Friday, June 30, 2023

Best of the Month: June 2023

The year blasts by and every year it seems to go quicker. It is the final day of June. It is hot and humid outside. Le Mans is over. Formula One is back in Europe. MotoGP is already on break. In contemporary motorsports, the end of June doesn't really signal a transition in the season. With how long some championships go, it doesn't feel like the end is near. That will come in August, but June is a transition point in the year, and things will be moving quickly.

IndyCar Tidbits
We are nearly halfway through the 2023 IndyCar Series season, and there have been a few notable things to happen this year that should be noted. 

Kyle Kirkwood's Company
Somewhat unexpectedly, Kyle Kirkwood scored his first career victory in the third race of the season at Long Beach. Kirkwood won the race from pole position, but prior to that weekend Kirkwood had one top ten finish, which coincidentally came a year prior at Long Beach. 

Kirkwood's Long Beach victory came in what was his 20th career start. Entering that race he had one top ten finish and zero top five finishes. How many drivers that took 20 starts or more to get their first career victory had zero top five finishes and one top ten finish or fewer? 

Eighty-eight drivers had their first career victory come in their 20th start or later prior to Kirkwood. Of those 88 drivers, only one other driver had zero top five finishes prior to his first career victory. Who was it? 

Buddy Lazier! 

Buddy Lazier did not win in his first 56 starts. In his 57th, Lazier won the 1996 Indianapolis 500. Not only was it Lazier's first career victory, but it was his first career top five finish. Entering that race, Lazier had only three career top ten finishes. He was ninth in the Denver street race in 1991, seventh at Michigan in 1992 and tenth in Vancouver in 1992. Lazier had not finished in the top ten in his previous 28 starts spread over nearly four years before he won that Indianapolis 500. 

Lazier's three top ten finishers were the fewest for a driver who took 20 starts or more for a first career victory prior to Kirkwood. The only other driver in this category that had five top ten finishes or fewer is Robbie Buhl, who had five top ten finishes prior to his first career victory at Loudon in 1997, Buhl's 21st career start, but one of those results was a top five finish. Buhl was third in the inaugural Indy Racing League event on January 27, 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida.

Along with Buhl, there are four other drivers who took 20 starts or more for a first career victory and had only one top five finish prior to that victory. 

They are Bobby Olivero, Jaques Lazier, Alex Barron and Mike Conway. 

Olivero won in his 21st start in the USAC Gold Crown race held at Springfield in 1982. His only top five result prior was a fifth in the 1977 California 500 at Ontario. Jaques Lazier won in his 23rd career start at Chicagoland in 2001. Lazier's first career top five finish came three races prior when he was third at Nashville Superspeedway, a race that of course his brother Buddy won. 

Speaking of Nashville, Barron's first career victory was there one year later. It was Barron's 45th career start. His first top five finish was five races earlier when Barron was fourth in the Indianapolis 500, earning him co-Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter. 

As for Conway, his first career victory was the 2011 Grand Prix of Long Beach, his 26th career start. However, like Buhl, Conway's best finish prior was a third, which is ironic because when Conway finished third at Sonoma in 2009 he was driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which had Buhl as one of its co-owners at the time. 

Romain Grosjean's Company
Kyle Kirkwood is in pretty exclusive company. Romain Grosjean is in less exclusive company, but he is still in rare air, though Grosjean probably wishes this wasn't the case. We all know the Frenchman has come close to winning races in his IndyCar career, he just hasn't yet. 

Five times has Grosjean been runner-up in IndyCar competition. In those five runner-up finishes, Grosjean had a valid shot at victory in at least three of them, and that isn't including St. Petersburg this year where Grosjean should have at worst finished second but ended up 18th. 

How many drivers have at least five runner-up finishes in IndyCar history but zero victories? 

Fittingly, the answer is five. Grosjean is tied with Russ Snowberger and Raul Boesel on five. Geoff Brabham had six runner-up results. Vitor Meira holds the record with eight.

Snowberger, who to date is the only Maryland-born driver to start an Indianapolis 500, had five runner-up finishes in the first 35 starts of his career spanning from September 5, 1927 at Altoona to September 4, 1950 at Pikes Peak. 

Well, Grosjean has one up on Snowberger because Grosjean had five runner-up finishes in his first 34 starts. 

Boesel had all five of his runner-up finishes come driving for Dick Simon Racing from 1992 through 1994. Boesel also has the distinction of being the most experienced IndyCar driver without a victory, going 0-for-199 in his career. Boesel led the most laps at Milwaukee in 1993 from pole position, but Nigel Mansell took the lead with 19 laps to go and Boesel was second. 

That wasn't even Boesel's worst defeat. The Brazilian led 120 of the first 224 laps at Michigan in 1994 before he lost an engine while leading with 27 laps remaining. Boesel never led in any of this other runner-up finishes. The only other time he led a lap in a race where he finished on the podium was the 1989 Indianapolis 500. He led lap 36 before finishing third, six laps down. 

Brabham was runner-up in his third career start, the final USAC-sanctioned race at Pocono in 1981. He lost the lead to A.J. Foyt four laps prior to rain ended the race early. It was Foyt's 67th and final IndyCar victory. Three years later, Brabham was runner-up to Mario Andretti in the first Grand Prix of Long Beach under CART sanctioning. Later that season, Brabham was runner-up to Al Unser, Jr. at Portland in what was Unser, Jr.'s first career victory. A little over a year later, Brabham was runner-up to Unser, Jr. at Cleveland, Unser, Jr.'s third career victory. 

In 1987, Brabham, was runner-up in consecutive races, again at Pocono, but this time in a race Rick Mears dominated. Then at Road America, again to Andretti as Andretti led all 50 laps and Brabham was second, 41.08 seconds down the road. 

For those keeping score at home, Brabham was runner-up to IndyCar's all-time leader in victories, the driver currently third all-time in victories, the driver ninth all-time in victories and the driver 13th all-time in victories, who also is one of four drivers with four Indianapolis 500 victories. 

Sheesh! Brabahm only led 51 laps in his career, 32 of which came in his third and fourth career start. There were the 15 at Pocono and then he led 17 from pole position at Riverside before a handling issue took him out of the race. 

And that brings us to Mr. Meira. Meira's close calls were well documented during the 2000s in the Indy Racing League. But here's a reminder...

He was second in consecutive races in 2004, first to Dan Wheldon at Richmond, then seven days later at Kansas to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Buddy Rice by 0.005 seconds and Meira had led the penultimate lap. 

The following season Meira was second in the Indianapolis 500 to Wheldon and second at Kentucky to Scott Sharp by 0.078 seconds. For 2006, he moved to an under-funded Panther Racing and still finished runner-up three times! There was a stunner at Watkins Glen when he was second to Scott Dixon. He hung with Team Penske's Sam Hornish, Jr. at Richmond to take second. Then Meira led the most laps at Michigan only to lose out to Hélio Castroneves. 

Meira's final runner-up finish would be in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 to Dixon, a race Dixon had covered, but what would be the first of four consecutive runner-up finishes for Panther Racing in the Indianapolis 500. 

How does Grosjean's runner-up finishes compare? He has finished second to not one but two first-time winners. The first time was in his first runner-up finish in the 2021 Grand Prix of Indianapolis to Rinus VeeKay. The second was earlier this season to Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood at Long Beach. Grosjean was second in the second IMS road course race in 2021 to Will Power. In 2022, Grosjean was runner-up to Josef Newgarden at Long Beach. The fifth runner-up finish for Grosjean was at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this season behind Scott McLaughlin. Not to forget mentioning Grosjean has twice finished runner-up from pole position!

That is plenty of heartbreak for one day. 

Bet on Newgarden
With his victory in the Texas this April, the 2023 season is the fifth consecutive in which Josef Newgarden has won an oval race. Newgarden has won an oval race in seven of the last eight seasons with 2018 being the lone blemish. IndyCar doesn't run many oval races at this time. It hasn't run many in the last decade. For one driver to win an oval race for five consecutive seasons is a tad impressive. 

Prior to Newgarden, the most recent driver to have a five-season streak of oval victories is Ryan Hunter-Reay from 2011-2015. Hunter-Reay is the only other driver to have a five-season streak take place entirely since reunification occurred. 

But let's look bigger picture. How many five-season streaks of oval victories have taken place since the resumption of competition after World War II? Keep in mind the championship was entirely ovals essentially from the restart of racing in 1946 through the mid 1960s, then it was still rather oval heavy throughout the 1970s into the 1980s before more road and street course races were introduced during the CART-era. It was more balanced until the split and then for the first nine seasons of the Indy Racing League the schedule was only ovals. 

So how many were there? Let's list them from longest streak down to those five-season streaks.

Bobby Unser - 9 (1968-76)
Johnny Rutherford - 9 (1973-81)
Rodger Ward - 7 (1957-63)
A.J. Foyt - 7 (1973-79)
Gordon Johncock - 7 (1973-79)
Scott Sharp - 7 (1997-03)
Sam Hornish, Jr. - 7 (2001-07)
Tony Bettenhausen - 6 (1946-51)
Jimmy Bryan - 6 (1953-58)
A.J. Foyt - 6 (1960-65)
Hélio Castroneves - 6 (2001-06)
Tony Kanaan - 6 (2003-08)
Johnnie Parsons - 5 (1948-52)
Parnelli Jones - 5 (1961-65)
Tom Sneva - 5 (1980-94)
Rick Mears - 5 (1987-91)
Michael Andretti - 5 (1996-2000)
Eddie Cheever - 5 (1997-01)
Dan Wheldon - 5 (2004-08)
Scott Dixon - 5 (2006-10)
Hunter-Reay - 5 (2011-15)
Newgarden - 5 (2019-23)*

This is only the 22nd time since World War II a driver has won an oval race in five consecutive seasons! If Newgarden didn't have that one brain fade at Iowa in 2018, we could be looking at an eight-year streak, which would be far more historic, but five is still remarkable, and knowing Newgarden this streak could continue for some time to come. 

As impressive as Newgarden's streak is, do you notice any names missing? 

Mario Andretti never won oval races in five consecutive seasons. Neither did Al Unser. Al Unser, Jr. never won oval races in consecutive seasons, let alone five consecutive. Emerson Fittipaldi's longest streak was three seasons, as was Bobby Rahal's. Dario Franchitti never did it. Will Power had a four-year streak from 2016-19.

Patricio O'Ward is the only other active driver with an active multi-season streak and O'Ward is at two seasons with three oval races remaining to extend it to three. 

Leaving It Late
Newgarden didn't lead this year's Indianapolis 500 until lap 157. How many Indianapolis 500 winners didn't lead their first lap of the race until lap 157 or later? It is more than you likely think.

There are the obvious two, Dan Wheldon in 2011, who only led the final lap, and Joe Dawson in 1912, who only led the final two laps after Ralph DePalma broke down. Graham Hill led the final ten laps in 1966. His first lap led was lap 191. Mark Donohue led the final 13 laps in 1972, lap 188 to 200. Gaston Chevrolet's first lap led on his way to victory in 1920 was lap 187. Chevrolet led the final 14 circuits. 

Emerson Fittipaldi only led the final 16 laps in his 1993 victory, lap 185-200. Al Unser, Jr. didn't lead until lap 183 in his fourth victory in 1987. Louis Meyer didn't lead until lap 182 in his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1928. 

Here is fun one, Joe Boyer led the first lap of the 1924 race, but in his #9 Duesenberg. He didn't lead with the #15 Duesenberg until lap 177, so the winning driver led before lap 157 but the winning car didn't. That was also the case with Mauri Rose in 1941. Rose led lap 39-44 but in his #3 Maserati. Rose didn't lead in the #16 Wetteroth-Offenhauser until lap 162. The Indianapolis 500 sure has some kind of history.

Hélio Castroneves didn't lead until lap 177 in his second victory in 2002. The following year, Gil de Ferran didn't lead until lap 170.

Takuma Sato also did not lead until lap 157 when Sato won in 2020. However, Sato did lead 27 of those final 44 laps. 

Your answer is 14. Newgarden became the 14th "500" winner not to lead before lap 157. 

No Repeat Finishes
Last year, I kept track of the drivers that did not have a repeat finish during the season, and Alexander Rossi had 17 different finishing positions over the 17 races, the first driver to have a different finishing position in every race since Eddie Cheever in the 2001 Indy Racing League season, but the 2001 season had only 13 races and Rossi set the record for most different finishing positions in a season. 

How does 2023 look through eight races? 

Six drivers have yet to have a repeat finish this season.

Scott McLaughlin (13th, sixth, tenth, first, 16th, 14th, seventh, eighth)
Kyle Kirkwood (15th, 27th, first, 12th, 14th, 28th, sixth, ninth)
Felix Rosenqvist (19th, 26th, seventh, ninth, fifth, 27th, third, 20th)
Rinus VeeKay (21st, 11th, 26th, 16th, 13th, tenth, 18th, 12th)
Graham Rahal (sixth, 24th, 12th, 17th, tenth, 22nd, 25th, 11th)
David Malukas (tenth, fourth, 20th, 19th, 26th, 29th, 23rd, 27th)

Beside the inagural season of the IRL, which was only three races in length, every season in this series has had at least one driver start a season with nine different finishing positions. In five of the last six seasons, at least one driver has opened the season with 12 different finishes in the first 12 races.

What about Mr. Rossi? 

He finished fourth, 22nd and 22nd in the first three races. After finishing 17 races in 17 different positions, it took him three races this season to have a repeat and it came in consecutive races. But it gets better. Rossi was fifth in the Indianapolis 500 and then fifth in Detroit. Not only did he have a repeat position in the first three races and the repeat came in consecutive races but he had two repeats in the first six races and two cases of finishing in the same position in consecutive races.

In fact, it has been rather common to see a driver finishing in the same position in consecutive races this season. How many times has it happened? Well, here is a list of every driver to have it happen. 

Álex Palou (fifth at Long Beach and Barber, first at Detroit and Road America)
Patricio O'Ward (second at St. Petersburg and Texas)
Scott Dixon (sixth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500, fourth at Detroit and Road America)
Rossi (22nd at Texas and Long Beach, fifth at Indianapolis 500 and Detroit)
Colton Herta (ninth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500)
Romain Grosjean (second at Long Beach and Barber)
Hélio Castroneves (21st at Long Beach and Barber)
Agustín Canapino (12th at St. Petersburg and Texas)
Simon Pagenaud (25th at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500)
Sting Ray Robb (27th at Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 22nd at Detroit and Road America)

Ten drivers have had the same finishing position in consecutive races on 14 occasions! Get this, every race this season has had someone finish in the same position as the race before! 

Canapino covered St. Petersburg and Texas. Rossi covered Texas and Long Beach. Three drivers cover Long Beach and Barber. Robb covered Barber and the IMS road course. Three drivers cover the two Indianapolis races. Dixon covers the "500" and Detroit. Three drivers cover Detroit and Road America. 

Does that sound bonkers? What does last season tell us? 

Will Power (fourth at Texas, Long Beach and Barber)
Josef Newgarden (first at Texas and Long Beach)
Álex Palou (sixth at Toronto and Iowa I)
Patricio O'Ward (fourth at Gateway and Portland)
Simon Pagenaud (23rd in both Iowa races)
Conor Daly (17th at the IMS road course and Nashville)
Jack Harvey (20th at Iowa II and the IMS road course)
Devlin DeFrancesco (18th at Belle Isle and Road America)
Dalton Kellett (27th at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500)
Tatiana Calderón (25th at Road America and Mid-Ohio)

Over the entire 2022 season, only ten drivers had the same finishing position in consecutive races and it only happened ten times. Through the first eight races in 2022, it had only happened four times. Not only do we already have ten drivers that have achieved it in 2023 through eight races, but it has happened over three times more through the first eight races in 2023 than in the first eight races of 2022!

I cannot explain it! Let's see what happens over the final nine races of 2023.  

Anniversary Victories
One final thing I noticed preparing for the Road America race was Hélio Castroneves was going to be racing on the 23rd anniversary of his first career victory. This year's Road America race was 23 years to the day of Castroneves' first career victory at Belle Isle. 

I thought that was neat, especially since it has been 23 years. Castroneves is competing against drivers who weren't even born when he won his first career race. He isn't the first driver to ever compete against others who were not alive when he won the first time, but it does put into perspective the passage of time. 

Sidebar, I also noticed Rick Mears' first career victory was on June 18. What are the odds that two of the four four-time Indianapolis 500 winners both had their first career victory occur on the same day? How have we not noticed that before? That is something! 

Anyway, it was unlikely Castroneves was going to win this year at Road America, but it had me wondering how many drivers won a race on the anniversary of their first career victory? 

For starters, a driver would need at least two career victories to accomplish this.

That cuts us down to 182 out of 298 IndyCar winners.

Of those 182 winners, only five have won a race on the anniversary of their first career victory.

Eddie Pullen's first career victory, on his debut nonetheless, was on July 5, 1912 on the five-mile Tacoma street course (remember that date and venue, it will come up again). Three years later, Pullen won on July 5, 1915 in Tacoma but this time on a two-mile board oval, his fourth career victory. 

On the same day Eddie Pullen scored his first career victory at Tacoma, so did Earl Cooper. Pullen won the first race on July 5, 1912, and Cooper won the second. However, Cooper waited much longer than three years for his anniversary victory. Try 14 years! Cooper would win the 200-mile Independence Day Classic held on the 1.25-mile Rockingham Speedway board oval in Salem, New Hampshire. It was the penultimate victory in Cooper's career. 

You know what is cooler than winning on the anniversary of your first career victory? Winning twice on the anniversary of your first career victory. What are the odds of that? Well, what are the odds of winning twice on the anniversary of your first career victory and all three of those victories being Indianapolis 500 victories? That is what Louis Meyer did. 

Louis Meyer's first IndyCar victory was his 1928 Indianapolis 500 victory on May 30, 1928. Seeing as how Memorial Day was May 30 until the introduction of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and, except for when May 30 fell on a Sunday, the Indianapolis 500 was held on May 30, it worked out that Meyer's 1933 and 1936 victories were both on May 30. He won those races on a Wednesday, a Tuesday and a Saturday respectively. 

Speaking of Indianapolis 500 winners, Danny Sullivan's first career victory was July 8, 1984 in Cleveland. Six years later, Sullivan won on July 8, 1984 in Cleveland. 

Meyer and Sullivan have company because they aren't the only drivers to win on the first career victory anniversary at the same track. Paul Tracy did it as well with Tracy's first career victory being on April 18, 1993 at Long Beach and Tracy then won on April 18, 2004 at Long Beach. 

Along with these five examples of it happening, there are two close calls.

Tommy Milton, the first two-time Indainapolis 500 winner, scored his first career victory on September 15, 1917 at Narragansett Park in Providence, Rhode Island. Not only did Milton win his first career race that day but he won his second career race as well, winning the third championship race of the day at Narragansett. On September 15, 1923, Milton won at Syracuse, but it was a non-championship race. Milton won on the anniversary of his first career victory, but that victory doesn't count in the record books. 

If you think Milton was special having his first two victories occur on the same day, he isn't alone. Cliff Durant had his first two victories occur on July 4, 1918 on the two-mile Tacoma board oval. Durant had only one other victory in his career. He won in Santa Monica on March 14, 1919. Durant technically never won on the anniversary of his first career victory, but he did win on the same day as his first career victory. That is something. 

Can any other drivers possible win on the anniversary of their first career victory this season? 

That depends. Marco Andretti could if he decides to run Gateway, which falls on August 27, the same day that Andretti scored his first career victory at Sonoma in 2006. It could also be the case for Gil de Ferran if de Ferran decided to return to IndyCar after nearly 20 years out of the series to run the Laguna Seca finale on September 10, which falls on the 28th anniversary of de Ferran's first career victory, which also happened at Laguna Seca. 

July Preview
We have spoken about enough IndyCar and should focus on a championship that will be decided in July. Formula E has two rounds left, both doubleheaders in Rome and London. 

With four races remaining, 116 points are left on the table. Twelve drivers are still mathematically alive for the championship. 

Jake Dennis has five consecutive podium finishes and eight podium finishes from 12 races, but Dennis' 154 points is only one more than Nick Cassidy, who has won three times. Pascal Wehrlein has also won three times, but he has only one top five finish in the last eight races and Wehrlein has fallen to 16 points behind Dennis. Mitch Evans has two victories and trails by 32 points in fourth. 

Jean-Éric Vergne and António Félix da Costa have each won once and they have 97 points and 93 points respectively. Maximilian Günther opened the season with no points from the first six races and he has since scored 78 points in the last six races to lift him to seventh in the championship, six points ahead of Sébastien Buemi, who has yet to stand on the podium this season. 

Sam Bird has three podium finishes, but Bird has also not started two races and he has 62 points. Jake Hughes rounds out the championship top ten on 46 points. Defending champion Stoffel Vandoorne is clinging onto his title with 42 points while René Rast is barely alive with 40 points. 

After the Rome weekend on July 15-16, any driver hoping to have a shot at the title in London over July 29-30 will need to be within 58 points of the championship lead. Currently, Vergne in fifth is one point to the good of that mark. 

Other events of note in July:
IndyCar has Mid-Ohio, Toronto and a doubleheader at Iowa. 
Formula One has four rounds and then will go on its summer break at the end of the month. 
NASCAR has its Chicago street course race to lead off the month. 
The 24 Hours of Spa also starts this month. 
There is no MotoGP but World Superbike will run at Donington Park, Imola and Most.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2023

The ninth round of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season brings the series to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. IndyCar surpasses the halfway of the season this weekend. After Mid-Ohio only eight races remain and they will all take place over 70 days. Entering this weekend, 486 points remain on the table. Everybody is still mathematically eligible for the championship, but with 98 points covering the top five drivers, 162 points covering the top 11 and only 18 drivers having scored at least 100 points through the first eight events, time is running out quickly for many drivers' championship hopes. 

Time: Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday July 2 with green flag scheduled for 1:53 p.m. ET.
Channel: USA
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Kevin Lee and Dillon Welch will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 3:05 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Second Practice: 9:45 a.m. ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 2:45 p.m. ET 
Warm-up: 10:30 a.m. ET (30 minutes)
Race: 1:53 p.m. ET (80 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

Team Penske Still Hasn't Won a Pole Position
IndyCar may be a competitive series, but it remains staggering that through the first eight races of the 2023 season, Team Penske does not have a pole position. 

Last year, Team Penske won nine pole positions over the 17-race calendar. The team ended the season with four pole positions on the spin and six in the final seven races. Josef Newgarden was tied for the best average starting position at 6.647. Will Power led IndyCar with five pole positions, and Power's fifth was the record breaking 68th in his career. Scott McLaughlin won three pole positions in 2022, second most only behind Power, and McLaughlin was one of only three drivers with multiple pole positions. McLaughlin had the third best average starting position at 6.882 and Power was fourth at 7.647. 

Through the first eight races this season, only Newgarden has an average starting position in the top ten. Newgarden is averaging a ninth-place grid position, seventh in IndyCar. McLaughlin is averaging a 10.5, good enough for tenth. Power is averaging a starting position of 11.875, 12th in IndyCar as the halfway point of the season approaches. 

Between the three drivers, they have only one front row start. McLaughlin started second at Detroit. They have only five top five starting positions, and Will Power is responsible for none of them. 

Power is in one of the worst qualifying rut of his career. Power has not started in the top five in any races this season. His best grid position was seventh at Detroit. He has not made the Firestone Fast Six once. The only time Power has gone seven races or more without a top five starting position was an eight-race stretch from Portland to Road America in 2006. That spans the seventh start of Power's career to his 14th career start. This weekend could be the Australian’s 277th start. 

On top of Power's qualifying woes, he has not won any of the last 17 races. The longest winless streak of Power's career is 18 starts, dating back to Kansas 2008 through Toronto 2009. Power race the final 14 races in 2008 and then started four of the first ten races in 2009 before winning at Edmonton, his first victory with Team Penske. 

Power is on pace for his worst average starting position in a single season. The only other time he had an average starting position worse than tenth was the 2008 Indy Racing League season, and that year his average was 10.9411 with five top five starting positions. 

As for Newgarden, a ninth-place average would be his worst average starting position since joining Team Penske in 2017. He has averaged a top ten starting position in each of the last nine seasons. McLaughlin average starting position improve from 15.857 in his first full IndyCar season in 2021 to 6.882 last season. He went from one top five starting position in 2021 to nine last season. 

This is Team Penske's longest pole position drought since the 49-race drought that stretched from Belle Isle in 1997 through the 1999 season finale at Fontana. Team Penske opened the 2021 season with zero pole positions in the first seven races. Penske also had a seven-race drought from Pocono through the first Houston race in 2013. 

The good news for Team Penske is it has shown good qualifying form at Mid-Ohio. The team has won five of the last eight pole positions at the track, and six of the last 12. Since IndyCar returned to the track in 2007, Penske has started on pole position in ten of the 17 races. Since 2007, Power has the second best average starting position at Mid-Ohio behind only Dario Franchitti. Power has won five pole positions and he has started in the top six on 12 of 15 occasions. However, he has started outside the top fifteen in two of the last three races. 

Newgarden has the fourth best average starting position at Mid-Ohio since 2007, and he has started in the top six in eight of 12 starts at the track. McLaughlin started second in last year's race before winning with 45 laps led.

Palou vs. Ericsson
Chip Ganassi Racing has controlled the championship through the first eight rounds, and the team's success is best exhibited in its drivers ranked first, second and fifth in the championship with the fourth car, split between two drivers, ranked 14th in the entrants' championship, ahead of both Juncos Hollinger Racing entries, both Ed Carpenter Racing entries, both Meyer Shank Racing entries, both Dale Coyne Racing entries and two of the three Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries.

It is the top two in the championship that best exemplify Ganassi's strength in 2023. Álex Palou's 74-point championship lead has been discussed enough, but between Palou and Marcus Ericsson, currently second in the championship, the Catalan-Swedish combination has 16 top ten finishes out of 16 possible top ten finishes. They have a combined ten top five finishes and one of the two drivers has been on the podium in seven of eight races this season. 

Palou's run is extraordinary. After opening the season with an eighth at St. Petersburg, he has seven consecutive top five finishes, the longest streak in IndyCar since his current teammate Scott Dixon had a seven-race streak spread over the final six races in 2018 and the 2019 season opener. Eight consecutive top five finishes has not been done since Dixon had an eight-race streak spread over the final six events of the 2011 season and the first two events of the 2012 season. Dixon had six podium finishes during that span. Palou had four podium results in the last seven races. 

Palou could become the first driver with eight consecutive top five finishes within one season since Dario Franchitti had eight consecutive top five finishes during the 2010 season from Watkins Glen to Motegi. The first six of those results were podium finishes and Franchitti was on the podium in seven of those eight events. Franchitti was driving the #10 Ganassi entry at that time. To date, Franchitti's run is the only eight-race top five streak since reunification. 

While Palou deserves attention, so does Ericsson. Ericsson and Palou are the last drivers standing to have finished in the top ten of every race this season. Ericsson has a nine-race top ten finish streak dating back to last season. This is the third consecutive season Ericsson has had at least an eight-race top ten finish streak. In 2021, he had a nine-race top ten finish streak that began with his first career victory at Belle Isle and lasted through the penultimate round at Laguna Seca. Prior to that streak, he had finished 11th in the Indianapolis 500 and was tenth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis before that. 

Mid-Ohio has developed into one of Ericsson's better tracks. His worst finish in the last three races is sixth, and he was runner-up to Josef Newgarden in 2021. Palou has finished third and second at the 2.25-mile road course in his two visits to the facility with Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou was taken out on the opening lap of the second race in 2020 after qualifying fourth, and he has started seventh the past two years at Mid-Ohio.

Independence Day will fall on a Tuesday this year, effectively making Mid-Ohio a holiday weekend event. This is the third consecutive season IndyCar has competed at Mid-Ohio during this weekend, and this year there are nine American drivers entered looking for a holiday victory. 

Josef Newgarden leads all American drivers this season in victories with two. Newgarden is also the top American in the championship at the moment in third, 81 points behind Palou. Newgarden has been the top American in the championship the last four seasons, and he has led Americans in victories in three of the last four seasons. 

The next best American in the championship at the moment is Alexander Rossi, sitting in seventh, but on 196 points, trailing Palou by 128 points. Rossi is the last American not named Josef Newgarden to be the top American in the championship. That was when Rossi was second to Scott Dixon in 2018. Rossi is still looking for his first victory this season and his first victory with McLaren. He has five consecutive top ten finishes, his longest streak since an eight-race run in 2019. 

Colton Herta is ninth in the championship on 183 points, but Herta has yet to stand on the top step of the podium this season. Herta led all Americans in victories in 2021 when he won three times, but he has only won once in the last 24 races. 

The only other American driver to win a race this season is Kyle Kirkwood, who had his first career victory come back at Long Beach in April. Kirkwood has finished in the top ten of the last two races, the first time he has had consecutive top ten results in his IndyCar career. This has the Florida-born driver up to tenth in the championship on 164 points. 

Four of the nine American drivers entered this weekend have won at Mid-Ohio before. Along with Rossi, Newgarden and Herta, Ohio's own Graham Rahal won the 2015 Mid-Ohio race. Rahal has nine top ten finishes in his last ten Mid-Ohio starts. After a difficult pair of races between the Indianapolis 500 and Detroit, Rahal was 11th in the most recent race at Road America. 

One driver that surprisingly has not won at Mid-Ohio is Ryan Hunter-Reay. The veteran of 17 Mid-Ohio starts has four podium finishes, seven top five finishes and 14 top ten finishes but he has never won at the facility. His average finish at the track is 8.882 and his average starting position is 5.764 with 14 consecutive top ten starting positions at the track.

Santino Ferrucci is making his first visit to Mid-Ohio since 2021 when he drove a third entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Ferrucci went from 22nd to ninth in that race, his best finish at the track. He has finished no worse than 14th in four Mid-Ohio starts.

David Malukas qualified eighth and finished ninth in last year's Mid-Ohio race. It was the second top ten starting position of Malukas’ career and his first career top ten finish. Malukas' Dale Coyne Racing teammate Sting Ray Robb will be making his first IndyCar start at Mid-Ohio. In five Indy Lights starts at the track, Robb had an average finish of 7.8 in fields that averaged a size of 12.6 cars.

For a period of time, IndyCar did not race on Independence Day weekend, but it has so for the past three seasons. Newgarden's victory in the 2021 Mid-Ohio race made him the first American driver to win over the holiday weekend since Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Waktins Glen in 2008.

The Rest of the World
While there will be nine American drivers competing this weekend at Mid-Ohio, two-thirds of the grid hails from around the globe and will be looking to spoil the party in a sense. 

Leading the way, along with his Spanish teammate leading the championship and his Swedish teammate in second, is the most successful international driver in IndyCar history. 

Scott Dixon has 53 IndyCar victories, second most all-time, and six championships, also second most all-time. Dixon also had six Mid-Ohio victories, more than any other driver. The New Zealander is looking for his first victory of the season, and while he has a half-dozen victories at this circuit, he has only won once in the last nine Mid-Ohio races and that victory in 2019 is his only podium finish during that span. 

Joining Dixon, his fellow Antipodeans Will Power and Scott McLaughlin have each won in the last four Mid-Ohio races. Power has finished on the podium in eight of his 15 Mid-Ohio starts. Marcus Armstrong makes it four Antipodeans on the grid.

Like Dixon, his best friend, Mexico's Patricio O'Ward, enters Mid-Ohio looking for his first victory of the season. O'Ward started on pole position for last year's Mid-Ohio race, but fuel pressure issues took him out of the running for race victory. O'Ward has never finished better than eighth at Mid-Ohio in four starts. Sweden's Felix Rosenqvist makes its two international drivers for McLaren, and Rosenqvist’s track record is shakier than O'Ward at this place. While Rosenqvist was second and sixth in his first two Mid-Ohio starts, he has finished 22nd, 23rd and 27th in his last three trips here. He has failed to make it beyond lap eight in two of his last three visits. 

France has two representatives on the grid. Simon Pagenaud won at Mid-Ohio in 2016, and Pagenaud has completed all 1,110 laps in his 13 starts. Qualifying has not been Romain Grosjean's strength at Mid-Ohio, starting 18th and 17th, but he has gone forward each year. The finish did not come through last year, after contact with then-Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi took Grosjean out of a top ten position. Grosjean was seventh in 2021. 

The United Kingdom has two drivers on the grid as well. For Callum Ilott, it is his second Mid-Ohio race. Ilott qualified tenth last year, but lost an engine after completing 57 laps and was classified 23rd. Jack Harvey has two top ten finishes at Mid-Ohio with his best finish being seventh in the first race of the 2020 doubleheader. 

The sixth country with multiple representatives on the grid is Denmark. Christian Lundgaard is two points outside the championship top ten and he has finished in the top ten of all three permanent road course races this season. Benjamin Pedersen has finished outside the top twenty in all three permanent road course races this season. 

Rounding out the 13 nations that will be on the grid this weekend will be The Netherlands with Rinus VeeKay, Brazil with Hélio Castroneves, Canada with Devlin DeFrancesco and Argentina's Agustín Canapino. Ten different nationalities have won an IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio. Eight of those nationalities will be represented this weekend with Italy and Colombia being the only two past Mid-Ohio winning nations not on the grid this year. 

Road to Indy
There is plenty of racing this holiday as all three Road to Indy series with a triple-header to boot. 

Indy Lights will be hitting the halfway point this weekend at Mid-Ohio, and there is a new championship leader. 

After becoming the first repeat winner of the season at Road America, Nolan Siegel holds the championship lead on 229 points. Siegel has four podium finishes through six races and Siegel is heading to Mid-Ohio coming off a victory in IMSA's LMP2 class at the 6 Hours of the Glen. While Siegel took the championship lead, a retirement at Road America for Christian Rasmussen has set the Danish driver 40 points behind Siegel, a 58-point championship swing after Rasmussen had an 18-point lead entering the weekend. 

Hunter McElrea picked up his first career Indy Lights victory last year at Mid-Ohio. This year McElrea heads to Mid-Ohio third in the championship on 173 points, five points ahead of Jacob Abel with Danial Frost 15 points back in fifth. Reece Gold sits on 155 points, four ahead of Louis Foster and eight ahead of James Roe, Jr. 

Matteo Nannini still has only one top ten finish this season, but that victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course still has Nannini ninth in the championship on 133 points. Ernie Francis, Jr. rounds out the top ten, two markers behind Nannini. 

Enaam Ahmed sits on 126 points, three ahead of Colin Kaminsky and four clear of Kyffin Simpson, who won pole position at Road America. Jagger Jones and Josh Green are tied on 119 points with Christian Bogle on 116 points. Jamie Chadwick has 99 points, seven more than Rasmus Lindh. Josh Pierson is back for his fourth race of the season. 

Indy Lights will race for 35 laps or 55 minutes at 11:40 a.m. ET on Sunday July 2. 

The second half of the USF Pro 2000 season begins this weekend at Mid-Ohio, and Myles Rowe enters as the championship lead. Rowe has 209 points, but he has not won in any of his last five starts. He does have eight top five finishes from nine events this season and that has the American 48 points ahead of Francesco Pizzi in the championship.

Pizzi has not won this season, but he has finished seventh or better in eight of nine races and his worst result is 11th. Pizzi is two points ahead of Kiko Porto, who also has not won this season, but who has three runner-up finishes, including the most recent race at Road America. Joel Granfors has fallen to fourth in the championship on 154 points. Salvador de Alba and Jonathan Browne are tied on 142 points. 

Jace Denmark opened the season with three consecutive top five finishes, but Denmark has only one top five finish in the last six races. He is on 124 points, two clear of Reece Ushijima. Lirim Zendeli won the most recent race at Road America and that has Zendeli on 116 points, tied with Jack Wiliam Miller, but Zendeli holds the tiebreaker. Michael d'Orlando also picked up his first USF Pro 2000 victory at Road America, but d'Orlando was 20th in the second race and is 11th in the championship on 115points. 

USF Pro 2000 has its first race at 11:55 a.m. ET on Saturday July 1 with the second race later that afternoon at 5:25 p.m. ET. Both races are scheduled for 30 laps or 50 minutes.

It will get late early in U.S. F2000, as after this triple-header weekend, there will only be five races left held over two rounds, with the penultimate round only occurring in two weeks time in Toronto. 

Lochie Hughes and Simon Sikes split the victories at Road America and each driver had a bad day in the other race. Hughes was 12th in race one as Sikes won. Sikes was tenth in race two as Hughes won. Hughes has 249 points and a three-point lead over Sikes. Sikes has experienced at Mid-Ohio in this series. He was on the podium of all three U.S. F2000 races held over the 2021 Independence Day weekend at Mid-Ohio. 

Nikita Johnson extended his top five finish streak to six races and he has finished in the top five in eight of ten races. Johnson is 40 points behind Hughes. Mac Clark is up to fourth in the championship on 172 points while Evagoras Papasavvas dropped to fifth on 159 points. 

Chase Gardner has 136 points in sixth, three clear of Jorge Garciarce with Danny Dyzelski on 113 points. Sam Corry and Jacob Douglas are tied on 111 points. Max Garcia is just outside the championship top ten on 109 points.

Race one for U.S. F2000 will be at 4:40 p.m. ET on Friday June 30. The next two races will both be on Saturday July 1. The second race of the weekend will be at 11:00 a.m. ET with the final race at 4:30 p.m. ET. Allthree races will be 20 laps or 40 minutes. 

Fast Facts
This will be the sixth IndyCar race to take place on July 2nd, and the first since Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Kansas in 2006. It was also Hornish, Jr.'s 27th birthday. 

Twice has IndyCar raced in Ohio before on July 2nd. Both those races took place at Cleveland. Emerson Fittipaldi won there on July 2, 1989 and Roberto Moreno won there on July 2, 2000. It was Moreno's first career IndyCar victory. 

Fifteen of the last 17 Mid-Ohio races have been won by an American, a New Zealander or an Australian. 

Americans have won six of the last 11 Mid-Ohio races. American drivers had not won any of the 14 Mid-Ohio races prior to this stretch. 

There have been six different winners in the last six Mid-Ohio races. This is the longest streak of different winners in the history of Mid-Ohio. 

Chevrolet has won the last two Mid-Ohio races. Since engine competition returned in 2012, no manufacturer has won three consecutive Mid-Ohio races. 

Chip Ganassi Racing leads all teams with 11 Mid-Ohio victories, but Ganassi has won only one of the last eight Mid-Ohio races. Ganassi has not won any of the last four Mid-Ohio races. The only time Chip Ganassi Racing has gone more than four Mid-Ohio races without a victory was the first six years of the team from 1990 to 1995. 

The last driver not named Scott Dixon to win for Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio is Charlie Kimball in 2013. 

Only once since Mid-Ohio returned to the IndyCar calendar in 2007 has the Mid-Ohio winner gone on to win the IndyCar championship. That was Josef Newgarden in 2017. 

The average starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.435 with a median of second. 

Four consecutive Mid-Ohio races have been won from the front row and seven of the last eight Mid-Ohio races have been won from the front row. 

Sixteen of 39 Mid-Ohio races have been won from pole position. Twenty-four Mid-Ohio races have been won from the front row. 

Seven Mid-Ohio races have been won from outside a top five starting position. Three of those have occurred in the last ten Mid-Ohio races, including the only two races that have been won from outside a top ten starting position. 

Scott Dixon is responsible for three of the seven Mid-Ohio victories from outside a top five starting position and Dixon is responsible for the worst starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner, 22nd in 2014.

The average number of lead changes in a Mid-Ohio race is 4.667 with a median of five. 

Last year's Mid-Ohio race had only three lead changes, the fewest since 2012.

Every Mid-Ohio race has had at least one lead change.

The average number of cautions for a Mid-Ohio race is 1.947 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 7.368 with a median of seven. 

Last year's Mid-Ohio race has six cautions, the most ever in a Mid-Ohio race. The 17 caution laps were the most since 19 caution laps in the 2008 race, a race that started in wet conditions. 

Seven Mid-Ohio races have been caution-free. Another eight Mid-Ohio races have had only one caution.

Álex Palou makes it three consecutive victories and three consecutive podium finishes at Mid-Ohio, and the championship will feel out of hand before we even hit July 4. Team Penske does not win pole position. No Andretti Autosport driver will hit another Andretti Autosport driver, but an Andretti Autosport drive will make contact with another car at some point during this race. Every McLaren will see the checkered flag and at least two of those cars start in the top six. There will be fewer than three cautions in this race. The Antipodean finishing order will be Scott Dixon, