have on its side is a straightaway that is nearly a mile long, another straightaway about a half-mile long and a third straightaway that is just under 700km long. The one thing contemporary Formula One has fallen in love with is long straightaway. Formula One knows something is going to happen when the cars exceed 200 MPH.

The problem is the circuits become predictable. Baku is predictable. Vietnam will likely be predictable. Add to that the lack of life around the circuit and all the overtaking in the world isn't going to make anyone fall in love.

London F1 race would need to "go past Buckingham Palace"
What a posh thing to say! It has to past Buckingham Palace. It is kind of like any street circuit in Rome would have to go past the Colosseum, any street circuit in Athens would have to circle the Parthenon and any street circuit in Egypt would have to go past the pyramids in Giza.

For the last five years Formula One seems obsessed with a London street race. I am not sure if the series is irked Formula E won that battle and got to London in year one but it would be an unnecessary race. For starters, Silverstone is magnificent and I know a few weeks ago at the British Grand Prix people were saying with the size of Silverstone both races could co-exist and that might be true. I do not think a London race would shrink the crowd at Silverstone. I think you can argue the United Kingdom should host a second race but I don't think it has to be a London street course.

Brands Hatch might be a little too tight in the paddock area and Donington Park might need too much work. Circuit of Wales does not exist. Snetterton lacks the infrastructure. There might not be a ready to go second circuit for Formula One in the United Kingdom but a London street race isn't necessarily the answer.

Seidl: McLaren needs to build up risk-taking "culture"
I think McLaren has a risk-taking culture.

It took a risk taking on Honda, floundered for a few seasons with the pricey Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on the books, proceeded to bash Honda at every chance it could get for three years while running the Honda engines, left Honda for Renault because it could not take the inefficiency anymore and simultaneously made an attempt at the Indianapolis 500 with a backup car that was in the paint shop because it was not the correct shade of orange.

McLaren takes plenty of risks; those risks just haven't paid off or been that smart.

On to two wheels...

MotoGP title fight ended "four races ago," says Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow is probably right. He said this after Germany and four races ago would have been after France, where Marc Márquez picked up his third victory of the season and he had finished first or second in four of the first five races. Through nine races, Márquez has finished first or second in eight of them with the lone blemish being a fall in Austin of all places.

The real nail in the coffin for this championship was Barcelona where Jorge Lorenzo took Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi in one fell swoop. There are ten races to go, Márquez's championship lead is 58 points over Dovizioso. If Dovizioso wins the final ten races and Márquez finishes second in all ten races, Márquez wins the title with 385 points to 377 points. Dovizioso isn't going to win every race but Márquez very well could finish first or second in the ten remaining races.

Barring injury, the final four months of the season are all a formality.

Bradl backs Lorenzo to take Honda in "new direction"
Down would be a new direction.

First off, Lorenzo is going to miss the next two races. Second, as long as Marc Márquez is at Honda, Lorenzo isn't taking Honda anywhere. That team lives on Márquez's back.

It has been a surprise that Lorenzo has been this far off Márquez considering how he looked to turn it around in 2018 and he looked revived on the Ducati in a lame duck season. His results this year are far worse than his first year at Ducati.

Lorenzo had three MotoGP championships and finished in the top three of the championship eight consecutive years before he joined Ducati in 2017. It is perplexing looking back on the previous two and a half years and trying to figure out why his ability has these periods of dormancy.

Meanwhile, in Germany...

Wittmann says DTM needs "more international" name
Does the Premier League need a more international name? Does La Liga need a more international name? Does the National Basketball Association need a more international name?

The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters is a quasi-domestic championship. It is German-based, with German-based teams and it ventures out into Europe for just under half of its rounds but that is what makes it a quasi-domestic, quasi-European championship.

DTM tried a more international name almost 25 years ago, International Touring Car Championship and that was when the series ran Helsinki Thunder, Silverstone, Estoril and ventured to São Paulo and Suzuka.

Growing up, DTM was a niche series. It was somewhat underground in the sense there was no live television coverage of it, you didn't consider finding a live stream of it online but you heard stories of these monster machines with an impressive list of drivers with Formula One and sports car connections.

I don't think re-branding DTM to something less German all of a sudden means more people will tune in. For the record, there aren't that many better names out there. We had a European Touring Car Championship and it was a B-level series and European Touring Masters sounds like a knockoff. You can't call it World Touring Car Championship.

The problem with a more international name is they all sound generic. There is no pop to them. DTM is different. It is explanatory. What is it? German touring cars. People can get that.

The issue is not in the name but DTM has to find an identity on the racetrack. It needs to put on great races that catch the eye of the masses and part of it is also having recognizable names. The one thing about DTM growing up that made it a series of interest is it was a place where Jean Alesi, Mika Häkkinen, Heinz-Herald Frentzen and other recent Formula One drivers went after Formula One. DTM hasn't had that in a while other than Paul di Resta returning and Timo Glock. If Nico Rosberg wasn't such a pompous punk and acted like he was so busy and participated in the series, maybe more people would tune in. If Mark Webber was in the series I think that would draw some attention. Fernando Alonso, need I say any more?

Right now, DTM is lacking a massively exciting name. It is full of talented drivers but it is a bunch of drivers who were single-seater drivers but those drivers were never getting a sniff of Formula One or sports car drivers but not the LMP1 drivers but GT drivers.

I think a name change is a bit of a red herring for DTM.

Berger chasing "dream" Monaco DTM date in future
That's the dream?

This kind of relates to Wittmann's thought that DTM is not broad enough for international appeal. Monaco is the dream because it is a name people know. Monaco is the race people gravitate to whether they are race fans or not because it is a location of luxury. It is also a spectacle in seeing these multi-million dollar machines speed around roads where the top speeds for a daily commuter can't be any higher than 30 MPH.

Gerhard Berger wants a race in Monaco because it is a layup to promote. He knows people will tune in just because it is Monaco, not because the race will be any good, we see that with the grand prix all the time. Unfortunately, the audience is not critical enough to realize while the name on the marquee is fabulous the actual production is far from spellbinding.

The same would be true for DTM at Monaco. It would actually probably be worse. Berger isn't looking for a great race but for attention for the series and there is nothing wrong with wanting attention but it is the old what you want is not what you need circumstance.

If DTM really wants attention, run the Nordschleife, run Monza without the chicanes, go to some other bonkers racetracks, places where the 21st century fan cannot fathomed because it has been an era of sterilized racetracks with limited risks. DTM raced at Misano and Assen this year and those are two circuits not great for automobile racing, both are great for bikes but not automobiles. You are only as good as the racetracks you go to.

Monaco will get you attention but it will be another processional race around yachts and women in bikinis. Go, put on a race that scares people and leaves them wanting more.

Heading to the United States...

Hamlin keeps it clean in last-lap New Hampshire duel
Keeping it clean as in running into the back of Kevin Harvick into turn one and then running into the side of Harvick again in turn four. Other than the two times Denny Hamlin made contact with Harvick it was completely clean.

I know what the headline is getting at. Hamlin didn't drill Harvick and try to end his race in the process of taking the victory. Hamlin tried to move Harvick out of the way but not end his race, which some drivers in NASCAR don't know how to do.

It was clean as in it could have been much dirtier.

Staying in the United States while bridging the Pacific to Japan and putting a left hand in Mexico and straddling the globe like it is a Twister mat...

Mugen hails O'Ward's "very high learning ability"
What does that mean? And I cannot feel like it is a slight to Dan Ticktum, who Patricio O'Ward replaced in the Super Formula seat.

The entire Red Bull development program has been a mess since day one but when you have a half-dozen drivers in the pipeline all the time, power in numbers is on Red Bull's side and it can pluck out a few winners.

The immediate divorce from Ticktum and marriage to O'Ward leaves a sour taste in my mouth. First, Ticktum likely was not going to get the necessary FIA Super License points in Super Formula this year, meaning another year lost, but at the same time, O'Ward isn't going to get Super License points either from this year. Add to that O'Ward didn't get Super License points from Indy Lights even though Indy Lights is a recognized series because the 2018 Indy Lights season didn't meet the minimum criteria for drivers entered in the championship (and we need to talk about that at some point).

I guess it makes sense to get O'Ward in the car and under the Red Bull umbrella, especially if Red Bull doesn't want O'Ward to run IndyCar because it doesn't view IndyCar as a great preparation for Formula One but O'Ward has no Super License points for 2018, he will have no Super License points for 2019 and he probably doesn't have any Super License points for 2017 because he ran in IMSA's Prototype Challenge class, which got mostly three entries a race and isn't even on the list of recognized series.

At best, O'Ward isn't getting to Formula One until 2022. Red Bull gave up on a driver born on June 8, 1999 with 35 Super License points, five away from the 40 required to be allowed to enter Formula One, for a driver born on May 9, 1999 with zero Super License points. More had to be in play for Ticktum to get sacked but the team is going to have to wait a year longer for O'Ward to be eligible than it would take Ticktum to be eligible unless O'Ward finishes in the top three of the Formula Two championship next year, which could be a stretch.

I feel like I have seen this play out before and O'Ward will be on the curb in three years. It is just how Red Bull works.

And back to O'Ward first home for 2019, IndyCar...

MILLER: An IndyCar return to the Glen? If Only...
It is kind of amazing how quick we are back on the Watkins Glen bandwagon. For starters, I would love IndyCar to return there but IndyCar had to wait seven years for a return to Fontana, more than a decade for returns to Portland and Road America and 15 years for a return to Laguna Seca. Add to it Richmond has risen to the top of the pile after over a decade off the schedule.

It has been two years since Watkins Glen fell off after a two-year filler on Labor Day weekend after the failure of the Boston street race and I am trying to figure out how this is going to work after multiple failed attempts.

Failed is a strong word, how about unsuccessful attempts? Or under-fulfilling attempts?

We always hear from Watkins Glen that the race can't be on a holiday weekend and yet it took Labor Day weekend and didn't get the crowd it desired and it still holds the 6 Hours of the Glen around July 4th and gets a crowd that is comparable to the IndyCar crowds.

