Tuesday, June 30, 2020

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: June 2020

We are halfway through 2020. Six months down, six to go. We can't even pretend things are going well or have been all that rosy. After these first six months, I think we all can't imagine what is to come.

There are some headlines from this month. 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.

We are going to start with a hypothetical, but one that almost happened 20 years ago, and could have completely shifted the motorsports world as we know it...

Revealed: IndyCar's Predecessor Made Bid To Buy Formula One
CART almost bought Formula One about 20 years ago.

I thought about dedicating a post to this exclusively, looking at all the ramifications of what happened in the world of motorsports if this deal did happen and wonder where we would be today, but let's not get too deep into this. I think we can cover the basics here.

CART was public traded at the time, was still reasonably successful but didn't have the Indianapolis 500 and that absence was soon going to bring CART to its knees. Purchasing Formula One, however, could have entirely swung the tide of The Split.

I don't think Formula One and CART merge to form some super series. Even in the late 1990s, Formula One teams were outspending CART teams by a country-mile. Penske would be lucky to keep up with Jordan at that time let alone compete with Ferrari and McLaren. I think we see two complementary series. CART is still an American-based series and has a handful of oval races but there are a few CART/Formula One weekends around the globe. CART becomes a development outlet for Formula One drivers, and we see CART-developed talent on the radar for more Formula One teams.

This deal keeps the CART owners invested. If CART owned Formula One, is Roger Penske bolting for the IRL in 2002? No. Is Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Kim Green, Bobby Rahal and David Letterman following in 2003? No.

The pressure would have been on Tony George and the IRL. George would either have to concede and be absorbed into this global conglomerate for open-wheel racing or he would have had to ask for more fire power from Bill France and NASCAR and that second option is the scariest.

The simplest thought is CART purchases Formula One, George sees he has no hope of beating that, lays down, partners with this mega-entity, restores the Indianapolis 500 to its former glory but makes sure the top IRL teams get shares, are a part of the club, reap the benefits from being included and reunification happens about eight years sooner.

Or George does the opposite of that and the only party that could have fought a CART/Formula One behemoth would be NASCAR. The IRL becomes more like NASCAR, NASCAR maybe even takes over sanctioning the IRL. We see Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress enter cars, IRL races are run on Saturdays of NASCAR weekends at Atlanta, Rockingham, Loudon, Pocono and Darlington, Ford gets forced over to the IRL, taking away Cosworth from CART teams. Maybe NASCAR twists Fords arm and makes sure to withdraw Cosworth from Formula One, which only really prevents Jaguar from becoming a team, but that is a minor blow for Formula One.

I am not sure how a CART/Formula One vs. IRL/NASCAR war would have played out from 2000 to 2020. I feel both sides would have gotten further apart, both would have stuck to what they were doing, both would still be separate to this day, and the Indianapolis 500 would be worse off.

I think the Indianapolis 500 would have become an open-wheel NASCAR race. We would have seen NASCAR send Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Bobby and Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett to the Indianapolis 500 every year while Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti could go without any hiccups. I think NASCAR's goal would be to make the Indianapolis 500 a de facto NASCAR race and capitalize on making sure the Indianapolis 500 winner is a NASCAR driver. If a NASCAR driver enters and wins the Indianapolis 500 then it is clear NASCAR is the superior series, all these open-wheel drivers are second-class, and these fans would tune into NASCAR for the 51 weekends outside the Indianapolis 500.

Oh, and we definitely have guaranteed positions for the Indianapolis 500 if this happens. The field probably would have expanded to 40 cars or 43 cars at this time. Bumping is long gone, and NASCAR probably owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway instead. I think NASCAR would snuff out of the Hulman-George family. NASCAR would pay them handsomely to go away and the family would be taken care of for the next nine generations, but NASCAR takes over the property and controls the most notable motorsports event in the United States.

I think the IRL and the Indianapolis 500 become even more American, which some of you are probably thinking doesn't sound so bad, but I think we all know it would not be as good as what we have today. The Indianapolis 500 is taken hostage in this scenario. It is the one bargaining chip Tony George would have had and he wasn't going to give it to a CART/Formula One superpower. He would have gone to NASCAR to be his protector, but NASCAR would have taken everything away from him. NASCAR would see the power it would wield if it controlled the Indianapolis 500 and not think twice about seizing it.

From one hypothetical to another...

WRC wants to return to key markets United States and China
The World Rally Championship has not run in the United States since 1988 and has not run in China since 1999. Between the two countries, they have hosted a combined six WRC events. If these were such key markets, why hasn't WRC been to either in the 21st century?

There is no interest in the United States for a WRC event and when I say no interest, I mean WRC could come and run a rally in this country and not even myself would notice.

I enjoy the World Rally Championship. I enjoy rallying. There is something about a car flying through the forest that is exhilarating and respectable. It can be some of the most breath-taking scenes in motorsports, but I know the interest isn't here in the United States, at least for it not to make a difference.

I thought there was a window, maybe ten or 12 years ago for a WRC in this country, when Rally America was doing well, and Travis Pastrana was involved. I thought perhaps the Olympus Rally could be resurrected or one of these rallies in the Michigan woods could work.

The problem with any American rally is it would take place in the middle of nowhere and I don't think the WRC teams would be all that impressed. The middle of Pennsylvania or somewhere in Maine or Michigan isn't worth it for the teams to come over.

I did think there could possibly be a desert rally somewhere outside of Las Vegas and the super stage could be held downtown near the strip. That could be worth it for the teams and it could end the season. Who wouldn't want to end a season in Las Vegas? Even if it was run around Las Vegas, it would be another obscure event in a city of obscure events. There is not enough interest in this country that would bring all the American rally fans to Las Vegas to support the world championship.

Moving on to two-wheels...

Rossi "more beatable" the longer he stays in MotoGP - Stoner
Everyone gets more beatable the longer he or she stays in something. Valentino Rossi is no different. Casey Stoner is pointing out the obvious. We all know this.

For the final eight years of Richard Petty's career, he was pretty damn beatable. Same was true for A.J. Foyt and the final decade of his IndyCar career. Jimmie Johnson's last two-and-a-half seasons are not going out on the highest note, but very few drivers walk away from the mountaintop. Most keep going, thinking another title is in the cards, another dozen trophies will be added to the trophy case only to come far short.

It has been odd watching Rossi's last few seasons. It has been 11 years since his last championship, which I hadn't realized was that long ago. He was championship runner-up for three consecutive seasons, and he cost himself the 2015 championship. He was seven points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo entering the finale but had to start last after kicking Marc Márquez while passing him in the penultimate round in Sepang. Rossi went from 26th to fourth in the Valencia finale but Lorenzo won the race and took the title by five points over Rossi.

Rossi could have had another title. If he had won a title five years ago, he would not appear as beatable as he is now. Rossi does have a career that doesn't appear will die, same as Kimi Räikkönen. I don't know if we will see Rossi get that one final triumph. I feel Rossi's career should have a grand exit. It's not going to feel fitting if his final season is eighth in the championship with his best race finish being fourth. It will probably be better than that but not a championship.

Speaking of drivers who walked away while on the mountaintop...

Top 10 Moments of Nico Rosberg Brilliance
Are there ten moments of Nico Rosberg brilliance? I know he won the World Drivers' Championship, but not much brilliance stands out.

I will admit, his first victory at Shanghai in 2012 was pretty good. That came out of nowhere. Outside of that, I am lost. Rosberg had a lot of brain fades and it counterbalances the good. He ended the 2015 season with three consecutive victories from pole position, and that is notable because he did it after Lewis Hamilton clinched the championship, but those victories came after Rosberg gave away the championship at Austin when he went wide while leading with nine laps to go.

The other thing I have to give Rosberg credit for is finishing the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. For someone who had been close to bulletproof all season, Rosberg suffered an ERS failure during the finale when he had a shot at the title. The team wanted him to retire the car, but Rosberg wanted to finish the season on the track. I applauded it then and I applaud it now.

Rosberg won a world championship but the biggest two moments from his championship season is Rosberg colliding with his teammate Hamilton on lap one in Barcelona and Rosberg colliding with his teammate Hamilton on the final lap in Austria. That says a lot about a driver.

Top 10: George Russell's best drives ranked
Russell is 22 years old and has done one season in Formula One. Can we give him a little more time for his career to develop before we start doing top ten lists for him?

I know he won a GP3 championship and a Formula Two championship, but if you are using junior series events to complete a list of best drives, then the list should not be created in the first place. Give Russell some time before we start creating specific lists for his career.

I know the pandemic has created a lot of holes and there are gaps for stories and pieces, but let's not be this desperate and turn George Russell's infant career into some nostalgia piece. He isn't old enough to be nostalgic about yet.

I am calling it a wrap on this headline exercise for a little bit. I want to try something new in July with all these motorsports series returning. Headlines could return in the future, but for now, on to something completely different. Let's see how that goes in July.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Trying to Feel Happy

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin split the NASCAR Cup doubleheader from Pocono, but it would not be a NASCAR weekend in 2020 without a weather delay and we had a few. First, the Truck race was rained out from Saturday to Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. Second, the Cup race was delayed twice and did not end until the final rays of sunlight remained in the sky. Australia saw motorsports action return with Supercars at Sydney Motorsports Park behind closed doors. Elsewhere, Formula One is almost back, as will be the Formula Two and Formula Three divisions. IMSA continues to re-arrange its calendar. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Trying to Feel Happy
The last month has been rough and I can't say it has gotten any better.

It is hard to be happy during this time. The pandemic has been a tough period for many. Unemployed in the United States is the worst it has been since the Great Depression. Parts of the country are seeing record-breaking spikes in cases on a daily basis, and in turn, the country is right back where it started in early April.

Meanwhile, protests have been taking place in response to the murder of George Floyd and it has spurred protests globally against racial inequality. We are seeing tremendous displays and calls for unity, and it feels like a watershed moment, it feels like great change is happening, but it comes with an unfortunate backlash of racism and ignorance.

It is heart-breaking seeing how difficult it is for some people to treat fellow human beings with respect. It is devastating when kindness and understanding and listening is too difficult of a task for a lot of people.

And all that is wanted is love. The black community around the world wants to be treated like everyone else. They want to live their lives and not be seen as an outsider or a threat on a constant basis. They want to be treated like another person.

For the last month, NBC Sports Premier League studio analyst Robbie Earle has been the voice that has broken through the most to me. As a soccer fan, Earle has been a weekly guest in my home for years. Before getting into television, he was a top player in England, playing for Wimbledon and he scored in the 1998 FIFA World Cup for Jamaica. He is an intelligent and thoughtful man. His analyst is incredibly insightful. Like everyone on NBC's Premier League coverage, he is one of the best in the business.

Listening to Earle's stories facing causal racism and hearing the pain in his voice hurts. I hear a man who just wants to be loved. He wants to walk down the street and not have others make him aware he is viewed different. He wants to be seen for more than his skin color. He wants to go to a restaurant or store and not have eyes on him at all times.

That basic freedom is what black people want. That basic freedom is what white people have.

That is white privilege. White privilege is going out and not having a security guard trail you in a store just because of your skin color while posing no other sign of being a threat for theft.

Every aspect of the world is confronting racial inequality, bias and discrimination in the last month. From soccer to television to motorsports and every part of life in-between.

For the last month, NASCAR has been making changes and it has been led from within. Bubba Wallace is using his voice and drivers are listening. Officials are listening. Like the many other aspects of life, there has been push back, but change is coming in NASCAR. The resistance to change will not go away easily but change will not stop.

Wallace has NASCAR's support, and that is something I am not sure a previous NASCAR regime would have been as quick to give. Fellow drivers rallied around Wallace, showing unity after a noose was found in the Richard Petty Motorsports garage. Fortunately, after FBI investigation it was determined it was not a hate crime, but on the heels of NASCAR banning the confederate flag at its tracks after Wallace publicly stated he would like the flag to be barred from events, with protesters outside the facility and a plane flying with the flag overhead, NASCAR protected Wallace when it otherwise may have ignored it.

It turned out to be a misunderstanding and one of the craziest coincidences where the one garage pull rope in the Cup garage that was tied into a hangman's knot at Talladega from last October ended up being in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace's team in June 2020.

Watching everything going on in the world and Bohemian Rhapsody plays in my head.

"I don't want to die. I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all."

The world is dizzying. The bell rings to end the round and before you reach your corner it rings again, and you are back facing a barrage of punches. Dying can't be that bad, right? It seems like the only way out. Improvements and changes are not expected overnight but there is this relentless opposition to social change that will drag this on longer than it should and in some cases prevent changes a vast majority of people support from ever happening. The opposition isn't going to miss me. Let's just give them the world. They will have no one to be mad at but themselves.

It is hard to be happy. How can I justify it when I see everything going on around me?

This should be an exciting time. After three months of lockdown, Formula One is coming back! MotoGP will be back soon! The IndyCar season gets rolling with five races in 15 days! IMSA will be back with a return of the Paul Revere 250 on July 4! Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters will be back with a wacky schedule and it is not the only wacky schedule out there.

DTM plans to return to Spa-Francorchamps! Formula One is running two races at Red Bull Ring and Silverstone and it is talking about returning to Imola. Mugello could host a race, though I do not think that race will be great, I am all for it. Hockenheim and Portimão are possible destinations for Formula One races later this year. MotoGP will have doubleheaders at Jerez, Red Bull Ring, Misano and Aragón.

The next three months are going to be filled with motorsports. An Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans are still ahead of us. We are going to see calendars and races we will never see again. Though a difficult time, this should spark some joy and be remembered as a bright spot. It is too dark to get through. The bright spots are clouded out until we the people start achieving societal improvements.

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

Chase Briscoe won the Grand National Series race from Pocono, his fourth victory of the season. Brandon Jones won the Truck race, his first career Truck victory.

Scott McLaughlin won the bookend Supercars races from Sydney Motorsports Park with Nick Percat winning the second race of the weekend.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
NASCAR joins IndyCar for its Brickyard 400, with the Grand National Series running the road course.
IMSA will run at Daytona on July 4th weekend for the first since 2010.
Formula One starts in Austria and Formula Two and Formula Three will be there as well.


Friday, June 26, 2020

A Look Back: IndyCar at Richmond - Part Three

IndyCar will not be going to Richmond this year, but we are reviewing the nine IndyCar races held at the track from 2001 to 2009. Yesterday, we took a look at the second-third of races from 2004 to 2006. There were a pair of new track records, two lanes for passing and Scott Dixon lambasted from Mike Hull.

The final part will cover 2007 to 2009, the end of The Split and the boom of reunification. We will see Newman/Haas Racing back on the grid with Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and more. There are a few names that popped up and then didn't stick around. We also have to face the possible disappointment of an IndyCar return. Before we get to all that, we go back to 2007, the time before reunification and one final skimpy IRL field.

2007
Andretti Green Racing swept the front row with Dario Franchitti on pole position with Tony Kanaan starting second.

Coming to the green flag, Sam Hornish, Jr. spun out of fifth position but he went into the grass and did not have any cataclysmic damage and continued. On the lap four restart, Franchitti maintained the lead with Tomas Scheckter utilizing the high line to pass Danica Patrick in turns one and two and using the same line on Scott Sharp in turns three and four.

Franchitti lapped Milka Duno on lap 13 and he was on the back of Hornish about 11 laps later before lapping him on lap 26. Kanaan was about 1.7 seconds behind Franchitti, but with traffic the lead closed to under a second. Franchitti was doing a good job lapping cars and did open his lead up to 2.1 seconds over Kanaan.

There was a debris caution on lap 61 and during pit stops, Kanaan jumped ahead of Franchitti to take the lead. The lead was short lived for Kanaan with Franchitti retaking the top spot into turn one on the restart.

This was a rather uneventful event in terms of incidents and passing was limited. There were good battles in the back half of the top ten. Scheckter made a couple more passes. Ed Carpenter battled with Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick. Rice was actually a mover. He went from ninth to sixth over a 30-lap period from lap 90 to lap 127 and his pass for sixth was on Hélio Castroneves.

Jeff Simmons got in the marbles on lap 155, sending him into the wall and bringing out the third caution. This brought the leaders in under caution for their final stops. Franchitti kept the lead with Kanaan in second.

At some point during the restart, Kanaan dropped from second to fourth behind Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon but it was missed on the broadcast. Dixon remained close to Franchitti, about eight-tenths back. The issue was the lapped car of Hornish was between the leaders and was a buffer. Eventually, Hornish got out of the way. Once clear of Hornish, Dixon closed in a bit on Franchitti and Wheldon closed in on Dixon for third.

While carving through lapped traffic, Dixon and Wheldon had to split Kosuke Matsuura into turn one. The next lap, Matsuura made contact with Hornish and brought out the caution. It was a quick yellow. Matsuura never got into the barrier, there was no debris on the circuit and both cars continued. Matsuura slowed up in the marbles to keep it out of the barrier, but it was a quick trigger yellow and probably didn't justify it.

This set up a seven-lap sprint. Franchitti got the jump on the restart and neither Dixon nor Wheldon made a challenge for the top spot. Franchitti took victory after leading 242 of 250 laps, including the final 179 laps. Kanaan was fourth and Rice rounded out the top five.

How was the crowd?
It was another packed house. Marty Reid even said, "We think there was at least 60,000 here tonight," at the end of the broadcast.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Yep. They said the Hoosier rubber would make it harder for to find grip early in the race.

Signs of the Time:
Teams were not allowed to keep engines in backup cars and this was the first season such regulation in place.

Hélio Castroneves pied Brian Barnhart in the face during the drivers' meeting because it was Barnhart's birthday.

Reid brought up Scott Sharp was only $190,000 away from $10 million in winnings in his career. I know that isn't all of Sharp's money, but he probably got a nice cut of it. We haven't talked about winnings like that really since 2007 or 2008. I can't tell you what any active driver has in career earnings. I doubt a great majoirty have gotten to $10 million.

The guys who raced in CART (Kanaan, Dixon, Castroneves, etc.) probably got there or got close but what has two-time champion Josef Newgarden earned? What about Will Power? Simon Pagenaud? Ryan Hunter-Reay? Motorsports was once a sport where earnings were shared and used to garner attention, similar to golf. Now it is verboten. The only race we get a breakdown for is the Indianapolis 500. We know the champion gets $1 million but any money we hear about is minuscule in the motorsports world. We hear about $10,000 for pole position, a $30,000 victory bonus but that is puny. We know that doesn't cover the bills. It is almost better if that wasn't out there.

During the race there were multiple promotions for the Mont-Tremblant Champ Car race the next day, because ESPN was showing both series in 2007. I know I have asked this before, but do we miss that? Do we miss having two open-wheel races at two great tracks on consecutive days?

We can all agree the split was bad but it was a time when you could see Richmond and Mont-Tremblant on the same weekend. We got Cleveland, Michigan, Texas, Montreal, Road America, Kentucky, Watkins Glen, Toronto and Surfers Paradise, albeit in two separate championships but we got all of it. We got close to 30 races a year. That wasn't the best because all the best teams and drivers weren't at Indianapolis. You had two separate fields with 18-20 cars tops and each series wasn't getting the best drivers. There was no pipeline for junior series graduates. Drivers left for sports cars and NASCAR. It was rough.

As special as it was, it was bad.

Speaking of the split, the next race was Watkins Glen and the way the broadcast spoke about it and all the road course had a foreign feel. It was treated like a complete unknown. At this point in the IRL,  majority of the field came from road course backgrounds. It sounded poor to treat road courses in such a way. It shouldn't have been a surprise that any of Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan or Castroneves were good on road courses. That was their bread and butter.

Broadcasting Gems:
Reid kept referring to Richmond as the "action track." I never recall that being a thing for Richmond. Kokomo? Yes. Richmond? No.

Under the Simmons caution, the broadcast cut to a 30/30 update on what else happened in the sports world during pit stops! We come back to see what happened in replay and nothing was explained during the replay. Show the pit stops live and then do the 30/30 update after the pit stops.

In case you were wondering what the order of the post-race interviews were, it was Ashley Judd, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon.

2008
This was the first 300-lap Richmond race and it was also the first Richmond race post-reunification. It saw 26 cars enter, a record number for the event.

Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti swept the front row for Andretti Green Racing, the second consecutive front row sweep for the team. This race was choppy from the start.

Ryan Hunter-Reay spun coming to the green flag exiting turn four, just like Sam Hornish, Jr. the year before. Hunter-Reay continued with no problems.

On lap nine, Will Power got into the turn four wall after the car snapped right on him when making a correction. Lap 30, A.J. Foyt IV spun in turn two after contact with John Andretti. Ed Carpenter suffered right front damage after hitting a piece of debris off of Foyt's car.

Of the first 38 laps, 12 were green. In that time, Hélio Castroneves had made some passes. Castroneves had started 18th and he made three passes in six laps, first on John Andretti into turn one on lap 21, then Foyt four laps later into turn one and then on lap 26, going high on Bruno Junqueira in turn three and four before completing the pass into turn one.

On the lap 39 restart, Castroneves overtook his teammate Ryan Briscoe on the outside of turn two and he did the same move on the following lap on Oriol Servià.

The other mover in the race was Jaime Camara! Camara had stopped under the Foyt caution to get fresh tires and he passed Townsend Bell after getting a run on the high side of turns three and four. He used momentum off of turn two to slice under Briscoe into turn three on the following lap. He nearly got Servià but had the air taken off his front wing and had to lift to keep it out of the wall.

When the caution came out on lap 68 for debris the leaders stopped, but Camara and Danica Patrick stayed out. We would hit another patch of caution laps with only one green flag lap in a 38-lap span and Camara held the lead this entire time.

There were two separate incidents on the lap 79 restart. Buddy Rice spun exiting turn four but continued. Behind all that, cars stacked up in turn three with Briscoe running into the back of Darren Manning. Vitor Meira and Junqueira were collected in this incident. Meira was able to continue, Briscoe and Manning had to get significant repairs and Junqueira was done.

On the one green flag lap, Kanaan passed Patrick for second on the lap 91 restart. Castroneves made it three-wide but he backed out of it and that allowed Marco Andretti to take the spot from Castroneves. Behind those passes, John Andretti ran into Meira entering turn one, as Meira was taking it pretty easy while Andretti had a full head of steam.

In the first third of the race, seven cars were out. Patrick and Bell made pit stops under caution on lap 103 but Camara stayed out and continued to lead.

Kanaan challenged Camara into turn one on the lap 107 restart but did not make it stick. Camara ran the high line and was keeping Kanaan at bay, so much so, Marco Andretti would pass Kanaan into turn one on lap 114. Two laps later, Andretti made the same move on the inside of Camara for the lead. Camara had one counterattack on lap 118, looking to the inside of Andretti into turn three but he had to lift and lost significant ground.

Andretti opened up a four-second lead with second to sixth covered by two seconds.

At lap 133, Graham Rahal spun in turn four on his own. He basically took the turn too hot. This brought everyone but Andretti to pit lane. Andretti wanted to keep track position and the team was hoping to stretch it and do it on one more stop. E.J. Viso and Patrick also stayed out.

Kanaan was first off pit road ahead of Wheldon, Castroneves and Camara. After the restart, Kanaan moved up to third and Castroneves and Camara picked cars off pretty consistently. Both got Wheldon on lap 142 and then both got Patrick on the next lap. Castroneves was able to take third from Kanaan into turn one on lap 145.

On the same lap Castroneves moved into third, Mario Moraes dove inside of Ryan Hunter-Reay into turn three and the move didn't stick. Moraes made contact with Hunter-Reay, knocking both cars were out of the race. At halfway, 11 of 26 starters were out and 31 of 96 laps from lap 68 to lap 163 were under green flag conditions.

Scott Dixon stopped under the Hunter-Reay/Moraes caution because Mike Hull looked at the radar and believed rain was 30 minutes away and did not think the race would go the distance.

The race restarted on lap 164 and Kanaan moved into second ahead of Viso while Castroneves made the same move the following lap. Camara would use the high side in turn two to pass Viso the following lap. Viso was on older tires and kept dropping. He would lose another position to Servià.

Andretti continued to lead with Kanaan remaining about six-tenths back but this strategy was not playing into Andretti's hand. Andretti was going to be forced to stop under green and lose at least a lap. He would need the race to remain green until the rest of the leaders stopped to retake the lead. On lap 206, after a 134-lap stint Andretti stopped and went a lap down in 11th.

Kanaan held a 3.6-second lead over Castroneves at this point and Camara's dream race ended up lap 218 when he spun exiting turn four while in third. Camara's wonderful night was over, Andretti's strategy had backfired, and Kanaan held the advantage. The leaders made their final stops and Kanaan came out in first.

Over the final 72 laps, Kanaan did not face much pressure and continually increased his lead over the stint. There was some movement with Dixon moving into fourth ahead of Servià but with 25 laps to go Kanaan held a five-second lead.

Kanaan took the victory ahead of Castroneves with Dixon passing Wheldon on the final lap for third. In the victory lane interview, Kanaan said he thought Andretti had just as strong of a car as his. Andretti ended up ninth, one lap down after letting Kanaan through in the closing laps.

How was the crowd?
At the top of the broadcast, Marty Reid said it was about 60,000 in attendance. It looked pretty good. I am always hesitant to put a number on attendance, but it wasn't sparse.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
You betcha!

Signs of the Time:
Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor gave the command to start engines. This race was the SunTrust Indy Challenge and Angelelli and Taylor drove the #10 SunTrust Wayne Taylor Racing Pontiac in Grand-Am. It is not often you see active professional race car drivers give the command to start engines before another professional motor race.

Scott Dixon called Danica Patrick a menace after the Iowa race the week before due to some questionable driving. I had no recollection of that but the quote from Dixon in the Des Moines Register was as follows:

"She's a menace. It might be just me, but it's tough when you get drivers that don't stay where they should be."

Dixon felt Patrick had gotten away with a few blocks at Iowa. Scott Goodyear described Dixon's accusation as slanderous.

I just wanted to give you a feel for the post-reunification field:

Conquest Racing had Jaime Camara and Enrique Bernoldi as its two drivers. Camara replaced Franck Perera at Kansas. Bernoldi had a practice accident in turn four at Richmond. He ran the first six laps under caution and then pulled in because of a handling concern. This didn't appear to be some B.S. "handling" retirement. Bernoldi was signaling a concern to the team in the pit box. Alex Tagliani replaced Bernoldi for the final two races and the non-championship Surfers Paradise round. This was the only season Camara, Bernoldi and Perera drove in IndyCar.

I am still not sure how Mario Moraes went from 14th in the 2007 British Formula Three championship to IndyCar at 19 years old but Moares' check cleared with Dale Coyne and that is all that matters. His best finish in 2008 was seventh at Watkins Glen and he was 21st in the championship. He moved to KV Racing the next two years, had a few flashes in the pan, most notably three consecutive top five finishes in 2009 at Sonoma, Chicago and Motegi. He made his final IndyCar start at 21 years, nine months and 12 days old on October 2, 2010 at Homestead and he has not been heard from in any major professional series since.

Oh! They still allowed Marty Roth on track and he was dangerously slow. He was 49 years old at the time! His best finish in 21 starts was 13th at Nashville in 2008. He never finished on the lead lap. He immaculately started four Indianapolis 500s, three of which ended in accidents. The guy is going to turn 60 this December and I wonder what he is up to.

Broadcasting Gems:
From watching the first eight Richmond race, this was a time when the broadcast did not share the fuel window and pit strategies with the viewers, and that lack of information contributed to a worse broadcast.

It felt like this was a time when the broadcast was just watching cars going around in circles and anytime a pit stop happened it wasn't explained. It was accepted that everyone knew pit stops would occur, but you didn't know why that stop was happening when it was happening.

With 22 laps to go, Reid speculated Kanaan's gap over second was growing because some cars were saving fuel. Jack Arute in the pit lane said no, everyone was good to go on fuel. Did anyone know the fuel window? You should know if a car makes a stop after a certain lap, they should be good to the end. Yet, here we were in 2008 and the lead commentator is theorizing cars are saving fuel. That most basic strategically element should be clear.

The fuel window is a simple thing to know. When shared it makes the audience smarter, lets them know what to watch for and helps viewers follow along.

For the last decade I am glad this has been taken more seriously, expanded upon and engrained into a broadcast. Any race today that doesn't mention fuel window or tire life would be an amateur broadcast. It was annoying to watch because it made the people calling the race seem out of touch.

2009
Richmond's last time on the IndyCar schedule was Versus' first time broadcasting the race. Chip Ganassi Racing swept the front row with Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Team Penske swept row two with Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe.

The race started with Jaques Lazier spinning all by himself in turn one and when I say all by himself, I mean he started dead last and the field was already ten car lengths clear when he lost it.

After the restart on lap 8, Tomas Scheckter again explored the high side but lost a spot to Marco Andretti on exit of turn two. Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon nearly went three-wide into one, but Kanaan lifted.

By lap 27, the leaders were catching the rear of the field and a few laps later Briscoe spun exiting turn two, backing it into the wall on the straightaway. He said he had been battling understeer and the transition of the banking caught him out.

This caution led to different strategies. Everyone but Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick made a pit stop. Franchitti would pass Patrick on the restart, starting from on the outside of turn two and completing the move on the outside into turn three. On the same restart, Marco Andretti tried to make the high line work battling with Graham Rahal but slight contact between the two caused Andretti to lose momentum and allowed E.J. Viso to pass Andretti into turn one.

Despite having 30-lap fresher tires and tires only having a 25-30 lap sweet spot, Franchitti settled into second, remaining within three or four-tenths of Mutoh the entire run. Patrick was unchallenged in third but drifted back, falling 2.2 seconds behind her teammate Mutoh.

As the Mutoh caught the tail end of the field, Patrick and Dixon closed in. At lap 100, all 18 cars on track were still on the lead lap and five laps later Mutoh made his first stop. Franchitti put Mario Moraes a lap down two laps after taking the lead but that was the only car he lapped. It was a single-groove, processional race.

After the pit stops, Mutoh and Patrick were running about a half-second faster than the leaders and made some moves on cars with 90-lap older tires but none of the leaders experienced a greater drop off in tire life than the rest. With cars able to go about 113 laps on a tank of fuel and no significant tire drop off, there was no incentive to come a little earlier for tires.

This played into the hands of Franchitti, Dixon and Rahal. They had not stopped yet when Mike Conway got into the wall exiting turn four after running into the marbles. Franchitti did need to make an emergency splash and go before pit lane opened and this handed the lead to Dixon.

When the race restarted on lap 154, Dixon held the lead over Franchitti and Rahal while Mutoh, Patrick, Castroneves and Raphael Matos were waved around back to the lead lap. It never got easier to pass and the waved around cars still had difficulty negotiating lapped traffic while Dixon and Franchitti pulled away and remained within a second of each other.

There was no passing worth mentioning from here on. Castroneves would get into the marbles on lap 248 after checking up to miss Dan Wheldon and avoiding Scheckter, who was in the marbles and off throttle to avoid the wall. While Scheckter kept going, Castroneves ended up in the barrier and this brought out the final caution of the race.

Once again, Dixon, Franchitti and Rahal had not made their final pit stops and this allowed these three to pit without much consequence. Only Mutoh and Patrick, the two drivers to stick to a two-stop strategy, got the wave around this time.

The final restart came with 41 laps to go and there is nothing worth mentioning after this. The top five remain the top five for the rest of the race. Dixon stays about four-tenths ahead of Franchitti to the checkered flag. Dixon caught traffic but he could not lap them. It halted him but didn't make him vulnerable to Franchitti making a pass. This was not a battle between teammates but two cars running in lockstep.

Dixon took the win, Franchitti and Rahal completed the podium, Mutoh and Patrick had good nights rounding out the top five.

Franchitti apologized in his post-race interview for how bad the race was. I think that says everything. I think the only driver that was lapped on track was Moraes and everyone else that finished a lap down was because their pit stops came before cautions, the leaders had yet to stop and they were trapped off the lead lap. If this race had gone caution-free I think everyone would have finished on the lead lap or at least 15 to 16 cars would have been on the lead lap.

How was the crowd?
This was another solid crowd, and I will be honest, on crowd alone I don't understand why IndyCar left Richmond. If you went just by the crowd it was probably 45,000 or 50,000 people every year. I know Marty Reid said a few of those years it was 60,000 or more. Reid might have been exaggerating but when you look at the grandstands that are remaining at Richmond and consider its capacity is now at about 65,000 and you look at what IndyCar drew all nine years, but especially those final two or three years, if it drew the same in 2020 or 2021 the place would be at least 75% full and that would be great all things considered.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Damn straight! More rubber inconsistencies.

It was also mentioned that Ed Carpenter ran the Silver Crown race at Richmond in 2002 and finished second and he was third in 2003.

Signs of the Time:
E.J. Viso had not finished the first seven races this season and, at lap 159, Bob Jenkins noted Viso was still in the race. Viso would see his first checkered flag of the season in 12th, one-lap down.

Jon Beekhuis mentioned with 12 laps to go that IndyCar knew it has been difficult to pass on ovals and was hoping to introduce new aerodynamic devices and possibly push-to-pass at the remaining oval races.

Scott Dixon and his wife Emma Davies Dixon were expecting their first child, and this was Emma's final race before giving birth.

It was promoted on the broadcast that Dixon's victory tied with Sam Hornish, Jr. for most victories. Yeesh. I don't miss the split record book. It is technically true as a series but in terms of the vast history of IndyCar it is deception.

Broadcasting Gems:
I forgot how nonsensical the original Versus opening was. The cars turn into animals. What did that signify?

If I never have to hear "Dr. Feelgoods" again I will be a happy man.

What Should We Expect?
If Sam Hornish, Jr. and Tomas Scheckter are entered then we will have a good race. But Hornish and Scheckter are not walking through that door.

There is a chunk of Richmond races that were pretty good and then a few that were less appealing. I think the best races were 2004-2006 and the 2008 race had good moments but it was too choppy to really get a feel.

I think 2006 might be the best race of the nine and that is because of the back and forth battles, leaders having to battle traffic and guys were battling the tires. The problem with all the Richmond races is they all see one leader pull away. Hornish led the final 212 laps in the 2006 race. The racing was great behind him but no one got up and battled him and that was the case for pretty much every one of these Richmond races. There are few instances when the leader dropped back in the middle of the run because of tire fall off or because of traffic.

That is almost a theme for all IndyCar short oval races. Someone is always going to lead 100 or 150 laps. The same is true for NASCAR. NASCAR goes to a short track and someone ends leading 200 laps every time. These short track races do not see five drivers lead 50 laps or more. That almost never happens and I think it is important to realize that before Richmond returns.

In the 13 Iowa races, the most laps led totals in those races are 96, 92, 85, 69, 172, 133, 226, 247, 111, 282, 217, 229 and 245. Outside of that 2010 race, it is pretty much total domination for one driver but that driver doesn't always win. Tony Kanaan led 247 laps in 2014 and lost because he stayed out under the final caution while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden got tires and went from seventh and eighth to first and second in the final ten laps. The following year, Newgarden led 111 laps but Hunter-Reay got the lead under the final caution and pulled away. Newgarden threw away a race in 2018. He nearly lapped the field but let his guard down for a second and James Hinchcliffe won.

I watched all these races and thought this is the perfect place for Newgarden to walk away from the field and win after leading 285 laps. If that concerns you it shouldn't because it is already happening in IndyCar.

The difference between Richmond and Iowa is track layout. Iowa has progressive banking from 12-14º, and it is worn. Tires are junk halfway through a run. IndyCar went to Richmond and the track had a series of repaves. Even at the end of IndyCar's first tenure, Richmond's surface was in pretty good shape. Tires were not garbage at the end of a run. The track has aged over the last 11 years and that could mean conditions similar to Iowa with more cars struggling over a long run than before.

Richmond doesn't race the same way as Iowa. Though Richmond has 14º banking in the turns, it is much tighter and with the way the track falls away exiting turn two, we see more accidents, whether it is someone more aggressive on the gas, contact with another car or getting into the marbles and hitting the wall. When cars back out of it, they come to what seems like a complete stop on corner exit.

Some races had a high line develop but most races you were lucky to get a lane and a half. Just because of the profile of the track I don't think the high line is inviting to drivers and you would not see a second groove develop in practice. It is similar to Gateway where you could get a second line in turns one and two but it would be tight on exit.

It should be noted Richmond uses the PJ1 traction compound for the NASCAR race and we saw what that did to the IndyCar race at Texas, so the top line might not be possible because the track is too slick. That is a wonderful feeling to know the track is already garbage before you even get there.

After nine Richmond races, green flag pit stops are still an unknown. It rarely happened and it wasn't until the 2008 race when green flag pit stops come into play, costing Marco Andretti that race. If there is a caution, drivers are going to stop. That is just how it works on ovals but we didn't see green flag stints long enough to see how green flag pit cycles determine a race.

Richmond can be a two-stop race but we rarely saw a 100-plus lap stint. If that continues then I think we will see teams make it a three-stopper because cautions will allow it. It really is going to be the only strategy that will work.

There are still a lot of unknowns and the earliest we will see how IndyCar looks at Richmond will hopefully be a year from now in June 2021. The one difference between then and now is there likely will not be a USAC Silver Crown race hours prior to the IndyCar race. IndyCar was going to be on its own in 2020. It was to practice Friday night, qualify before the race on Saturday and that would be it. Maybe that would help with getting rubber into the track but we will have to wait and see. The weekend schedule might have to look entirely different in 2021. There are still a lot of unanswered questions for 2020. It is hard to think about next year.

Moving on to the crowd, it never dropped off after nine years on the IndyCar calendar. It's not like Iowa, which has seen a decline in the last five years or Texas over the last decade. Richmond was strong each year. This race didn't go away because the crowd was dismal.

Twelve years later, I am not going to expect the same crowd to be there. Richmond drew over 100,000 people twice a year for NASCAR for a long time. In the last two years, the capacity has been reduced to 65,000 and NASCAR drew about 42,000 for the May race last year.

If NASCAR has less than half the crowd it did a decade ago and can't fill 60,000 seats, why should IndyCar expect to get the crowd of 60,000 people it had in 2009? Why should IndyCar think it will get 42,000, matching a NASCAR crowd?

IndyCar gets about 40,000 at Gateway and Richmond was selling tickets at a favorable price, $40. I just don't know how this race would fair smack dap in the middle of two NASCAR races. It is going to draw some different people. Baltimore drew fantastic crowds and it is three hours north of Richmond. There has to be some people from that area and around Washington, D.C. who will make the trip. With Pocono gone, there could be some in the Northeast that decide to take a weekend trip south. There will be race fans in the area, who support the NASCAR races and will attend the IndyCar race. But how many will that add up to and will it be enough to keep the race alive for many years to come?

I would hope it could draw about 30,000. That would be half the grandstand. We all want it to be better than that, but we have to be realistic. If it got 45,000 that would be terrific, but I can't see it happening.

There is a scary thought in the back of my mind that we might not see Richmond happen at all. Look at the last three months. Is anyone certain over what will happen in 2021? This feels like the race that could get away from IndyCar. Hopefully that will not be the case and if Richmond was willing to commit to IndyCar after 11 years away, I am not sure this pandemic will be squash the event from happening again. It will require patience, at least a year's worth.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Look Back: IndyCar at Richmond - Part Two

IndyCar will not be going to Richmond this year, but we are reviewing the nine IndyCar races held at the track from 2001 to 2009. Yesterday, we looked at the first three visits, from the early, rugged IRL years to the swing year when Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing joined the series, leaving CART behind.

This second part will focus on the next three years from 2004 to 2006. We are in the thick of The Split. The Big Three dominance has started. Panther Racing had begun shrinking into an alley cat. Race control was way too prominent and there were curious broadcasting decisions over these three years. We start in 2004 with some fresh asphalt.

2004
This race came after Richmond repaved the track and it saw speeds skyrocket with Hélio Castroneves taking pole position at a record speed of 171.202 MPH. Next to him on the front row was Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice with Panther Racing's Mark Taylor in third next to former Panther driver Sam Hornish Jr. on row two.

More cars were able to run the outside and it benefitted Tony Kanaan at the start. Kanaan went from tenth to fifth in the first four laps. Adrian Fernández and Dan Wheldon each moved up four spots in the opening laps from 16th and 20th respectively on the grid. Tomas Scheckter made use of the upper line as well. Kanaan went to the inside of Taylor into turn one to take fourth position on lap nine. The following lap saw the first caution of the night when Alex Barron got into the barrier exiting turn two.

There were few takers to pit lane under this first caution, one was Wheldon.

On the restart, Hornish and Scheckter both used the high line to gain positions. Hornish took second from Rice exiting turn two and Scheckter needed a few laps to get by Kanaan but he would get the spot off of turn four.

Hornish used the high line to pressure Castroneves for the lead and he was able to stay close for a handful of laps before having to make a big lift exiting turn four on one lap. He would gather himself and within ten laps he would use the momentum off the high side of turn two to take the lead into turn three.

The Penske cars pulled away and were pressuring Wheldon, the final car on the lead lap. Scheckter had moved up to third but was 2.5 seconds back and battling traffic. Wheldon kept making passes with the leaders remained on his back and the battle from fourth to tenth remained close, thanks in part to traffic.

Debris caused the caution on lap 67 and this brought the field to pit road with Hornish edging out his teammate for the top spot on exit.

This race saw more moves to the inside and outside than the prior three races. There was a greater second line developing, and cars could run side-by-side for an entire pair of corners and straightaway. There was a breaking point. The car on the outside would eventually have to make the pass or lift and lose all the ground. It wasn't something that could be maintained for ten or 15 laps.

Moisture brought out the third caution 31 laps later but not everyone stopped under this caution. Dario Franchitti and Ed Carpenter stayed out. After a 21-lap caution, Franchitti restarted in the lead while the Penske cars had to battle traffic and a slight moment dropped Hornish behind Castroneves and Scheckter. The caution was soon out again when Darren Manning had a bobble and hit the turn four wall on exit.

Once back to racing, Hornish took third from Scheckter on the inside of turns one and two. Castroneves closed in on Franchitti for the lead and with 100 laps to go he was about two car lengths back with Hornish, Scheckter, Kanaan, Fernández, Herta and Wheldon in the top eight. Herta would soon be up to sixth after sliding under Fernández into turn one.

Hornish dropped behind Scheckter and Kanaan after running high in turns one and two but he would get one spot back from Kanaan a few laps later. About eight laps later, Hornish retook third from Scheckter on the inside of turn three. These two would go back and forth over the next five laps. Hornish ran high in four and allowed Scheckter to take the spot on the straightaway. Hornish would come back and take the spot low into turn three. It all went pear-shaped with 63 laps to go when Scheckter looked low into turns one and two and clipped Hornish's left rear, spinning the Penske driver on exit. Both were able to continue but Hornish lost a few laps getting re-fired.

The rest of the leaders came to pit lane to make their final stops but Wheldon stayed out and inherited the lead ahead of Meira and Rice. Castroneves came off pit lane first ahead of Franchitti, Scheckter and Kanann.

The broadcast doesn't mention the strategy of the top three. We are not sure if they are good to go but Wheldon led the field to the green with 50 laps to go. He did not experience much of a challenge from either Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver behind him. Castroneves moved up to third on the outside of turn three. Rice and Franchitti battled for position for a few laps. While in traffic, Taylor pinched Franchitti in the middle of turns one and two, Taylor spun into the barrier while Franchitti was fortunate to avoid the walls. Scheckter made contact with Fernández trying to avoid the accident, making it a doubly bad accident for Panther Racing.

Meira's team felt confident this caution would allow them to make it on fuel but Wheldon's team believed it would still be close. Wheldon had gone 101 laps, last stopping under the caution for moisture while Meira had gone 95 laps, having stopped later under that yellow.

On the restart with 17 laps to go, Wheldon and Meira put some distance between them and Castroneves, who had to contend with the lapped cars. Wheldon put some distance to Meira but Castroneves closed in on second. With six laps to go, Ed Carpenter and Greg Ray got together after going three-wide with Scott Dixon. Later that lap, Carpenter was at a near standstill in turn three when the leaders passed. He creeped around the high side and it took a lap before the caution came out.

This set up an odd finish where a one-lap dash was to decide the race, but the yellow lights were still on in turns one and two. Wheldon took the victory with Castroneves second on the road ahead of Meira. Meira said when he saw the lights he slowed, allowing Castroneves through. IndyCar would revert afterward, giving Meira second position but Wheldon was still the winner, going over 120 laps on his final stint and winning from 20th on the grid.

How was the crowd?
According to Dr. Jerry Punch, it was the largest IndyCar crowd at Richmond to date. Fans had spread from closer to the middle of turns three and four to the middle of turns one and two. It was reported on the broadcast the track sold 40,000 tickets in advanced sales and every year had seen a ten-percent bump.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Yes. The broadcast said it was going to take some number of laps to get Firestone rubber down. So, in three years we went from 20 laps to 50 laps to the vague some number of laps.

Signs of the Time:
There was a pre-race interview with Brian Barnhart, and this is what we were sick of. Barnhart inserted into the races and more than any crew steward should be. Worst of all, ESPN enabled it. It was the same stuff over and over again. Any time Scott Goodyear saw an incident, Goodyear would mention how Barnhart would tell drivers they got to be patient, so some of the blame falls at the feet of Goodyear and it was like this for the next four years. We know race control is there, but we don't hear from Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis on a weekly basis. It is a three-man panel and I am not even sure who the third person is! I had to look it up, it is Dan Davis and I forgot Kyle Novak is race director.

The current race control setup is an observer, a lifeguard if you will, watching over the race but only intervening if needed. Barnhart was a play director, always interjecting and wanting the race to go his way. It was irritating.

Kenny Bräck tested at Richmond in his recovery effort after his Texas accident at the previous season finale. The reason Bräck tested Richmond was because it was the most physical track. He determined he was not ready to return to racing and had sore ankles.

There have been four Richmond races and I cannot recall a green flag pit cycle in any of these races.

Broadcasting Gems:
With 40 laps to go, Hornish is four laps down in 16th, two laps behind the car ahead of him and the camera is on him running with Bryan Herta in seventh. Meanwhile, Paul Page announces, "Rice and Franchitti going at it back and forth." Rice and Franchitti were battling for fourth place and yet the cameras were on a car that was out of contention! What were they thinking?

2005
Sam Hornish, Jr. shattered the track record, taking pole position at 176.244 MPH with Team Penske teammate Hélio Castroneves next to him on row one. It was a Toyota sweep of the top four with Ryan Briscoe and Patrick Carpentier in third and fourth.

Castroneves had an accident during the testing at the track in the weeks leading up to the race and still had sore ribs from the incident.

It took five laps for the first caution, when A.J. Foyt IV spun exiting turn two. He kept it out of the wall and would continue. In the first 17 laps, Tony Kanaan would go from 22nd to 14th. Kanaan had to start last after he spun exiting turn two on his qualifying lap.

Scott Dixon had a rough day. He went off sequence from the start but was a lap down at lap 30 and contact with Dario Franchitti on lap 38 took him out of the race. It led to a sharp critique from Mike Hull when interviewed after the accident, "Champions don't win races by being impatient."

The leaders stopped under this caution but Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice did not. On the restart, Castroneves took third from Hornish going high into turn three. Dario Franchitti moved into sixth after passing Dan Wheldon into turn one. Meira kept the lead but Rice struggled later into the run and dropped from second to ninth in a handful a lap. Rice would be down to 13th by lap 81.

On lap 83, Castroneves took the lead on the low side of Meira into turn one and Hornish would take second on the bottom of turn three.

Briscoe would make it two Ganassi cars out of the race after a spin in turn four after getting into the marbles. The leaders made pit stops but Franchitti, Scott Sharp and Bryan Herta stayed out.

Franchitti would lead for the entirety of the 44-lap green flag. Castroneves would work his way up to second while Sharp stayed in third. Kanaan was 11th when he spun in turn four after close racing with Bryan Herta. Kanaan dropped his left side tires on to the apron and lost the car, spinning into the path of Meira and Meira's night was done.

This brought everyone to pit lane and Castroneves jumped Franchitti with Hornish moving up to third.

Castroneves pulled away on the lap 160 restart and Hornish moved up to second passing Franchitti. Five laps later, Hornish lost the car in turn four and he would describe it as pushing too hard while battling Castroneves for the lead.

With 75 laps to go, Castroneves opened a comfortable lead again over Franchitti and Franchitti gapped Sharp. Sharp's promising night would end with 50 laps to go after contact with the lapped car of Roger Yasukawa in the middle of turn two.

With 42 laps to go, Castroneves led Franchitti, Carpentier, Wheldon, Scheckter and Enge to the restart and Enge, after not being mentioned once up to this point, would get ahead of his teammate Scheckter and Wheldon into turn one, moving up to fourth.

Traffic closed the gap between Castroneves and Franchitti while Enge moved up to third ahead of Carpentier. Enge's strong charge would be washed out after Enge was black-flagged for blocking Carpentier into turn one. Car owner, and now Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, Doug Boles was furious with the call, as Enge was negotiating the lapped car of Jimmy Kite while also battling Carpentier.

With eight laps to go, Darren Manning and Yasukawa made contact after Yasukawa clipped Manning while Manning was passing him in turn two. The accident occurred just ahead of Castroneves, who skated through and would have to make one more defense on a one-lap dash to the checkered flag.

Castroneves got the jump and held on for victory ahead of Franchitti, Carpentier, Scheckter and Wheldon.

How was the crowd?
Pretty much on point with 2004, so that is good.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Is the pope Catholic?

Signs of the Time:
Cheever Racing had Red Bull and Izod sponsorship. We saw what happened when Izod got to bigger and better teams. Imagine if Red Bull had done the same. It might not have changed much but IndyCar had two Red Bull cars before having two Red Bull cars was cool.

Broadcasting Gems:
This is the Todd Harris memorial because this was his one year as IndyCar lead commentator and it was bad.

Oh man, how did Harris become the guy? This was a first-round draft bust. ESPN/ABC got rid of Bob Jenkins and Paul Page and this was the best it could do? Don't get me wrong, this is an era of poor broadcasters. Mike King was the lead commentator on radio.

The diamond in the rough was Leigh Diffey. Diffey had the experience, calling the CART races for Eurosport's coverage. He had just become the lead commentator for Speed's sports car coverage. He was there.

Harris tried too much and he tried to fit in, but it was a case of saying too much. This was a guy who was not an IndyCar regular and he talked about how Vitor Meira is going to win a race this season. He compared Castroneves' drive with sore ribs to Michael Jordan's flu game. He said Jordan scored 60-plus points in that game. One is an exaggeration of Castroneves' injury and the other was just wrong. You can look up how many points Jordan scored in that game; it was 38 points.

He said he felt good about Briscoe at Richmond because he was fast at the Watkins Glen test. Those are two entirely different circuits. He kept talking about a rookie jinx at Richmond. That wasn't a thing. He called it a "race of survivors" when only six out of 22 cars had retired from the race. That wasn't even the worst of it. After Castroneves won, Harris said, "This man has done to fences what Hugh Hefner has done to pajamas." What?

It was bad and Scott Goodyear didn't help. After Manning's accident, Goodyear nonchalantly brought up that Manning loves golf. What does that have to do with the accident and why bring that up after an accident with nine laps to go? This set up a one-lap dash to the checkered flag. There is no reason to bring up any of Manning's hobbies.

I am sure Todd Harris is a good guy and he has done plenty of work in recent years across many networks and he has been on the last few Olympic Games. His time IndyCar is not his best. I would put it at the bottom of his achievements and at the bottom of IndyCar's broadcast hierarchy.

It was one year but one rough year. It made Marty Reid a more bearable option in 2006.

2006
With threatening weather, the race started a tad early and this was the first Richmond race in a spec field of all Dallara chassis and all Honda engines. The expectation was this would be a race to halfway.

Hélio Castroneves and Scott Sharp started on the front row and there was some movement at the back of the field. Dario Franchitti went from tenth to sixth in the first three laps, including a pass on the high side of Dan Wheldon in turn two. Tomas Scheckter went from 12th to eighth as well. Sharp did not get a good start and dropped to fifth.

The leaders caught traffic by lap 13 and it was slower to work through the field than previous years. Castroneves led teammate Sam Hornish, Jr. with Marco Andretti in third and Vitor Meira in fourth. Hornish kept making looks on Castroneves for the lead. It took a few attempts, but Hornish would get the lead on lap 39 and quickly opened up a one-second lead.

Andretti got caught behind the lapped car of Buddy Rice and dropped from third to fifth and into a battle with teammates Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. Andretti was experiencing grip issue with his front tires and turning into the corner was particularly difficult.

A caution was thrown for debris on lap 52. There was no debris shown but, according to the booth, Brian Barnhart expressed concerns about the marbles and said if the marbles got too bad, he would send out the sweepers. This caution led to pit stops and Hornish maintained the lead.

Ironically, two laps after going green from the debris caution, Jeff Simmons was in the wall after getting in the marbles exiting turn two.

Both Castroneves and Sharp remained within a second of Hornish on the next green flag run. Neither was a threat for the top spot. The lead yo-yoed with Hornish getting out to a three-second lead on lap 120 only for it to be down to six-tenths over Castroneves and nine-tenths over Sharp 15 laps later, as Hornish negotiated traffic.

Andretti had one of the better cars in traffic and on lap 139, he was up to second. Unfortunately, the broadcast did not catch his pass on Sharp for third on lap 137, nor his pass on Castroneves for second, because we were riding onboard with Danica Patrick in 13th, one lap down and with no other cars around her. We did see Meira pass Sharp for fourth into turn one and he would make a similar move on Castroneves for third about four laps later.

Hornish opened up a five-second lead over Andretti before the lap 151 cautions for debris. This caution allowed everyone to make their final stops. Hornish went unchallenged for the top spot on exit but Franchitti jumped from sixth to second, Castroneves from fourth to third and Dan Wheldon also moved up to fifth.

Franchitti stayed close to Hornish in the opening part of the run. Franchitti's best shot for the lead came in traffic and he made a look on lap 188 to the outside into turn three but backed out of it. Hornish would extend his lead from there, having a 2.5-second lead on lap 205.

Andretti had to make a big save exiting turn two with 23 laps to go, allowing Meira to take fourth. With 18 to go, Meira was up to third after a move inside of Castroneves into turn one. Two laps later, Castroneves and Andretti were side-by-side in turns three and fourth. Andretti would come out with the position, but Castroneves lifted mightily, nursing a tire puncture.

Hornish held a 7.4-second lead with 13 laps to go, but with traffic coming into play, Franchitti closed it to two seconds with five laps to go. Unfortunately for Franchitti, he would catch the crawling Castroneves into turn one and this allowed Meira to take second with an audacious pass into turn one. Immediately after this, Castroneves lost his right rear tire but kept it out of the wall with four laps to go.

This caution effectively ends the race. Hornish took a well-earned victory after leading the final 212 laps. Meira got a deserved second with Franchitti having to swallow third. Andretti spent nearly the entire race in the top five and finished fourth. Sharp rounded out the top five. Despite losing his tire, Castroneves limped around with three wheels under those final laps and was credited with a tenth-place finish.

All this came after Hornish suffered an accident in practice and forced him to his backup car, which was his Watkins Glen car. Franchitti was a bit upset with blue flag inconsistency and felt Hornish got more help than he did. Meira praised Franchitti for not cutting him off when he attempted his pass.

How was the crowd?
Holding strong. It looks just like it had the previous two years and if that is at least 40,000 people then IndyCar would take that in 2021.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Surprisingly, no! If they did, I missed it.

Signs of the Time:
Dan Wheldon said he was not shaving until he won another race. I don't recall this or recall if he stuck to this. I don't recall ever seeing a single whisker on his face. He doesn't win again until the Chicago season finale.

Sam Hornish, Jr. tested an IROC car at Daytona during the week before the Richmond race. We don't see that now.

This was Honda's 100th victory in IndyCar.

Broadcasting Gems:
This was Rusty Wallace's gap year, as he waited for ESPN to take over NASCAR coverage in 2007. It was rough. He loved the NASCAR comparisons and loved talking about downforce.

Roger Penske had the quote of the night in his victory lane interview: "If they throw me off the pit box I might get out of this sport."

Let's be thankful no one ever threw Penske off the pit box.

Tomorrow, we will look at the final three IndyCar races at Richmond. It includes reunification, a surprise competitive drive from a forgotten name and a summation on what to expect whenever IndyCar makes its return to the 3/4-mile oval.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Look Back: IndyCar at Richmond - Part One

IndyCar will not be going back to Richmond this year, but I had already watched the first five of nine IndyCar races held at the track when the Richmond cancellation was announced, so we're doing this.

In the grand scheme of IndyCar history, Richmond was around for a minute. First introduced during the split, the track hosted a race from 2001 to 2009. After taking a decade off, and regular calls to return, 2020 was supposed to see a return to the 3/4-mile oval. It was a short history that was going to see an additional chapter added.

There is not much there to look at when it comes to Richmond. A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti did not visit the track during the 1960s with Gordon Johncock and Bobby and Al Unser. It was not on the CART schedule. At nine races, only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Austin had hosted fewer races of the tracks on the original 2020 schedule. Gateway, Iowa and Barber each have hosted ten races. Indianapolis, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Toronto and Texas have all hosted more than 30 races. Road America hosted 29 races and Portland 26 races.

Richmond, though old, is still new. It came up during the split. It weathered it with the IRL and hosted two races after reunification. Nearly half of its races were spec races with one chassis and one engine manufacture. We don't have a lot to go off of and a lot has changed in a decade.

I watched all nine Richmond races to get a feel of what to expect. It is easy to get hyped up for a race and say how every race was spectacular at a given track but that is not realistic. Not every race is spectacular. Every track has a couple of stinkers, Indianapolis included. This is a chance to prepare for what is to come. This is also a reminder of how things once were in IndyCar and a chance to see how IndyCar has changed.

Due to length, I broke this review into three parts and part one covers the first three races from 2001 to 2003.

2001
Drivers talked about how slick the track was and with a USAC Silver Crown race before the IndyCar race, there was concern about the different rubber compound laid into the track. A ten-lap practice was held before the IndyCar race to get some of the USAC rubber out. Before the race Buddy Lazier and Billy Boat both expressed it would be demanding and hard to pass.

Buddy Lazier took the lead from fourth on lap one and his brother Jaques, slipped back from pole position, only to spin on lap 14 after contact with a back marker.

Tires wore quickly and lapped traffic was caught just as quick. Buddy Lazier jumped out to a three-second lead quickly after the restart and he had lapped up to seventh by lap 50 out of 21 cars.

Most of the passes were into turn one and turn three and traffic played a big factor into passes. If lapped traffic was caught in the middle of the corner it would really disrupt a driver's run and make them vulnerable to being passed.

Airton Daré and Felipe Giaffone had a good battle, running side-by-side through the turn three and turn four.

Under one of the cautions, about halfway through the race, Scott Sharp was interviewed over the radio and he said the track was still slick and had difficulty getting bite off the corners.

There was not much passing and the way the cautions fell allowed for alternate strategies. Under the sixth caution, with just over 100 laps to go, some drivers stopped hoping to make it to the end, notably Sam Hornish, Jr., Eliseo Salazar and Giaffone. Lazier and Eddie Cheever stayed out and hoped to make a stop later and have fresher tires at the end of the race.

Lazier pulled out to a comfortable lead again and ended up lapping Giaffone. A few laps later, Giaffone and Daré got together after a slight wiggle from Daré in our two caused him to get into Giaffone. Under that caution, Lazier and Cheever got their tires and Salazar took the lead. Cheever jumped ahead of Lazier after pit stops.

After leading the first 187 laps, Lazier couldn't get pass Salazar and Cheever. Even Cheever remained behind Salazar despite the perceived advantage in tires. Shigeaki Hattori brought out a caution for a spin exiting turn two.

On that next restart, Cheever made a move on the inside of Salazar into turn three but got into the Chilean and both drivers were out of the race. Lazier re-inherited the lead with Hornish, Didier André and Al Unser, Jr. behind him.

Back in the top spot, Lazier pulled away again. Hornish experienced acceleration issues all night with a possible broken header. Unser, Jr. pushed Hornish for second but could not get through. Lazier took a this one handily. Hornish held on for second with Unser, Jr. in third.

Perhaps Salazar could have held on if Cheever didn't get into him. There was nothing to suggest Lazier could have driven from third to first in those final 35 laps. This was a single groove track. Traffic would have had to play a role.

How was the crowd?
The grandstands were full, from turn one to turn four. It was noted on the broadcast Richmond opened more grandstands on three different occasions due to increased ticket sales.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
See the first paragraph.

Signs of the Time:
At lap 75, the leader got $10,000 because it was the 10,000th lap in Indy Racing League history. Lazier took that check.

This was Cheever's fifth retirement in seven starts.

Broadcasting Gems:
It only took 210 laps for a pit stop to be shown. Not a green flag pit stop, any pit stop.

The first four cautions all happened during a commercial break or heading to a commercial break and during those breaks pit stops took place without be shown.

2002
This race comes after Team Penske moved over to the series. The team swept the front row with Gil de Ferran on pole position and Hélio Castroneves to his outside.

There were many practice accidents involving Robby McGehee, George Mack, Scott Sharp and Sam Hornish, Jr. It took only eight laps for the first spin in the race and it was Castroneves, who spun exiting turn two and made contact with the inside barrier on the backstretch. It was similar to the accident Mack had in practice.

There is not a lot of room for error exiting turn two and the transition from 14 degrees of banking to two degrees on the backstretch makes it a difficult corner. It is an abrupt change and it is kind of a drop from the turn to the straightaway. If you get on the gas at the wrong time, the car just steps out on a driver. Billy Boat had a similar accident about 22 laps later in the race and Mack had another accident in turn two getting on the throttle and spinning on accident.

Scott Sharp would have an accident exiting turn four after a bobble. Marbles made the groove tighter than the year before.

In the first 28 laps, Tomas Scheckter went from 18th to eighth and, surprise, he kept moving up. He was in the top five by lap 68. He was attempting a move on Buddy Lazier for fourth in turn three and lost momentum. This allowed Hornish to take a position back.

De Ferran led but Laurent Rédon of all people was running second, within a second of the Brazilian. Rédon capitalized when de Ferran was balked in traffic in turn three and took the lead. Rédon would lead 28 laps until a caution when Buddy Lazier lost an oil line and caused a large pit fire. The leaders made pit stops but Greg Ray and Jeff Ward both adopted alternate strategy. Fifty-nine of the first 115 laps were under caution.

De Ferran would pass Ward for second while Rédon worked his way ahead of Al Unser, Jr. and Jeff Ward. Ray continued to lead, three-seconds ahead of de Ferran.

A Jon Herb accident brought out another caution and split strategy again. Rédon and Alex Barron stayed out. Rédon wanted to stop. The rest of the leaders did. On the restart, Barron was almost picked by the lapped car of Mark Dismore and de Ferran took the position.

When Sarah Fisher had an accident exiting turn four, Rédon made his final stop but this shuffled him to the rear of the field. Barron stayed out again while de Ferran retook the lead. Barron was a sitting duck and fell down the order once back to green flag racing.

The final caution came when Eddie Cheever and Rédon got together in turn four. Rédon got air and slid along the top of the wall. This set up a final 55-lap stint to the checkers. Scheckter moved up to second on Ward and a bad run into turns three and turn four allowed Giaffone and Hornish to get by. The top four remained close throughout the closing laps, about two seconds covering those four. Lapped cars played a role and Scheckter dropped to fifth after getting caught behind Barron. He would get back to fourth with 20 to go. The top four tightened over the closing laps with just a second covering those positions.

De Ferran never had it easy and Hornish was racy in third. Hornish kept looking high at both ends of the track on Giaffone but ultimately made the pass on the inside of turn one with five to go. With two laps to go, Hornish went inside of de Ferran into turn one and took the lead. Hornish flew away. De Ferran had no chance to counter and Hornish took the victory after not really being in contention in the early portion of the race.

How was the crowd?
It looked on-par with 2001. It could have been a little higher in attendance. The stands in turn one and turn four looked more packed than the year prior.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Extra pace laps were used to scrub in the tires after the Silver Crown race. Expectations were it would take 20 laps to rubber in the track.

Signs of the Time:
Each crew had a guy with a pit board on the backstretch. We do not see that today anywhere. Everything is over the radio or on the steering wheel.

Billy Boat got a private tour of the White House before this event.

Broadcasting Gems:
This was an odd time for American open-wheel racing when you had two series but three main announcers. You had Paul Page, Bob Jenkins and Bob Varsha. Varsha was on CART but Page was lead commentator for the IRL and Jenkins was forced into this odd host role, which doesn't really work for IndyCar because the races are short and it doesn't get an hour or two-hour pre-race for every event nor does it get an hour post-race show following.

Jack Arute had an interesting line after Ray took the lead under caution: "You have got to like the shot Greg Ray has, did you know on his mother's side of the family, they traced their heritage back to one Robert E. Lee?"

What? What does any of that have to do with Ray having a shot to win this race? I get it is Richmond but how does Ray's potential relationship to the general of the Confederate Army have any bearing on his chances of winning this race?

2003
With another handful of teams switching to the IRL, the 2003 Richmond race saw a two-car Chip Ganassi Racing effort and Andretti Green Racing on the grid.

Practice again saw four accidents, all single-car incidents, all occurring in turn two and involving Tora Takagi, Sarah Fisher, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Robbie Buhl.

The start had a fair bit of action. Scott Dixon held the lead from pole position, but Tony Kanaan went from fourth to second. Greg Ray moved up from sixth to fourth after making it three-wide in turn four below Fisher and Hornish. Scheckter made up seven spots in the first six laps, getting up to sixth position, and held fifth for a moment before Hornish passed him on the outside of turns one and two.

While many jockeyed for position, Dixon and Kanaan pulled away from the field. Throughout the years, Hornish ran his own line at Richmond, about a half-lane higher than the rest and it mostly paid off for him. One point early though, Hornish had to lift and it cost him two positions.

In traffic, Kanaan lost second to Gil de Ferran into turn one and Hélio Castroneves took third on the outside of turn three on lap 41. Hornish kept climbing forward and would get up to the top four by lap 50.

Vitor Meira brought out the first caution after getting into the marbles in turn two and hitting the wall.  This brought everyone to pit road and Hornish would drop to 15th after contact with Felipe Giaffone exiting his pit box. On the subsequent restart, Tomas Scheckter had a half-spin exiting turn four while in fifth. He was able to continue despite making slight contact with Al Unser, Jr., damaging Unser, Jr.'s front wing.

The next green flag run would last 55 laps and Hornish tried to use the high line to climb his way up the order. He really mastered the line of running high exiting turn two and then carrying momentum to make a pass low into turn three. He did have another moment where he needed a big lift exiting turn two to keep the car out of the wall.

Dixon continued to lead without much pressure and in lapped traffic, Castroneves was balked behind Buddy Lazier, losing a lot of time in third.

A.J. Foyt IV was making his Richmond debut and spun exiting turn two into the inside barrier. This caution allowed everyone to make a pit stop but rumblings of potential weather approaching the track started to make waves. This weather caused an issue with the lights located inside the backstretch. A brief surge caused the lights to go out and extended this caution to 25 laps. Because of this extended yellow, the Toyotas of Dixon, de Ferran and Castroneves felt good to make it on fuel while the Honda and Chevrolet teams were not as certain.

Under the caution, Kanaan was interviewed over the radio and he said he had to use lapped cars to make passes.

With weather approaching, there was increased anxiousness and Ray spun coming to the restart, similar to Scheckter's, and Ray kept it out of the barrier.

Hornish restarted in eighth on lap 159 and started picking off a few cars. It took him a handful of laps to get around Dan Wheldon, but he passed Felipe Giaffone on the outside in turn two and then took Kanaan on the outside of turn one a few laps later.

At lap 195, no one told Dixon about impending rain and three laps later the skies opened up. The caution lasted nine laps. With the rain and lightning, the checkered flag was shown at the end of lap 206. To a chorus of boos, Dixon took the victory ahead of Castroneves, de Ferran, Hornish, Jr. and Kanaan.

Dixon said he was saving fuel all race and had a good car, though Castroneves was closing prior to the yellow. De Ferran stated he was running flat out at the end and was running at a near qualifying pace. After making numerous passes, Hornish was not sure he would have been able to challenge Dixon but thought he could have gotten a few more spots.

How was the crowd?
This was better than the first two races. You had the grandstand packed from turn four to the middle of turn one and turn two.

Did they mention a USAC Silver Crown race happening before the IndyCar race and needing some number of laps to pick up that rubber and lay down Firestone rubber? 
Yes. There were concerns over the Hoosier rubber build up and the broadcast said patience was necessary for the first 50 laps.

Signs of the Time:
There were two chassis manufactures and three engine manufactures at this time and here are the combinations in this race:

G-Force/Toyota: 5 (Dixon, Scheckter, Foyt IV, Takagi, Giaffone)
Dallara/Toyota: 5 (Castroneves, de Ferran, Unser, Jr., Jaques Lazier, Scott Sharp)
Dallara/Chevrolet: 6 (Hornish, Buhl, Fisher, Meira, Buddy Rice, Buddy Lazier)
Dallara/Honda: 5 (Kanaan, Wheldon, Bryan Herta, Kenny Bräck, Roger Yasukawa)
G-Force/Honda: 1 (Ray)

Quick side bar: There were ten Toyotas on the grid at this time? I forgot the level of invested Toyota had in IndyCar. It is a damn shame it is no longer involved considering this level of support.

Panther Racing owner John Barnes was interviewed during the race and he was wearing a back-to-back champions hat. I feel like this is something we would only see in motorsports and most likely only with John Barnes. You are not going to see Patrick Mahomes on the sideline this October wearing his Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl champions hat. There is a very short shelf life for championship apparel. You get to wear it immediately after your championship until the parade and then that is it. Maybe you get to wear it to Disney World the following week, but you get to wear for all of a month and then you look foolish. It makes me wonder why we make at all.

Kenny Bräck's band played in Richmond that Thursday night and Bryan Herta made a guest appearance on vocals.

Broadcasting Gems:
There was a bit during the broadcast where kids were interviewed about who their favorite driver was and here is the breakdown:

Fisher: 4
Castroneves: 2
Kanaan: 1
Unser, Jr: 1
Buhl: 1
Foyt IV: 1
Hornish: 1

Tomorrow, we will look at the second-third of Richmond races. These races feature a new surface, late cautions and the introduction of a few notable drivers.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

2020 Supercross Season Review

Supercross completed its 2020 season with seven consecutive races in Salt Lake City over three weeks after a 12-week layoff. Despite the undesirable circumstances, with all seven races taking place behind closed doors, in a condensed period and at one location, the season completed without any massive setbacks. Races were thrilling and a 17-race season was completed.

Before the season, we went over the field and previewed the riders to set expectations of what was to come. It is a little later than expected but here is our chance to finally put a bow on the 2020 Supercross season.

1. Eli Tomac: #3 Monster Energy Kawasaki KX450 (384 points)
Victories: 7 (Anaheim II, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Arlington Daytona, Salt Lake I, Salt Lake III)
Podium Finishes: 12
What did I write: "This has to be the year Tomac wins the Supercross championship. The 2019 Supercross season was a little of a dud. He didn't have the explosiveness we have seen in previous years. Tomac got back to normal in the Motocross season and I think he has found the balance to win the Supercross title. I think he will be good for another six to nine victories on his way to his first Supercross championship."
How wrong was it: It was pretty on point with Tomac claiming the Supercross title. He went into the finale only needing a 19th place finish. After years of going in fighting from behind, this year, he went in with a massive margin for error. This was a year where Tomac didn't put a wheel wrong. This worst finish was seventh at the Anaheim season opener. From there, he didn't look out of place. He found his legs and won four of the first eight rounds. Atlanta should have been a terrible night for him but after a hiccups, he charged to fourth.

Tomac went into the Salt Lake City final leg of the season leading the championship by three points, but the layoff didn't throw him off his game. He won the first round back and followed it with podium finishes over the next five races, including another victory in the third Salt Lake City race, a race in sloppy conditions with a ferocious lap-after-lap battle against Cooper Webb. Tomac raced to win the title. Avoiding the disastrous early results allowed him to take a third or a second in these Salt Lake City races. He could settle for fifth in the finale, while Webb had his worst race of the Salt Lake series. After so many years of dominating but falling short, Tomac stood tall and did not waver in an unprecedented scenario.

2. Cooper Webb: #1 Red Bull KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition (359 points)
Victories: 4 (San Diego, Salt Lake II, Salt Lake IV, Salt Lake VI)
Podium Finishes: 13
What did I write: "Webb will be flying solo for the most part with KTM teammate Marvin Musquin ruled out for the 2020 Supercross season due to a knee injury. Webb took a shocking championship in 2019. I think he is going to win races but I do not think he will be able to replicate what he did last year. He should be in the top five of the championship."
How wrong was it: It wasn't an exact replication but Webb came close to defending his championship. Webb had three bad races all season, 12th at St. Louis, 12th at Arlington after a vicious fall onto concrete, and eighth in the Salt Lake finale after a fall at the start. Outside of those races, his worst finish was fourth. He was on the podium for eight of the final nine races of the season and he won three of those. He won every Wednesday race at Salt Lake City. Even if Webb didn't have those two 12th-place finishes, I think Tomac wins the championship, but those two results weigh heavy on Webb's season.

3. Ken Roczen: #94 Honda CRF450R (354 points)
Victories: 4 (St. Louis, Glendale, Atlanta, Salt Lake V)
Podium Finishes: 10
What did I write: "Roczen was constantly good in 2019 but never great and was second in the closest margin of victory in Supercross history at Arlington to Webb. I think Roczen wins a few races but I am not sure he can be a championship contender. There just seems to be that raw tenacity has been worn away through multiple grueling injuries. He will be in the top five of the championship."
How wrong was it: Roczen was a championship contender until Salt Lake City. He won two of the first four races and was looking strong. Roczen and Tomac were tied going into Daytona and both went toe-to-toe. Tomac won the race and Roczen was second, dropping three points back in the championship. However, Roczen was streaky in Salt Lake City. He was third in the first race back, but followed it with finishes of fifth, tenth and fifth before he won the fifth Salt Lake City race. The damage was done. Tomac and Webb didn't falter. Tomac took the title and Webb slipped ahead into second.

4. Jason Anderson: #21 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna FC450 (287 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 5
What did I write: "Anderson is back and I expect more consistency, which is what Anderson is known for. However, as was my concern heading into 2019, I am not sure that consistency will be enough to get him another championship. The grid is strong and it requires someone to go out and wrestle three or four victories that otherwise do not belong to that rider. I am not sure Anderson could do that. There may be one or two races that he pulls out but I think Anderson will have a tough battle with Osborne and both are shooting for somewhere between fourth and seventh in the championship."
How wrong was it: Anderson was consistent, as he always is, but he never had a dominating night and with Tomac, Webb and Roczen barely slipping up, it kept Anderson from having a race fall in his favor. Unfortunately, victory alluded Anderson in the final race of the season when his seat came off while up three-seconds on teammate Zach Osborne. Anderson lost time and dropped to second.  He had 12 top five finishes. That was expected and it got him a top five championship finish, but he needed another gear if he hoped to be a title contender.

5. Justin Barcia: #51 Monster Energy Yamaha YZ450F (272 points)
Victories: 1 (Anaheim I)
Podium Finishes: 3
What did I write: "It felt like Yamaha was going in the right direction last year but it still has some work to do. That Anaheim victory was not a true representation of where Yamaha is. Barcia can get a few top five finishes but not a boatload. He will mostly be racing between seventh and tenth."
How wrong was it: Barcia exceeded expectations. With a victory and runner-up in the first two races, it appeared Barcia had a chance to play spoiler. The results dropped off but he kept finishing in the top five. Like Roczen, the look layout significantly hurt Barcia. After finishing in the top five in eight of the first ten races, Barcia's best result in Salt Lake City was eighth.

6. Zach Osborne: #16 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna FC450 (252 points)
Victories: 1 (Salt Lake VII)
Podium Finishes: 4
What did I write: "I think Osborne could take the spot as top Husqvarna rider in the championship. He is coming off an encouraging Motocross season. A lot of people were excited for his move up to 450cc action prior to him missing the first few races due to injury. A victory would not be crazy, he nearly won in New Jersey last season, but I think his goal should be three to four podium finishes."
How wrong was it: Unfortunately, Osbourne missed two rounds due to injury ahead of Atlanta but he was back in time for Salt Lake City and he made the most of it. Osborne ended with top five finishes in every Salt Lake City race and though he won the final race, it might not have been the race he deserved the most. There were two strong shots at victory prior to that in Salt Lake City. Life balances itself out. Sometimes you lose a race you should have won but there will be times you win when you shouldn't. He is almost there. If he stays healthy, Osborne could see an incredible breakthrough in 2021.

7. Malcolm Stewart: #27 Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/Motoconcepts/Honda CRF450R (252 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 4th (Once)
What did I write: "I don't know! Stewart has never had a top five finish in his 450cc Supercross career. He has started 33 races dating back to 2017. I think that will change. Stewart is coming into this season with some momentum and I think there could be one race where he finishes fifth. That doesn't seem too crazy. If he does finish in the top ten of the championship it will be ninth or tenth."
How wrong was it: This was the quintessential best case scenario for Stewart this season. He completed many laps and the results got better as the year went along. He had finished in the top ten of the first ten races. He had a few slip ups in Salt Lake City, but he also had a pair of fifth-place finishes and closed the year with a fourth-place finish, his best of 2020. It is a shame he lost sixth on tiebreaker to Osborne, but this was the step up Stewart needed in his career.

8. Dean Wilson: #15 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna FC450 (239 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 1
What did I write: "Wilson did well as a privateer rider before getting the factory call and Husqvarna is running three full-time riders. I think all three Husqvarna riders will be close to one another in the championship and all will be in the top ten of the championship if healthy. Wilson will be the third of those three."
How wrong was it: Pretty spot on. All three Husqvarna riders were in the top ten of the championship. Wilson was third of the three. The Husqvarna riders swept the podium in the finale and Wilson was third. Only twice was Wilson the top finisher in the team, and those were off nights for the team as a whole. You cannot knock 12 top ten finishes too much, but Wilson was rarely running with the big boys while Anderson and Osborne were consistently.

9. Justin Brayton: #10 Honda CRF450R (227 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 6th (Twice)
What did I write: "Brayton moves up to the factory team and I do not think he will be challenging to be the top Honda rider. I am not sure he will be in the top ten of the championship. The highest championship finish for him would be eighth but he could end up about 12th."
How wrong was it: Brayton was ninth in the championship, right where he was expected to finish.

10. Justin Hill: #46 Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/Motoconcepts/Honda CRF450R (213 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Once)
What did I write: "Not much. A few top ten finishes but Hill will be outside the top ten in the championship."
How wrong was it: Hill had nine top ten finishes, including six consecutive before the season went on hiatus after Daytona.

11. Aaron Plessinger: #7 Monster Energy Yamaha YZ450F (207 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 6th (Once)
What did I write: "When Plessinger's season ended last year he was eighth in the championship. I think he will be somewhere around there in the championship but I think there will be two or three races where he is at the front and fighting for a podium position."
How wrong was it: This was a tough year for Plessinger. Maybe there were four or five races that could have been better but there was not a race where he was a contender.

12. Blake Baggett: #4 Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition (200 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 1
What did I write: "Baggett had another good season in Supercross but I am worried that he is not in shape for 2020. I think we see Baggett take a step back in the championship. He is not going to fall off the face of the planet unless he is not fit enough to complete a full season but he may be somewhere between seventh and tenth in the championship."
How wrong was it: I don't get this season for Baggett. There were races he was on and then when he was off he was off. He did have two retirements and took two last-place finishes, which helps drag you down a few championship positions, but he was too inconsistent. It was just an off-year and hopefully he turns it around.

Other Riders:
Adam Cianciarulo: #9 Monster Energy Kawasaki KX450 (15th, 129 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 2
What did I write: "If there is one rider that could surprise us all it is Cianciarulo. How much could we be surprised after his Monster Energy Cup victory? He has come in ready for 450cc action. It could be a case of expectation being set too high after his Monster Energy Cup results. I think there could a swarm of people that are disappointed in Cianciarulo because of the lofty expectations set. I am going to try and be calmer than others. I think a top five in the championship with one or two victories will be a great season for him. He is a championship sleeper."
How wrong was it: Cianciarulo had not one, but two injuries hampered his 2020 season. First it was a collarbone fracture ahead of Arlington. Then it was falling while in second in the first race back at Salt Lake City and having Webb, accidentally, run over his back, causing four acute vertebrae fractures. Prior to his injuries, Cianciarulo had two runner-up finishes and had seven top ten finishes from seven starts. We are going to have to wait until 2021 for what could be stellar.

Chad Reed: #22 Mountain Motorsports Honda CRF450R/KTM 450 SX-F (16th, 113 points)
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 10th (Once)
What did I write: "I am sad to see the end of Reed's career but it is time. He has hung on as long as he could. We should be thankful he has stuck around for as long as he did. He is back to a privateer bike, which is where he started last year before Suzuki drafted him in because of a slew of injured riders. Reed was seventh in the championship when his season ended after Seattle. I think Reed will have a few top ten finishes and maybe there is one race he is fighting for a top five."
How wrong was it: This was not how Reed wanted to end his career, and it might not be the end. It sounds like Reed wants to do a proper farewell. It might not be a full season, but it could be one final round when crowds are back at the events. Reed did provide one of the more amusing stories in the latter stages of the season. Reed sold all his Honda equipment during the hiatus, thinking the season would not restart. When the restart was announced, Reed purchased a KTM to finish the season. At least he ended the season with a tenth-place finish.

Conclusion
Tomac deserved this title. No one had won more main events prior to a championship than Tomac at 34. Tomac is the first father to win a Supercross championship, which is startling, but a reminder Supercross is a young man's sport. Tomac is 27 years old. We are going to get a few more good years with Tomac, and he has stayed relatively healthy, but three years ago Ryan Dungey retired at 27 years old. Dungey did have four championships under his belt, including three-consecutive to end his career.

Then we had Reed, who is retiring at 38 years old. Reed obliterated the record books, and when you see Dungey and Ryan Villopoto have both been retired for multiple years and are 30 and 31 respectively, and Reed's foil Ricky Carmichael is two years old and last raced in 2007, and you think someone could be able to race for another decade. Tomac could be able to have a Reed-esque length career but we have a long way to go.

While concerned about age and changes, I look at Osborne and Cianciarulo and I think Supercross is in great hands. Doubling back to Tomac and Reed, both Osborne and Cianciarulo have already had their share of injuries. Webb is only 24, already a champion, and he has gotten over his troubles staying on the bike. Hopefully, both Osborne and Cianciarulo stay healthy. Supercross is set for another five to eight years.

With Salt Lake City behind us, we come off a success into an uncertainty and without much direction where to go. The Motocross is set to begin in a month at Crawfordsville, Indiana but only two rounds have official dates. The second round is scheduled for Jacksonville, Florida. Florida is seeing a record number of covid-19 cases on a near daily basis. The 2020 Motocross season will look different. It has to and it will continue to evolve over the summer. Motocross comes first and then we will have the 2021 Supercross season.

We are slowly stepping through time. Supercross completed its first test but the world remains chaotic and unstable. Unfortunately, the Salt Lake City series of races wasn't a Band-Aid to complete a season and now we can remove it and go back to living without a hemorrhage. The wound is as bad as when first addressed and getting worse.

Every sports entity faces a web of social distancing measures, covid-19 case increases, bans on public gatherings and the health of every person involved in the events. Plans are being made because there has to be a layout, but every plan is vulnerable to be tossed in a second. NASCAR is releasing its schedule on a month basis. The NBA has plans to return in July in Orlando but that could be canned, especially with Florida's problem. The NHL has a plan for the Stanley Cup playoffs in August but teams have players testing positive for the virus.

Supercross got through seven races in three weeks without an issue, but with the Motocross season planning to cross the country and host events with spectators, it is more likely to hit a snag and face difficult decisions about what is best for the series.