Robin Miller says IMSA and IndyCar should run together but IMSA doesn't want to share weekends other than the street courses because IMSA doesn't want to be the B-Show. I can understand that and combining the 6 Hours of the Glen and an IndyCar race is tough.

Both IMSA and IndyCar have their own support series. Both series need there own amount of desired track time. Not everyone can fit. It has been done before but I am not sure IMSA wants to move the 6 Hours of the Glen to Saturday and I am not sure IndyCar wants to run Saturday and they can't both be Sunday.

I have already thrown out that if IndyCar wants to run Watkins Glen and if NBC wants a IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader then just add IndyCar to the Watkins Glen NASCAR weekend. It is already a successful Sunday for Watkins Glen when NASCAR is up there and if anything IndyCar's presence would bolster the Friday and Saturday crowd and IndyCar should just take that Saturday and run in the evening or IndyCar, they can conceivable run until 8:00 p.m. ET in August, or IndyCar could be on noon on Sunday before the Cup race, which already doesn't start until after 3:00 p.m. ET.

I would love Watkins Glen to return to the IndyCar schedule. I would also love Richmond, Fontana, Milwaukee, Michigan and Loudon to come back but those do not seem likely as IndyCar thinks it has reached its domestic limit of 16 race weekends from the middle of March to the middle of September, the end of winter to the end of summer. IndyCar is not in position for a 22-race calendar, not now and likely never again.

We are going to have to live with the schedule always feeling a little incomplete and that is ok because it leaves us wanting more and down the road, Watkins Glen might be back on the schedule but it could be because Iowa is gone or St. Petersburg went away or Eddie Gossage had enough or Austin couldn't get the desired crowd.

I have reached a point where the worst thing that can happen when a track goes away is it can return again someday. Some of these tracks might not be yearly spectacles and annual signature events for IndyCar but something that happens two or three years every decade. It is not ideal but it is the best we got in some cases.

August always feels like the end of summer and yet we are only in the middle of it. The beginning of the end, not only for the season but also for a handful of championships, as fewer races await than are behind us for 2019.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Can There be a Lead Change on Lap One?

IndyCar had its third closest finish on a road or street course with Scott Dixon defeating Felix Rosenqvist by 0.0934 seconds. NASCAR had a fuel mileage race end in a shootout at Pocono. There was an endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps. There was an endurance race at Suzuka. Mercedes-AMG played dress up in Germany but that was all the fun it could have in the rain. Ford has locked up the manufactures' championship in Supercars. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Can There be a Lead Change on Lap One?
This is the start of what will be a brief period of more philosophical meanderings on motorsports and this is one that has been on my mind for quite some time.

The question is clear: Can a lead change occur on lap one of a race?

Of course, a position swap can occur on lap one. This isn't the Brian Barnhart school of thinking that the pole-sitter should have the right to lead lap one but more has to do with the calculating and the scoring of lead changes. A position swap can occur on lap one. A driver could be leading into turn one at Road America and come turn five a driver could overtake that driver but it is what happens at the finish lap at the completion of the first lap I am most interested in.

I cannot remember the exact moment or race that caused me to raise this question to myself but on September 17, 2000, Jeff Burton led 300 of 300 laps in the NASCAR Cup race at Loudon. The history book shows there was one lead change in the race. How could that be? If you led every lap, where did the lead change occur?

The answer: At the start, because Burton started second and Bobby Labonte started on pole position.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a driver leading every lap of a race but a lead change being scored as occurring. For starters, we are taught that lead changes are only recorded at the start/finish line. In practice, the lead can change eight times over one lap but if the same driver is leading at the start/finish each time then no lead change can be recorded. This is a flaw of the entire lead change statistic but it is at least consistent. For example, in football, if a running back runs laterally from sideline to sideline on first down and only gains two yards forward the running back is not credited with 55 yards rushing. He only gained two yards. Yards gained are based on moving forward from the line of scrimmage.

Moving back to lead changes, you can make an argument that there was a lead change. Burton was not the leader and when he came around to the start/finish line at the end of lap one, he was, therefore a lead change occurred. However, I push back against that because to lead a lap you must first complete a lap.

Labonte won pole position and he led the field to the green flag but the pole-sitter is not guaranteed to lead a lap. If all lead changes are scored at the start/finish line doesn't one have to lead a lap for a lead change to occur? Just because the pole-sitter doesn't lead the first lap doesn't mean a lead change occurred. In essence, there is no leader until the first lap is completed. After all, you need to complete one lap for a race to have taken place.

The spots on the grid are just for the start. Once the race begins, you are free to move. The pole-sitter has the first spot on the grid but he is only the leader in the sense that the pole-sitter is the first car to take the green flag. Once the green flag is out, all bets are off. The pole-sitter could be dropped six positions down the running order before turn one.

In my mind, there cannot be a lead change on lap one because no leader has been established yet. The first lead change of a race can only occur on lap two.

There is a bit of cognitive dissonance in saying a driver led every lap of a race but there was a lead change. For there to be a lead change someone else would have had to led a lap. If nobody else led a lap, how can a lead change have taken place?

Using other sports for comparison purposes, if a basketball team scores eight-seconds into a game and leads 2-0 and proceeds to score the next basket, taking a 4-0 lead a minute later and the teams proceed to trade made two-point baskets for the entirety of the game that team that scored first led the entire game. A lead change never took place. The scores were once tied at 0-0 but going from 0-0 to 2-0 is not a lead change.

The first lap of a race is similar. There is no leader. The field is neutral, equal in a sense.

Other sports do have the difference in the scores becoming level. In soccer, if teams trade goals every 30 minutes with Team A scoring in the 30th minute followed by Team B scoring in the 60th minute with Team A scoring in the 90th minute, Team A would win 2-1 but the lead never changed. The lead went away but at no point was Team A trailing Team B.

Motorsports really doesn't have a state of level. Someone is always leading once a leader is established. There isn't a tie at any point. Technically, there could be a tie. Two drivers or three drivers or 38 drivers could cross the start/finish line simultaneously for the lead, a tie, but that is obscure. There is one leader at the end of every lap.

I can live with there being no way for a possible lead change to take place until the completion of lap two of a race. I think other people could come to that understanding but it does shift over a century of record taking.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with going back and make amendments where necessary and it can be pretty easy to fix. If there was a race where the pole-sitter didn't lead lap one, subtract one lead change. It is pretty simple. For example, on April 5, 1992, Bobby Rahal led 200 of 200 laps at Phoenix but there is a lead change counted because Rahal started second and Michael Andretti started on pole position. Just turn the one into a zero.

There are some inconsistencies in the IndyCar record book. For example, at Phoenix in 2005, Bryan Herta did not lead a lap despite being pole-sitter. Dan Wheldon led the first lap from second on the grid but the order of leaders went Wheldon to Dario Franchitti to Hélio Castroneves to Tony Kanaan to Castroneves to Sam Hornish, Jr. to Franchitti to Hornish, Jr. to Castroneves to Hornish, Jr. No lead change is accounted for in Herta not leading the first lap and Wheldon leading lap one from second.

The IndyCar race from Road America just a few weeks ago follows a similar pattern as the 2005 Phoenix race. There are two recorded lead changes in that race. Alexander Rossi led the first 41 laps, Graham Rahal led lap 42 and Rossi retook the lead on lap 43 and led to the finish. Rossi started second to Colton Herta. It goes Rossi to Rahal to Rossi and not Herta to Rossi to Rahal to Rossi, meaning that race has two lead changes recorded.

Looking back at the 2010 Indianapolis 500, Dario Franchitti led the first lap from third on the grid however, the total number of lead changes is 13 and does not take into account Franchitti leading lap one over the pole-sitter Hélio Castroneves. In the 2014 Indianapolis 500, James Hinchcliffe led the first lap from second on the grid over Ed Carpenter but the official number of lead changes is 34 and does not take Hinchcliffe leading lap one into account.

It is good that a lead change is not counted in those incidents but I have a problem with this inconsistent record taking. If a driver leads every lap but is not the pole-sitter then a lead change is counted but if a driver that is not the pole-sitter leads the first lap of a race but another lead change happens during the race then no lead change is counted for the pole-sitter not leading the first lap?

That is inconsistent scoring and it is a problem. It almost appears a lead change is being scored so people cannot look back and see that there was no lead change and cause a person to say it was a dull race. After all, what inferences are you going to draw from a race if you look back in the record book and see a zero in the lead change column? People are just as wrong for thinking a race with no lead changes is boring and use that as evidence against a racetrack but a series is just as wrong for marking a lead change as occurring even when one never took place.

Looking at the NASCAR record book, there is more consistency in a lead change being counted if the pole-sitter does not lead the first lap. That doesn't make it right, it only makes it consistent.

In the July 2010 Grand National Series race from Iowa, seven lead changes are recorded in the history book but Kyle Busch led lap one with the order of leaders being Busch to Trevor Bayne to Busch to Bayne to Busch to Harvick to Busch. If you count six changes, you are correct but Busch didn't start on pole position, Bayne did. Busch led lap one, therefore a lead change was counted.

We can take an example from the Cup Series this year. There are seven lead changes in the record book for the Sonoma Cup race but the order of leaders is William Byron to Chase Elliott to Martin Truex, Jr. to Denny Hamlin to Truex to Kyle Busch to Truex. That is six lead changes but Kyle Larson started on pole position. Larson didn't lead the first lap, Byron did and that is how we get to seven lead changes.

I am not sure if Formula One officially scores lead changes. It seems like an American thing and it has since been applied to Formula One. Looking at Racing-Reference, it has one lead change for the Chinese Grand Prix though Lewis Hamilton led all 56 laps and you can guess it, Hamilton started second while Valtteri Bottas was on pole position. The same is the case for the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this year. For the Bahrain Grand Prix, Racing-Reference has five lead changes listed but the order of leaders was Sebastian Vettel to Charles Leclerc to Vettel to Leclerc to Hamilton. That is four lead changes but Vettel started second and led lap one over the pole-sitter Leclerc and that is where the fifth lead change comes from.

I don't know if the FIA releases an official number of lead changes in its box score but either way this is how the NASCAR Digital Media owned property lists lead changes for Formula One.

This has actually been very therapeutic because I have been thinking about this for a long time but never put all my thoughts down. Writing this has lifted 10,000 pounds of weight off my back and it doesn't solve anything, it doesn't fix the world at all, it doesn't cure world hunger, it is completely pointless and yet somehow a relief.

Maybe it is just a case of wanting logic in the world and consistency in our recording of history. It is about doing some deep thinking even on the most shallow of subjects.

Winners from the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the German Grand Prix, his second victory of the season.

The #20 GPX Racing Porsche of Kevin Éstre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz won the 24 Hours of Spa.

The #10 Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H Kawasaki of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatiloglu won the Suzuka 8 Hours. It is Haslam's third Suzuka 8 Hours victory, Rea's second Suzuka 8 Hours victory, Razgailoglu's first Suzuka 8 Hours victory and Kawasaki's first Suzuka 8 Hours victory since 1993.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Pocono, his third victory of the season. Chase Briscoe won the Grand National Series race from Iowa. Ross Chastain won the Truck race from Pocono, his third victory of the season.

Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin split the Supercars races from Queensland Raceway. It was Whincup first victory of the season and McLaughlin's 14th victory of the season.

Oliver Askew swept the Indy Lights races from Mid-Ohio. Kyle Kirkwood swept the Indy Pro 2000 races and he has won five of the last six races. Christian Rasmussen and Hunter McElrea split the U.S. F2000 races.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One has one more race before its summer break and the circuit heads to Hungary.
MotoGP returns from its summer break and will keep Eastern Europe busy with a race in Brno.
Watkins Glen hosts NASCAR.
Road America hosts IMSA.
Super GT has a 500-mile race in Fuji.
Rally Finland is upon us.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

First Impressions: Mid-Ohio 2019

1. Chip Ganassi Racing worked this race to perfection. It started with Scott Dixon starting the race on the primary tire. While most of the field started on the alternate tire and soon found themselves struggling, Dixon kept up the pace and picked off a few drivers while some dived to pit lane and committed to a three-stop strategy. Come Dixon's first stop he was third. On the second stint, Dixon had the speed of the alternate tire but did not have the same levels of degradation. While the three-stoppers were hoping to keep the pressure on the two-stoppers, Dixon controlled the pace, he never lost his legs and the gap was large enough in Dixon's favor that he could make his final stop and not have to worry about being chased from behind... except he was, more on that in a moment.

Dixon had never won from eighth on the grid. Dixon started eighth today. This is another classic Dixon performance. When no one else could make the alternate tire work, Dixon did. We have seen him stretch fuel further than anyone at this place and he went from 22nd to first in that race. He has six victories at this place. The same way Al Unser, Jr. is synonymous with Long Beach and Michael Andretti is synonymous with Toronto, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio will forever be a reminder of New Zealand's Scott Dixon's greatness.

2. Part two of Chip Ganassi Racing's perfection is Felix Rosenqvist finishing second. Rosenqvist also started on the primary tire and he worked his way to the front. He found himself carve his way to the front of the field on what we thought was a two-stop strategy but while leading Rosenqvist made his second pit stop about 15 laps after his first stop. He got all he could out of the alternate tire and then jumped to the primary. Such an audible was a surprise but all of a sudden Dixon was leading on a two-stop strategy and Rosenqvist was second on the three-stop strategy.

The team covered all the bases and it allowed for a thrilling finish. Dixon's strategy to double up on the alternate tire nearly backfired and Rosenqvist clawed out his teammate's lead. It also helped Rosenqvist that Dixon's second set of alternate tires was scuffed from practice. Traffic helped and then it hurt. Four lapped cars were between the two with Dixon sliding around on tires that were junk. The race followed the script. Rosenqvist cleared the final lap car behind him and Dixon with a lap and a quarter to go and it allowed for one final run at it.

The teammates touched into the keyhole, Dixon held on. Rosenqvist was able to mount a second charge through turns five and six but Dixon had the racing line. All Rosenqvist could do was ride Dixon's coattails. He had one final shot in the carousel and he was close, he had a run off the final corner and the gap separating Rosenqvist from his first career victory on this day was 0.0934 seconds.

Rosenqvist lost today but that doesn't mean he has to like it. The master bested the pupil on this day. Tomorrow is a new day.

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay ran a clean race but a quick race and lack of the championship distraction allowed him to focus on going as fast as he could. Hunter-Reay leapfrogged his way up the order, ahead of drivers that started in the top five and he found himself primed for a podium finish. If there had not been as much traffic, maybe Hunter-Reay would have been able to make a run for the lead but Hunter-Reay gets hard-earned third place finish.

4. Will Power does not get his first victory of the season nor his first victory at Mid-Ohio but it seems like the two-stop strategy was not going to work and not because the three-stoppers could run faster but because of the alternate tire. The time lost on the alternate tire cancelled out the two-stop strategy. Power lost out on the opening stint to Rosenqvist and then lost on the second stint because Rosenqvist and Dixon had the alternate tire. While Dixon made it work, Rosenqvist's audible allowed him to gap himself over Power and not lose out to the Australian. Fourth is good but it seems like the strategy was never going to play out.

5. We are going to cover the championship here. Alexander Rossi played the wrong strategy today, just like Power, but worse. Rossi lost a lot of ground on his first stint and it cost him dearly. He went from second to fifth before his final stop and then proceeded to be leapfrogged. On top of that, Rossi stopped a lap or two before the pit window. Rossi had to conserve the entire race and he squeaked out a top five finish. Partially because he had enough fuel to get across the line and then ran out at the end of the pit lane just after the checkered flag and the other part is because Josef Newgarden tossed away a fourth place finish.

6. Josef Newgarden will be classified in 14th place. He lost ten spots because while Dixon and Rosenqvist touched, it backed up the lapped cars of Marco Andretti and Max Chilton into Hunter-Reay and it allowed Newgarden to make a run. Newgarden smelled blood in the water and while many spew the famous line from Ayrton Senna about gaps, Newgarden drove into Hunter-Reay, he was going to get third and it bit him. He slid off Hunter-Reay and into the gravel trap at the exit of the keyhole, beached and descending down the order.

Newgarden should be mad. Penske should be mad. Fuck being a race car driver, fuck the bullshit about not going for a gap. Lose the battle; win the war. Newgarden didn't need to finish third. He was gaining on Rossi and Simon Pagenaud. He was going to lose on Dixon but Dixon still had work to do. All Newgarden did today was make it easier for everyone else.

Rossi was going to lose another five points to Newgarden, instead, Rossi is 16 points back with four races to go. Dixon is 62 points back. Rossi had a tendency of coughing up points last year. When all Newgarden had to do was bring the car home, he coughed up points on the final lap. Pin this one boys and girls, pin it for Laguna Seca.

6. Simon Pagenaud finished sixth and he was the third best Penske car today. He is now 47 points behind Newgarden. This is better year in that Pagenaud has won three races and one of those was the Indianapolis 500 but he has not had enough days where he has been a contender. The double points of Indianapolis are inflating his performance this season.

7. Spencer Pigot had a great race. For a moment, he jumped Power, Dixon and Rossi at one point through pit strategy but he too opted for the late audible for a three-stop race. Still, he ran in the top ten all day and I am glad for him.

8. Colton Herta finishes eighth, one spot off his starting position but considering how his season has been he has to take a top ten when he can get it. This was a solid day and he got laps.

9. Graham Rahal was the first of the cars to commit to the three-stop strategy and it could only get him a ninth place finish but it is his seventh consecutive top ten finish. Rahal wants more, I bet RLLR expect more and the IndyCar grid is tough. I can understand if he is frustrated but he is right there. I am sure he would be quick to say he has been right there for five seasons and that massive breakthrough has been elusive.

10. Rahal might be disappointed in ninth but Jack Harvey made one Buckeye very happy with a tenth place finish. Meyer Shank Racing gets a fantastic result in its home race and a ten-spot improvement over last year. I don't know if Meyer Shank Racing will be full-time but we have seen Harvey get impressive results this year. There is still another level this team has to reach but it has been out kicking the coverage as a part-timer.

11. Sébastien Bourdais was spun early when he and Colton Herta made contact. That kind of kept him from getting a top ten result. Santino Ferrucci finishes a spot behind his teammate. Ferrucci was a late audible to the three-stop strategy. He finishes 12th and that was about as good as he was in this one.

12. Quickly through the rest of the field: Not a good showing for Ed Jones when Spencer Pigot worked his way to seventh and Jones was 13th. We covered Newgarden. Marco Andretti, Max Chilton and RC Enerson were caught in the middle of the battle for the lead in the closing laps. They were all battling for positions and faster than Dixon. They all handled it well and gave none of them held up Dixon or Rosenqvist and played into the outcome of the race. Matheus Leist was out there. Takuma Sato made contact with Marcus Ericsson at the start and that pretty much took him out of this one. Sato was in the battle with Andretti, Chilton and Enerson but after contact Sato had to make a stop late. Tony Kanaan was out there and finished 20th. Zach Veach wasn't close at all today but had great sportsmanship and did not impede the leaders to an excessive extended when he could have, especially when it could have benefited his teammates.

13. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had the bulls-eye on the team today. Sato made contact with Ericsson and that knocked Ericsson into James Hinchcliffe. Ericsson was done after two laps. Hinchcliffe lost a couple of laps immediately. Both cars made the second round of qualifying, both cars started on row six and both cars finished outside the top twenty. They are a long way from Big Four territory, which the team proclaimed as its goal for this season.

14. Damn! This was a great race. To have the strategies play out the way they did and have the alternate tires factor in the way they did and to have a race at Mid-Ohio decided by less than a tenth of a second is outstanding. Bravo to Firestone. It has done a great job with alternate tire compounds this year.

15. We get two weeks off before heading to Pocono. The final quarter of the season is in front of us. Time is running out. The end of summer is approaching. The days are getting shorter. Enjoy them while they last.

Morning Warm-Up: Mid-Ohio 2019

Back on pole position, Will Power is ready to pounce for his first Mid-Ohio victory
Will Power won his 57th IndyCar pole position with a lap of 65.1569 seconds in the final round of qualifying and Power is now ten pole positions behind Mario Andretti's all-time record. This is Power's first pole position since Austin in March. He has now won four pole positions at Mid-Ohio, matching the number of runner-up finishes he has had at the track. He is looking for his first Mid-Ohio victory and Mid-Ohio could be the 21st different track where Power has a victory. It would put Power into sole possession of fourth most different tracks won at. Power has won at least one race from pole position in the last ten consecutive seasons. He needs to lead seven more laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone and he would become the 11th driver to reach that milestone joining Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Hélio Castroneves, Al Unser, Scott Dixon, Bobby Unser, Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy and Tony Kanaan.

Alexander Rossi missed out on pole position to Power by 0.3748 seconds but Rossi will start second and it is his sixth front row start of the season. Rossi's average finish in his first five starts from the front row this season is 3.6 with two victories, three podium finishes and four top five finishes. He has seven consecutive top ten finishes. Rossi has not led a lap in the prior two races. The last time he went three consecutive races without leading a lap was last year at Road America, Iowa and Toronto and his average finish over those three races was 11th. After leading a lap in only seven of his first 33 IndyCar starts, Rossi has led a lap in 18 of his last 29 starts. Rossi is coming off announcing a contract extension with Andretti Autosport prior to qualifying on Saturday and Honda will remain as the engine supplier to the team.

Josef Newgarden will start third in what was his sixth consecutive Fast Six appearance at Mid-Ohio. This will be Newgarden's fourth consecutive top five start and his eighth consecutive top ten start. Newgarden needs to lead 18 laps led to reach the 2,000 laps led milestone and he would be the 24th driver to reach that milestone. He has only led laps in one of the previous four natural-terrain road course races this season. He led 20 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Simon Pagenaud makes it an all-Penske row two. Pagenaud has seven consecutive top ten finishes at Mid-Ohio with five of those results being top five finishes. Despite his finishes, this was only the third time Pagenaud has made the Fast Six at Mid-Ohio. This is only the third time Pagenaud has made the Fast Six in 2019 and he had only two Fast Six appearances in 2018.

Sébastien Bourdais qualified in the top five for only the third time this season and joining Bourdais on row three is the driver he is tied with for tenth in the championship, Felix Rosenqvist. Bourdais enters the weekend holding the tiebreaker over Rosenqvist with a third place finish being Bourdais' best of the season to Rosenqvist's best finish being fourth. Bourdais needs to lead 52 laps to pass Johnny Rutherford for 20th all-time in laps led. Bourdais has only led once in eight Mid-Ohio starts and he led 38 laps from pole position in the 2014 race. Rosenqvist is one of ten drivers on the grid who could score their first career victory this weekend. The last driver to score a first career IndyCar victory in July was Robert Doornbos on July 1, 2007 at Mont-Tremblant. The last time IndyCar raced on July 28th, there was a first time winner; Tomas Scheckter won at Michigan.

Colton Herta starts seventh at Mid-Ohio after he started outside the top ten in the prior two races. Herta had started in the top ten in the nine races prior to Toronto. Herta is coming off his sixth retirement of the season at Iowa after suffering a half shaft failure. Herta has the fifth best average starting position at 7.46 but of the drivers to run majority of the first 12 races he ranks 19th in average finish at 15.583. Next to Herta on row four is Scott Dixon. Dixon has finished runner-up in the last two races. On 13 different occasions has a driver had three consecutive runner-up finishes with the most recent occurrence being Hélio Castroneves in 2008 at Mid-Ohio, Edmonton and Kentucky. Dixon had three consecutive runner-up finishes in 2003 at Chicagoland, Fontana and Texas. No driver has had three consecutive runner-up finishes on multiple occasions. Dixon has five runner-up finishes this season, the 20th time a driver has had at least five runner-up finishes in a season. Dixon starts eighth for the second consecutive race and he has never won from eighth on the grid.

Jack Harvey returns to IndyCar are taking the previous two races off and he will start ninth. This was the fourth time Harvey has made it to the second round of qualifying this season. Harvey started and finished 20th last year at Mid-Ohio. Meyer Shank Racing was the runner-up finish in the GT Daytona class at Mid-Ohio back in May with Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman in the #86 Acura NSX GT3. Ryan Hunter-Reay rounds out the top ten on the grid. Hunter-Reay has 11 top ten finishes in 13 Mid-Ohio starts but he has only three top five finishes at the track. Hunter-Reay's first career podium finish came at Mid-Ohio when he finished third in 2003. He finished third again in 2011 and he picked up a fifth place finish in the 2013 race. He has only led a lap in three Mid-Ohio starts.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports swept row six with James Hinchcliffe qualifying ahead of Marcus Ericsson. Hinchcliffe is coming off a third place finish at Iowa and Hinchcliffe has never had consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career. In the race after his 16 prior podium finishes, he has finished in the top five only three times with a fourth at Fontana in 2013 after a third at Houston, a fifth at Mid-Ohio in 2016 after a third at Toronto and a fourth at Toronto last year after he won at Iowa. Ericsson has been beaten in qualifying on 11 of 13 occasions and Hinchcliffe has finished ahead of Ericsson in the race ten of 12 times. Ericsson has not qualified ahead of his teammate since the Indianapolis 500 and in fact the only facility where Ericsson has qualified ahead of Hinchcliffe is Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Swede beat the Canadian in Grand Prix of Indianapolis qualifying as well.

Spencer Pigot and Santino Ferrucci both missed out on advancing from the first round of qualifying by less than 0.03 seconds and they will start 13th and 14th respectively. This is Pigot's best starting position at Mid-Ohio. Pigot is looking for consecutive top five finishes for the first time in his IndyCar career. He is one top five finish away from most top five finishes in a single season of his IndyCar career. Ferrucci finished where he started last week at Iowa in 12th, the first time he has not finished better than his starting position since Long Beach when he started 13th and finished 21st. After finishing a lap down at Iowa, Ferrucci and Alexander Rossi are now tied for most laps completed this season having each completed 1,427 of 1,431 laps.

Graham Rahal will start 15th in his home race. Rahal has not led double-digit laps in a race since the 2017 Indianapolis 500 where he led 12 laps. In Rahal's previous 12 seasons in IndyCar he has only led three-digit laps in a season once, when he led 110 laps in the 2017 season, 96 of those laps came at the Belle Isle doubleheader, where Rahal swept the races. He won from 13th at Mid-Ohio in 2015. Rahal's best finish from 15th starting position is seventh at Iowa in 2014 and at Barber last year. Max Chilton, the driver of the #59 Chevrolet, will be making his 60th IndyCar start this weekend from 16th on the grid. He has one top ten start over his previous 29 races with that being sixth at Mid-Ohio last year. The only driver to score a first career victory in a 60th career start was Max Papis, who won at Homestead on March 26, 2000.

Takuma Sato starts 17th, his worst starting position since he started 20th in the season opener at St. Petersburg. This is only the third time in 2019 that both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries starts outside the top ten. Sato has finished outside the top fifteen in the 13th race of the season on seven of nine occasions. His only top ten finishes were seventh at Loudon in 2011 and fifth at Mid-Ohio in 2017. Ed Jones will start 18th, his worst Mid-Ohio starting position. Jones has only one top ten finish through his first ten starts of 2019. Jones had at least five top ten finishes in the first ten starts of his first two IndyCar seasons. After having double top ten finishes in 2015 and 2016, Ed Carpenter Racing has not had a top ten finisher the last two years at Mid-Ohio.

Marco Andretti and Zach Veach form an all-Andretti Autosport row ten. Andretti has never led a lap nor finished in the top five at Mid-Ohio in 12 starts. He did have five consecutive top ten finishes from 2009 to 2013. He has been running at the finish of the last four Mid-Ohio races with finishes of tenth, 13th, 12th and 11th. Veach completed all 300 laps at Iowa from 20th starting position and he finished seventh, his best finish of the season. Veach has had consecutive lead lap finishes only four times in his career and he has never had three consecutive lead lap finishes. The first time Veach had consecutive lead lap finishes was at Long Beach and Barber last year, the second time was the Belle Isle doubleheader last year with the third time being Toronto and Mid-Ohio last year. The only time he has had consecutive lead lap finishes in 2019 was the Belle Isle doubleheader.

Matheus Leist will be on the inside of row eleven, his tenth time starting 20th or worse this season. Leist has finished off the lead lap in the last six consecutive races, in nine of 12 races this season and he has finished off the lead lap in 16 of 29 races in his IndyCar career. Only two drivers have picked up their first career victory in the 30th start of their career: Tom Sneva at Michigan in 1975 and Dario Franchitti at Road America in 1998. RC Enerson makes his first IndyCar start since the 2016 IndyCar season finale at Sonoma and he will start 22nd. Enerson made his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio in 2016. He started 18th in that race and worked his way into the top ten before he stalled on a pit stop after running out of fuel. This cost Enerson a lap and he finished 19th on debut.

Tony Kanaan rounds out the grid in 23rd position. Kanaan has made 17 starts at Mid-Ohio but he has never finished on the podium at the track. This is the track where Kanaan has made the most starts but has never finished in the top three. The track where Kanaan has made the second most but has never finished on the podium is Barber, where he has made ten starts and his best finish there is sixth. He has made nine starts at Portland without a podium finish and his best Portland finish was fourth in 1998. His best Mid-Ohio finish was fourth in 2007.

NBC's coverage of the Honda Indy 200 from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course begins at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 90 laps.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2019

It is going to be another tight fight in Mid-Ohio
The 13th round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season will be the Honda Indy 200 from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. There have been six different winners in the last six Mid-Ohio races, the longest streak of different winners in IndyCar's history at Mid-Ohio. Entering this weekend there have been three different winners over the last three IndyCar races and those three winners are the top three in the championship with Alexander Rossi having won at Road America, Simon Pagenaud taking victory in Toronto and Josef Newgarden claiming the top prize at Iowa. With Newgarden winning at Iowa, Jack Harvey, Max Chilton, Patricio O'Ward and Ed Carpenter were mathematically eliminated from championship contention.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 28th with green flag scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Kevin Lee, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Jon Beekhuis, Dillon Welch and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 11:20 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 3:15 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Third Practice: 10:30 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 2:35 p.m. ET (Live coverage on NBCSN)
Warm-Up: 11:50 a.m. ET (30 minutes)*
Race: 4:05 p.m. ET (85 laps)

* - All practice and qualifying sessions are available live with the NBC Sports Gold IndyCar pass.

200th Race Post-Reunification
IndyCar is celebrating a 12th season of stability with one North American open-wheel series and Mid-Ohio marks the 200th race since reunification was completed.

Through the first 199 races since reunification a total of 25 drivers from 13 different teams have won a race. Leading all drivers is Scott Dixon with 34 victories, one more than Will Power with Ryan Hunter-Reay having won 16 races and Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden each having 14 victories.

Team Penske has won the most races since reunification with 77 victories, 26 more than Chip Ganassi Racing's 51 victories and 45 victories more than Andretti Autosport's 32 victories. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has won eight races while Ed Carpenter Racing, including its season as CFH Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are tied on seven victories.

Andretti Autosport has had the most different drivers win a race since reunification with nine drivers having taken the checkered flag first; Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Mike Conway, Marco Andretti, Carlos Muñoz and Takuma Sato. Team Penske has had six different winners; Power, Pagenaud, Newgarden, Hélio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Twelve of the 25 winners over the first 199 races won for multiple teams but three drivers have won driving for three different teams over the last 199 races. Those drivers are Conway, Kanaan and Sato.

The top 12 drivers in victories have all won on a road course and an oval with the driver with the most victories without an oval victory being Conway, who won four times, and the driver with the most victories without a road or street course victory being Kanaan, who won four times.

Nine of the 11 teams on the grid this weekend have won once in the first 199 races post-reunification with the two teams having yet to win a race being two of the newer teams on the grid, Carlin and Meyer Shank Racing.

Meyer Shank Racing is back for its eighth of ten races this season with Jack Harvey in the #60 Honda. Max Chilton will be back in the #59 Chevrolet after sitting out Iowa while R.C. Enerson returns to IndyCar competition for the first time since 2016 in the #31 Chevrolet. Enerson made his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio in 2016. Harvey and Enerson each won in Indy Lights at the track with Harvey swept the 2014 doubleheader and Enerson winning the first race in 2015.

Newgarden vs. Rossi - Tale of the Tape
Josef Newgarden's 14th IndyCar victory at Iowa last week increased his championship lead to 29 points over Alexander Rossi. It was a night of pure domination from Newgarden while Rossi could not get much higher than fourth on the night and ultimately settled for a sixth place finish.

These two drivers have won the last two years at Mid-Ohio and both drivers won in convincing fashion. Newgarden led 73 of 90 laps and won by 5.156 seconds over Will Power. Rossi led 66 of 90 laps last year from pole position on his way to a 12.829-second victory over Robert Wickens.

While both drivers have won at Mid-Ohio in a similar fashion, most of their victories do not look alike.

Newgarden's victories have tend to come after a bit of strategy and timeliness. At least six of Newgarden's 14 victories have seen pit strategy come significantly into play.

His second career victory came at Toronto in 2015 and that race came after making a pit stop before James Jakes brought out a caution. The likes of Will Power and Hélio Castroneves had not made their pit stops and were shuffled down the order when they did stop under yellow and this led to a Newgarden victory. Two years later, at the same venue, Newgarden made a pit stop before Tony Kanaan had an accident in turn one while leader Castroneves had yet to stop. Newgarden inherited the lead under the caution and proceeded to led 58 of the final 61 laps.

Last year at Phoenix, Newgarden stopped under the final caution from the lead to take fresh tires and proceeded to run down Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe to win the race.

Three of Newgarden's four victories this year saw timely pit strategy lead to a victory. Newgarden made his pit stop and proceeded to erase the pit delta and flip the track position so when Felix Rosenqvist made his pit stop Newgarden would be ahead of the Swede.

Belle Isle saw Newgarden on pit lane when Ed Jones ended up in the turn seven tire barrier while Rossi and Scott Dixon had yet to stop in the timed-race. Newgarden cycled to the lead and on a drying track he held off Rossi to take the victory.

At Texas, Newgarden made his third pit stop under caution knowing it would be a four-stop race. While the rest of the field made their third stops under green flag conditions, Newgarden stayed out and ran fast enough lap times so Newgarden could make his final pit stop later than the rest of the field and still get out ahead of the rest of the field. While a caution did bunch up the field, Newgarden held off Rossi for a second time in as many weeks for a victory.

Rossi has won seven races in 62 starts and six of those victories have come from one of the first three spots on the grid. The lone exception is his Indianapolis 500 victory from 11th on the grid. None of Rossi's last four victories have had more than two cautions and two of those victories have come in caution-free races but the other two victories have had more than the final 94% of the race take place under green flag conditions. His Pocono victory occurred in a race where the final 94.5% of the race was under green flag conditions and his victory at Long Beach in April saw the final 96.47% of the race take place under green flag conditions.

Outside of Rossi's Indianapolis 500 victory, he has led at least 73% of all the laps in all six of his victories while four of Newgarden's 14 victories have seen him lead less than 40% of a race. Eight of Newgarden's 14 victories have come within the top three spots on the grid but he has four victories from seventh on the grid and, like Rossi, Newgarden's worst starting position for a victory is 11th.

Entering Mid-Ohio, Newgarden has finished ahead of Rossi in seven of 12 races in 2019 but the notable thing is the difference in positions between the two drivers in the races where Newgarden has finished ahead of Rossi. In the seven races Newgarden has finished the better of the two drivers, Newgarden has finished at least five positions ahead of Rossi in three of them including seven positions ahead of him at Austin and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

In the five races Rossi has finished better than Newgarden, the gap has been two spots or fewer in four of the races with Newgarden finishing second to Rossi at Long Beach, Newgarden finishing fourth to Rossi's second in the Indianapolis 500, third to Rossi's victory at Road America and fourth while Rossi was third at Toronto. The only time the gap has been greater than two spots was the second Belle Isle race, where Newgarden retired and was classified in 19th while Rossi finished fourth.

On paper, Mid-Ohio is advantage Rossi, not just because of his victory last year, but because in three starts Rossi has an average finish of 7.0 compared to Newgarden's average finish of 10.7 and Newgarden has only three top ten finishes in seven starts at the track while Rossi finished sixth in the 2017 race to add to his victory last year.

Scott Dixon's Lost Playground
There was a time when Scott Dixon was penciled as the winner of Mid-Ohio but that move is not as comfortable as it once was.

To be fair, Dixon is still king of the Buckeye State track. Dixon has five victories, most all-time at the track and he also has ten top five finishes and 12 top ten finishes, most all-time in those respective categories. He has led 223 laps, second most all-time, only 23 laps behind Michael Andretti for that record.

Dixon's dominance is what makes his current period of good results seem so poor. He has not won in his last four Mid-Ohio starts, his longest drought at the track. He has not led in the last three Iowa races, his longest drought at the track. He has not started in the top five in the last three Mid-Ohio races, one off his worst streak.

Dixon's sixth victory would come at an important time for him with the New Zealander trailing Newgarden by 98 points. Dixon is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes for the first time since 2017 and he has seven podium finishes this season. Dixon already had three consecutive podium finishes earlier this season when he finished second, third and second at Barber, Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis respectively.

Can Anyone Make it a Five-Horse Race?
Fewer than 100 points cover the top four drivers in the IndyCar championship with five races remaining but at 98 points behind Newgarden, Dixon will have to do some work to get within 94 points, which will be the largest possible gap to overcome in the season finale with 25 cars tentatively set for the double points season finale. If Dixon has some work to do then the rest of the field has a monumental hill to climb.

Will Power has finished outside the top ten in the last two races and in five of 12 races this season and that sees Power 165 points behind his teammate Newgarden. Power has not won a race this season and he has only three podium finishes this season. He has not won a pole position since Austin in March. Power has made ten starts at Mid-Ohio and he has completed all 880 laps at the track but he has never won at the track despite having five podium finishes and seven top five finishes in ten starts. He has led 113 laps at the track, ninth all-time at the track.

Takuma Sato is 176 points behind Newgarden and since he had back-to-back third place finishes at Indianapolis and Belle Isle his best finish was tenth at Road America with an average finish of 16th over the last five races.

Sato is not the only driver in a rough patch as Ryan Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top ten in the last three races and each result has been worse. Hunter-Reay was 11th at Road America, 16th at Toronto and 17th at Iowa. Hunter-Reay finds himself 189 points off Newgarden.

Graham Rahal heads home looking to repeat his 2015 triumph but he is going to need more than a race victory to get himself back into the championship discussion. Rahal is 197 points behind Newgarden and he enters off the back of six consecutive top ten finishes but he has not had a podium finish on a natural-terrain road course since he finished third at Mid-Ohio in 2017.

James Hinchcliffe needs a Hail Mary with the Canadian trailing Newgarden by 208 points. Hinchcliffe is going to Mid-Ohio off a third place finish at Iowa, his first podium finish of the season and his first top five finish of the season. Hinchcliffe does have three consecutive top ten finishes.

Road to Indy
It will be another full weekend of action at the track with all three Road to Indy series holding a doubleheader alongside IndyCar.

Indy Lights has another nine-car grid entered and after a runner-up finish and a victory in Toronto, Oliver Askew leads Rinus VeeKay by 15 points in the championship with seven races to go. VeeKay made contact with Aaron Telitz while battling for the lead in the second Toronto race, allowing Askew to slip pass both of them and VeeKay finished last after losing four laps for repairs.

Ryan Norman has five consecutive top five finishes and the Ohioan is third in the championship on 222 points, 63 points behind his Andretti Autosport teammate Askew and four points ahead of his other Andretti Autosport teammate Robert Megennis. Megennis has only two top five finishes in the last five races. Toby Sowery picked up his second runner-up finish of the season in the second Toronto race and he rounds out the top five on 213 points.

David Malukas is 110 points back in sixth, Dalton Kellett had a third place finish in the second Toronto race and he is 122 points back in seventh and Lucas Kohl is eighth on 150 points. Telitz won the first Toronto race and finished sixth in the second race after his contact with VeeKay.

Askew won a Mid-Ohio U.S. F2000 race in 2017 but he finished sixth and third last year in the Pro Mazda races, which VeeKay swept. Megannis was on the podium in both Pro Mazda races here last year with finishes of third and second. Norman had a third place finish here in the second Indy Lights race while Kellett was third in the first race. Telitz has never won at Mid-Ohio in 12 Road to Indy series starts and his best finish in Indy Lights at the track is fifth.

Indy Lights will run at 1:25 p.m. ET on Saturday July 27th and at 12:50 p.m. ET on Sunday July 28th.

The Indy Pro 2000 Series championship is looking like a four-horse race with seven races to go.

Despite not picking up a victory at Toronto and not winning a race since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May, Rasmus Lindh increased his lead in Canada with the Swede on 235 points. Lindh finished on the podium in both races and he picked up fastest lap in race two. Parker Thompson was also on the podium in both Toronto races but he finds himself 28 points behind Lindh.

Kyle Kirkwood won the second Toronto race but he had a missed opportunity in race one, where he started on pole position but contact from teammate Ian Rodríguez caused damaged and forced Kirkwood to pit. He could only recover to an eighth place finish. He is now 31 points back of Lindh. Daniel Frost won the first Toronto race and he was fourth in the second race and Frost is 33 points off Lindh.

Kirkwood swept the U.S. F2000 races at Mid-Ohio last year with Lindh finishing fourth and third in those respective races. Thompson has ten starts at Mid-Ohio across the Road to Indy series. He won there in U.S. F2000 in 2017 but last year he finished fifth and sixth in the Pro Mazda races.

There will be 14 cars at Mid-Ohio. Sting Ray Robb is comfortably in fourth on 173 points with Nikita Lastochkin rounding out the top five on 137 points. Phillippe Denes sits on 118 points, two points ahead of Kory Enders and Enders is two points ahead of Moisés de la Vara. Jacob Abel rounds out the top ten on 106 points, one ahead of Antonio Serravalle and Rodríguez is 12th on 93 points.

Indy Pro 2000's first race will be at 5:00 p.m. ET on Saturday July 27th and at 10:00 a.m. ET on Sunday July 28th.

Braden Eves is coming off his worst weekend of the season in U.S. F2000 but the good news is his championship rival Hunter McElrea didn't have much better of an outing in Canada. McElrea was third in race one, a spot ahead of Eves but in race two both drivers had problems with Eves throwing away a top five finish after contact in turn one with Colin Kamiskey but McElrea had his own contact with the barrier while in the top five and it forced McElrea to make repairs and finish two laps down. Eves ended up gaining points on McElrea in race two and Eves holds a 41-point championship lead over the New Zealander.

Darren Keane was the big winner from Toronto, as he won the first race and finished second in the second race and Keane is now third in the championship on 180 points, 53 points behind his Cape Motorsport teammate Eves. Kaminsky is fourth in the championship, 78 points behind Eves with Christian Rasmussen, who finished second in race one and picked up his first career victory in race two from Toronto, rounding out the top five on 141 points, 92 points behind Eves.

Manuel Sulaimán has dropped to sixth in the championship on 138 points with Indianapolis Raceway Park winner Cameron Shields in seventh on 137 points.

Eighteen cars are entered for Mid-Ohio and American drivers Reece Gold, Jak Crawford, Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Zach Holden and Nolan Siegel all looking for promising results.

The first race for U.S. F2000 will take place at 4:05 p.m. ET on Saturday July 27th with the second race scheduled for 11:05 a.m. ET on Sunday July 28th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on July 28th and first since 2002 when there were two races with Dario Franchitti winning the CART race from Vancouver and Tomas Scheckter won at Michigan in a 1-2 finish with Cheever Racing with Buddy Rice finishing second.

This year's Mid-Ohio race falls on the 34th anniversary of Emerson Fittipaldi's first career IndyCar victory, which came at Michigan. Fittipaldi has three Mid-Ohio victories, second all-time to Scott Dixon.

Alexander Rossi could become the eighth different driver to win consecutive Mid-Ohio races joining Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Alex Zanardi, Hélio Castroneves and Scott Dixon.

American drivers have won the last two Mid-Ohio races, three of the last four Mid-Ohio races and four of the last six Mid-Ohio races. Prior to this six-year period, American drivers had not won any of the prior 14 Mid-Ohio races.

The only time American drivers have won three consecutive Mid-Ohio races was from 1984 to 1986 when Mario Andretti won and Bobby Rahal won in consecutive seasons.

Team Penske has never won an IndyCar race on July 28th.

The top five drivers from the 2015 Indy Lights championship are all competing this weekend in the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio. Those drivers are Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey, Ed Jones, RC Enerson and Max Chilton.

The average starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.558 with a median position of second.

Only twice has Mid-Ohio been won from outside the top ten. Scott Dixon won from 22nd in 2014 and Graham Rahal won from 13th in 2015.

The only other Mid-Ohio race since it returned to the schedule in 2007 to have a winner start outside the top five was 2007 when Scott Dixon won from sixth on the grid.

The driver to lead the most laps has won eight of the last 12 Mid-Ohio races.

The average number of lead changes in a Mid-Ohio race is 4.647 with a median of five.

Only two of the last 12 Mid-Ohio races have had fewer than five lead changes. The 2010 race had only four lead changes and the 2012 race had only two lead changes.

There has been at least one lead change in every Mid-Ohio race.

The average number of cautions in a Mid-Ohio race is 1.939 and the median is two. The average number of caution laps is 7.843 with a median of 8.5.

Three of the seven Mid-Ohio races in the DW12-era have been caution-free.

Only one of the last seven Mid-Ohio races has had more than two cautions. The 2015 race had four cautions.

Possible Milestones:
Will Power needs to lead seven laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 2,700 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 2,000 laps led milestone.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 55 laps to reach the 1,600 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 44 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 53 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 15 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon gets back on the top step of the podium and Alexander Rossi will take points out of Josef Newgarden championship lead. One Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car finishes in the top five. Two rookies finish in the top ten. Max Chilton does not get a drive-through penalty. RC Enerson does not stall during a pit stop. Jack Harvey will be the best finisher of the Indy Lights class of 2015. Neither Foyt car starts in the top fifteen but one Foyt car will finish in the top fifteen. At least two drivers that have not finished in the top ten in their last three starts will end that slide. Sleeper: Ed Jones.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Why Are We Racing Saturday Night?

IndyCar had a hard day's night in Iowa and Josef Newgarden took another victory on the back of utter dominance that even Mother Nature would curtsy to out of respect. New England was busy and the region had a trio of excellent races, including a photo finish at Lime Rock Park and a physical final lap at Loudon. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters visited a new venue and W Series tagged along and did something we have been talking about for a long time. The European Le Mans Series spent the night in Barcelona. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Why Are We Racing Saturday Night?
It is pretty clear what this one is about and it comes off as negative. Why are we racing Saturday night?

In a modern age where series need to maximum exposure for sponsors, racing Saturday night goes against that entire premise.

The Toronto IndyCar race got 502,000 viewers last week. The number of viewers for the last four Texas races was 388,000 viewers, 561,000 viewers, 336,000 viewers and 366,000 viewers. The three Phoenix races got 363,000 viewers, 343,000 viewers and last year's race was a 0.2 rating, off of the 0.21 rating/343,000 viewers from 2017. Gateway's two night races has drawn 359,000 and 391,000 viewers. The Iowa race was delayed over four hours but even if it had started on time the rating would likely be off from the week prior.

To be fair, it is hard to look at the data and pick out that Sunday races are clearly better in terms of viewership than Saturday night races. The ratings are all over the place for IndyCar. If you look at Long Beach, two of the last four years have gotten 321,000 viewers and 370,000 viewers. The Barber race this year got 296,000 viewers.

Then there are network TV races versus cable TV races and a network TV race is always going to win out. Road America got the network TV bump this year with a rating of 0.77 with 1,104,000 million viewers, well up from a 0.22 rating and 322,000 viewers in 2017.

It can at least be argued a Saturday night race has a lower ceiling than a Sunday race. Why allow a race to be on Saturday night then? Why race on Saturday night when you know 400,000 viewers would be great success but a Sunday afternoon race could see you over 500,000 viewers and maybe even getting to 600,000 viewers? If you are trying to get the biggest audience possible, why not race at that ideal television window?

The truth is, we like Saturday night racing. I like Saturday night. I want Saturday night races. It is something to look forward to and it looks great. A Saturday night race, whether it be Iowa or Texas or Gateway or going back to the days of Kentucky, Chicagoland, Richmond and even Milwaukee. It looks great and it mixes it up. Not every race has to be in the daytime.

There is also the fact that for some places it is better to have a night race. Iowa went back to a night race this year because the track hosted a Sunday afternoon race for three consecutive years and the attendance dipped. Heat is part of the reason. A night race is cooler than a day race and that is beneficial in Iowa in July, Texas in June and Illinois in August. It is just common sense. Instead of racing when it is 95º F, race when it 80º F and dropping with night settling in.

An argument could be made to give each track a date most suitable for a Sunday race and that is a valid argument but it is easier said than done. Texas has a NASCAR race in the spring and one late in autumn. Add to that IndyCar is already busy in April, May and doesn't want to run later than mid-September.

This isn't an IndyCar-only problem. NASCAR has a similar issue. The spring Richmond race was run on a Sunday in 2015, 2016 and 2017; the three races had 5.2 million viewers, 4.749 million and 4.579 million viewers. The race switched back to a night race in 2018 and the last two years the race has gotten 3.033 million and 2.787 million viewers and all of those races were on network Fox, so there is no cable drop to account for.

A Saturday night race is likely going to be a cable race. Saturday night primetime, even in the summer when fewer people are hanging around the television to begin with, is not going to be given up for a race on network television. The audience isn't there. A re-run of a television show four years ago is going to do better. It is just how it is, no matter how great the race will be. In turn, those tracks are always going to lose out because it cannot sell a title sponsor on a network television window but that is again a track's choice. Iowa could have kept its Sunday afternoon time slot and been in the running for a network television race. However, the benefit of running Saturday night and attracting more people to the track might be better than having a network race on Sunday afternoon.

With that said, the series and the network is still going to try and get the best television rating it can. There was a reason why Iowa was scheduled for a 7:15 p.m. ET, 6:15 p.m. local start time. One, because it was right after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race and it is one race leading into another, the hope is to keep the people tuned in and the second reason is the later you go the worse it gets. Iowa, if it had gone off as scheduled, was always going to end prior to sunset but IndyCar and NBC Sports knows it can't start a race at 9:15 p.m. ET and hope to get a respectable rating. Both parties are trying to minimize the damage and maximize the audience.

If Saturday is the problem, is there another night for night racing?

Sunday night races appear worse on paper. The rating might not be that bad, we saw that with the Chicagoland NASCAR Cup race last month. Though the race was delayed three hours, the Sunday night race drew 2.407 million viewers, down from 2.548 million from the year before but not as bad as it could have been. The problem with Sunday night races is people are not going to show up.

Unfortunately, motorsports are not baseball or hockey or basketball or football and will pack the house on Sunday night even though there is work the next day. Motorsports has yet to figure out how to draw a decent crowd without having most of the fan base travel from two hours or more away. If IndyCar or NASCAR could get 50,000 people from within an hour of the racetracks to show up then maybe Sunday night races would have a prayer but as of now that isn't the case.

And here we come to the always discussed, never explored weeknight races idea. Everyone is intrigued but nobody is sold. If Sunday would be a disaster, how would Monday through Friday be any better in terms of attendance? The one hope for weeknight races is the television rating would be a big kick up from what we see on weekends. Summer is notorious for being a dead sports window. The only thing going on every night is baseball. There is no basketball or hockey. The stage is open for the taking but no one wants to take the risk.

I don't want night racing to go away but I am trying to figure out how it can succeed. I think Saturday night races are a great option for IndyCar. Richmond is one track floating around that could return to the IndyCar schedule and that would likely be a night race and that is great. For starters, IndyCar has been doing a great job of avoiding racing head-to-head on Sunday with NASCAR. Some conflicts cannot be avoided or some conflicts do not exist at all if one series is on the East Coast and the other is on the West Coast but, when the series are in the same time zone, the way each side wins is if one races Saturday night and the other gets Sunday.

There is something exciting about a night race that certain day races cannot match. The only notable difference is the time of day. Racetrack race differently between night and day but we cannot give a value to that difference. It is just a great way to cap off a day. You spend all day waiting, going through life and then settle in for the action after all the chores are done and dinner has long been digested. It is a treat and on top of it all, we still get our Sunday and that Sunday is open for us to do whatever we please.

In the IndyCar world, the number of oval races is low and there are many not on the schedule that seem like possible options. Of all those hopeful oval races, the only ones I would want to be day races are Michigan, which doesn't have lights to begin with but even if it did I would want a day race, Milwaukee because we see what type of crowd Road America can draw with a start time before noon, and Darlington, because I want it to fill that early spring window in March that once hosted a NASCAR race. That's it. If Kentucky, Chicagoland, Kansas, Richmond, Phoenix, Fontana, Las Vegas, Memphis, Charlotte or Homestead are returning to the IndyCar schedule it better be a night race. I guess Loudon would have to be a day race and I am fine with that but the rest of them should be night races.

Saturday night is the best of a bad situation. If we are going to have a night race, Saturday is the best day for it. A Saturday night race is a cheat day. It is when we have something that is not good for us but we like it anyway because it makes us feel good. Sometimes the best thing you can do is bad for you.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Loudon, his first victory of the season. Christopher Bell won the Grand National Series race, his fifth victory of the season.

The #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe won the IMSA race from Lime Rock Park. The #9 Pfaff Porsche of Dennis Olsen and Zach Robichon won the GTD class.

Marco Wittmann and Mike Rockenfeller split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Assen. It was Wittmann's third victory of the season and Rockenfeller's first victory since Zandvoort in 2017.

Emma Kimiläinen won the W Series race from Assen. Megan Gilkes won the non-championship reverse grid race from pole position by 0.003 over Alice Powell, who started 17th.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01-Gibson of Romain Rusinov, Jean-Éric Vergne and Job van Uitert won the 4 Hours of Barcelona. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier-Nissan of Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore won the LMP3 class. The #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Niklas Nielsen and Fabien Laverne won the GTE class.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar ends its three consecutive weeks of racing at Mid-Ohio.
NASCAR's Cup Series will be at Pocono while the Grand National Series hits Iowa.
Hockenheim hosts the German Grand Prix.
The Spa 24 Hours is the third round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Supercars are at Queensland Raceway.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

First Impressions: Iowa 2019

1. This is going to be quick because I am starting typing at 2:15 a.m. ET and I had planned for this race to be over before 9:00 p.m. ET yesterday.

Josef Newgarden is the short oval maestro. Another dominating performance, another untouchable performance and this time it extends his championship lead. It is incredible. It feels like we can pencil Newgarden in for at least 125 laps led at Iowa although you could probably pencil him in for 200 laps led and be just as right.

Newgarden got the led early and on a night when Team Penske had the top three or three of the top four for majority of this race, Newgarden really went unchallenged and he qualified the worse of the three cars. He was strong. He is going to Mid-Ohio and he has won there before and he has the championship in his control.

2. At one point, when Scott Dixon was 17th and two laps down, I was ready to write him off and say this was the night that Scott Dixon's championship hopes for 2019 were extinguished. Somehow Dixon ended up with a runner-up finish. He went long before his final pit stop and caught a caution. He was third when that occurred because Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud had just cycled ahead of him and Dixon was going to stop at any moment.

Without that caution, Dixon may finish 13th. But on that final stint Dixon went from sixth to second and picked off the front-runners with ease. We shouldn't be surprised and yet we are. Dixon did something similar to this at Road America, except he found a way to raise the bar again.

3. James Hinchcliffe gets off the snide and finishes third, his first podium finish since his Iowa victory last year and his first top five finish since his Iowa victory last year. Hinchcliffe spent most of this race in the top five. It was a solid night and he deserved this result. For a moment before that final restart it felt like déjà vu and Hinchcliffe was bound to steal another Iowa victory after Newgarden led over 200 laps but it did not happen. Third is still a great result.

4. The Iowa pole-sitter has still yet to finish on the podium at Iowa with Simon Pagenaud finishing fourth. He was not good on restarts tonight and he restarted second on that final restart. Pagenaud was the third or fourth best car in this one and he was the worst of the three Team Penske cars. This is a bit of a disappointment for him because he didn't have anything for Newgarden.

5. If IndyCar adds Richmond and maybe Memphis and another short oval Spencer Pigot may win a race because for the second consecutive year he drove to the front. It didn't end in a podium finish but he finished fifth and he was strong. Both Ed Carpenter Racing cars were but unfortunately Ed Carpenter was the cause for the final caution and instead of having both cars in the top five, only Pigot carried the torch.

6. Alexander Rossi drops to 29 points behind Newgarden in the championship, which is big but not insurmountable. Rossi was around fifth all day in this one and if Dixon doesn't have the turnaround of a lifetime Rossi would have finished fifth. His car was really good on long runs. There were cars that were explosive and would pass Rossi early in a stint but within 20 laps Rossi would retake the position with ease. He was good and he has had a few days like this where he is only good and he finishes fifth or sixth. He is still in it and I don't think he should be concerned.

7. Zach Veach gets his best finish of the season in seventh. Veach's car got better as the night went along and bravo to him for getting this result. He has had a long season.

8. Graham Rahal had a cracked header for the final 100 laps it seemed and he held on for eighth. I think he deserves eighth if he had to nurse that to the finish.

9. Somehow, Sébastien Bourdais finished ninth and I only say that because he wasn't close to the top ten until about 50 laps to go. I got to double-check but perhaps he went long like Dixon and made up ground that way. Either way, great result for his 200th start after starting 21st.

10. Somehow, Tony Kanaan finished tenth and he was not near the top ten all night. Bourdais and Kanaan both benefitted from attrition but good for them getting these results.

11. Quickly through the rest of the field: Marcus Ericsson misses out on the top ten but he was strong tonight. He had an improper pit entry cost him on his final stop. Without that penalty I think he finishes ahead of Rahal and perhaps Veach. Ericsson was close to Hinchcliffe over the first stint, took a step back in the middle of the race but found his legs down the stretch.

Santino Ferrucci was quick at the start of the run and it was noticeable because he went from 12th to sixth at the start but his car did not have long run pace. That cost him and he finished where he started in 12th.

Conor Daly kept his nose clean and finished 13th. Felix Rosenqvist didn't keep his nose clean but it wasn't his fault. He clipped Sage Karam after Karam spun in front of him. Rosenqvist recovered to finish 14th.

Will Power had an improper pit entry and he went from second to 15th. I am not sure any other driver has had more unforced errors this season.

12. Matheus Leist finished ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and that is a head scratcher. Hunter-Reay looked good at the start and made up some positions but his car was not the same after the red flag at lap 55. It was an odd off night for Hunter-Reay in Iowa.

Colton Herta's car broke on him with less than 20 laps to go and it cost him a top ten finish. Takuma Sato looked racy before he slowed and Sage Karam clipped him. That early spin put Karam behind the eight ball and that was a hard blow for him.

Marco Andretti had the night from hell and between tonight and the Indianapolis 500 he has had a wild horse of a race car in two of the three oval races. This is a tough year for Andretti and I am sure he and the team have to start looking to improve for 2020.

13. It is too late to go over everything I want to and I think Monday or Tuesday I will go into expanded impressions but here are the quick hitters:

Drivers cannot complain about the sunset and the sun being in their eyes. I know it isn't ideal but we cannot have a race delay because of the sun. Not to mention that the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be running at Iowa next week at the same time the IndyCar race was scheduled to start tonight. I know those cars are slower but IndyCar cannot let the sun stop a race from happening.

With that said, I thought this race was great in the dark. It was a different race than if it had started at its scheduled time and I kind of wanted to see that race to see how tire degradation played into it but oh well.

I think A.J. Allmendinger did a respectable job in the booth.

I really want Iowa to succeed and we have had a few odd years for Iowa. The Sunday races were not well received. Tonight's race became a Sunday morning race. The race didn't have a title sponsor despite knowing it wasn't going to have a title sponsor for almost a year. I am worried about the long-term future for IndyCar at Iowa. I am optimistic it will work out but things have to look different in 2020.

Also, thank goodness there wasn't an Indy Lights race that still has to be run like in 2012.

14. Mid-Ohio is a week away and after tonight that two-week break cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Morning Warm-Up: Iowa 2019

Simon Pagenaud has positioned himself to repeat his May success in July at Iowa
Simon Pagenaud won his second consecutive pole position and his second career pole position at Iowa with a two-lap average of 180.073 MPH. This is the fifth consecutive Iowa pole position for Team Penske and eighth all-time at the track. Pagenaud picked up his first career victory from pole position last week at Toronto. It was the 14th victory of his career. The last driver to win consecutive races from pole position was Simon Pagenaud when he won at Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2016. The last driver to win consecutive races from pole position and have one of the races be on an oval was Sébastien Bourdais in 2006, who won the street race at Monterrey and then won at Milwaukee. Pagenaud has completed 1,998 laps out of 2,000 laps in his seven Iowa starts but he has only two top five finishes in seven starts and he has never finished on the podium at the track.

Will Power makes it an all-Penske front row, less than a tenth of a second off Pagenaud. This is the first all-Penske front row since the first race of the season when Power started on pole position and Josef Newgarden started second at St. Petersburg and this is the second consecutive year Team Penske has swept the front row at Iowa. Power has never won the 12th race of the season and his best finish in the 12th race of a season is second, which has occurred on three occasions and all three runner-up finishes occurred at Mid-Ohio. When Power has run in the 12th race of the season, he has finished outside the top ten on ten of 14 occasions with the only other finish in the top ten being ninth at Kentucky in 2009.

Josef Newgarden makes it a clean sweep of the top three for Team Penske and this is the third time Newgarden has started in the top three in the last four Iowa races. Newgarden has led over 100 laps in five of the last ten IndyCar short oval races. He only won two of those races but he did finish in the top five in all five races. Newgarden has 12 consecutive top ten finishes on short ovals and eight of those results were top five finishes. Takuma Sato will start on the outside of the second row. This is the fifth time Sato has started in the top ten at Iowa. Sato's third place finish last year at Iowa was his first top ten finish at the track in nine starts. Sato's average finish in 26 IndyCar starts in the month of July is 15.269 and 15 of those finishes have been outside the top fifteen and nine of those have been finishes outside the top twenty, including a 22nd place finish last week at Toronto.

James Hinchcliffe has yet to finish in the top five this season but he will start fifth for the Iowa 300. This is Hinchcliffe's third top five start of the season and the first time he has started in the top five at Iowa since he won from second on the grid at the track in 2013. Hinchcliffe's two top five finishes at Iowa are two victories. If he were to win this year's race he would join Ryan Hunter-Reay as the only driver with consecutive Iowa victories and he would tie Hunter-Reay for most Iowa victories at three. Alexander Rossi will start sixth, his second consecutive year starting on row three at Iowa. Rossi is looking for his fourth consecutive podium finish, which would be the longest streak in his IndyCar career. Rossi has six podium finishes this season. He had eight podium finishes all of last season. He has nine top five finishes through 11 races and he had ten top five finishes over the entire 2018 season.

Graham Rahal is eighth in the championship and he will start seventh. This is Rahal's best start at Iowa since he started sixth in 2013. Rahal has completed 2,989 of a possible 3,000 laps in his 11 career starts, 99.6% of the most possible laps completed. Of the drivers with at least three Iowa starts, the only drivers to complete a higher percentage of laps are Simon Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves at 99.7%. Scott Dixon starts eighth in the #9 PNC Bank Honda. Dixon has never won at Iowa but he has the most top five finishes at the track with six and he has the most top ten finishes at the track with nine. Dixon's best Iowa finish was third in 2011 and third in 2016. The only track where Dixon has more starts without a victory is St. Petersburg, where has 15 starts. Dixon has never won an IndyCar race from eighth position on the grid.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will roll off from the ninth starting position. Hunter-Reay won from ninth at Iowa in 2015. Hunter-Reay has not finished outside the top ten in three consecutive races since he had five consecutive races without a top ten finish from the Indianapolis 500 to Road America in 2017. When Hunter-Reay won at Iowa in 2014, it was the 12th race of the season. This year, Iowa is the 12th race of the season. Marcus Ericsson rounds out the top ten and it is only the second time he has started in the top ten this season. Ericsson started ninth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He has been outside the top fifteen in the championship after eight of 11 races this season. The only time Ericsson has been the top finishing rookie this season was at Barber when he finished seventh.

Colton Herta starts 11th for his first IndyCar start at Iowa. Herta made two starts at Iowa in Indy Lights. He won pole position for the 2017 race but finished fourth and last year he was runner-up to Patricio O'Ward. Last year, James Hinchcliffe won from 11th at Iowa, the first time the Iowa winner started 11th. The only other time the 11th place started finished on the podium at this track was when Hideki Mutoh finished third in 2009. Santino Ferrucci makes it three consecutive rookies on the grid with Ferrucci on the outside of row six. He has finished better than his starting position in seven consecutive races including improvements of 16 positions at the Indianapolis 500 and 14 positions at Texas.

Tony Kanaan gets his best starting position of the season, as he qualified 13th. It is the first time Kanaan has started in the top fifteen this season and he started 13th last year at Iowa. Kanaan has gone 32 starts since his last top five finish, a fifth place at Pocono in 2017. Kanaan had five consecutive podium finishes at Iowa from 2010 to 2014. Since, he has finished 21st, seventh, ninth and 17th. Sage Karam joins his former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate on row seven. This is Karam's best starting position since he started tenth at Iowa in 2015. Karam has finished outside the top twenty in five of his last seven starts with his other two finishes in that time span being 14th and 19th.

Felix Rosenqvist rounds out the top fifteen with Conor Daly joining him on row eight. Rosenqvist did not run at Iowa in 2016 when he was in Indy Lights. He is looking for his first career top ten finish on an oval after finishing 28th at the Indianapolis 500 and 12th at Texas. This will be Daly's fourth consecutive start on an oval. Last year at Iowa, the Carlin cars of Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton finished 14th and 15th after starting 17th and 21st respectively.

Ed Carpenter starts 17th, his worst starting position at Iowa since he started 21st in 2012. Carpenter has only led 18 laps in 11 Iowa starts. All 18 laps led were in the 2013 race, where Carpenter started a career-best fourth at the track and finished a career-best fourth. Carpenter has only one top five finish in his last 25 starts. That lone top five finish was second in last year's Indianapolis 500. Marco Andretti makes it an all-American row nine. This is the fourth consecutive year Andretti has started outside the top fifteen at Iowa. Andretti has completed the most laps all-time at Iowa, 3,156 out of 3,250 or 97.1% of every IndyCar lap ever run at Iowa. Andretti had four podium finishes in the first six Iowa races. In the last six Iowa races he has two top ten finishes with his best finish being seventh.

Row ten is another all-American row with Spencer Pigot and Zach Veach starting 19th and 20th respectively. Pigot made his 50th start last week at Toronto and he has yet to win an IndyCar race. Only 27 drivers scored their first career victory after their 50th career start. Only four of those drivers went on to win a championship and those drivers were Roger McCluskey, Jimmy Vasser, Buddy Lazier and Josef Newgarden. The only driver to pick up a first career victory in the 51st start of a career was Jeff Ward at Texas on June 8, 2002. Veach has only four lead lap finishes this season from 11 races and he has only 13 lead lap finishes from 30 starts in his IndyCar career. The only lead lap finish on an oval in Veach's short IndyCar career was last year at Gateway. Two drivers have scored their first career victory in their 31st career start: Tony Kanaan at Michigan in 1999 and Airton Daré at Kansas in 2002.

Sébastien Bourdais will make his 200th IndyCar start from 21st position, his second worst starting position at Iowa and only the 13th time he has started outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career. Entering Iowa, Bourdais had four consecutive top ten starts. Bourdais has not had five consecutive top ten starts since last year from Phoenix to the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais has won from 21st on the grid before. He won the 2017 season opener at St. Petersburg from 21st on the grid. The only driver with multiple victories from a starting position outside the top twenty is Scott Dixon, who won at Nazareth in 2001 from 23rd and Dixon won from 22nd at Mid-Ohio in 2014. Matheus Leist rounds out the grid in 22nd. This is the ninth time Leist has started 20th or worse this season. Leist's average finish in eight oval starts is 17.5 and he has finished dead last in three of those starts. Leist won at Iowa in Indy Lights in 2017. It was Leist's final Indy Lights victory and podium finish.

NBCSN's coverage of the Iowa 300 begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 300 laps.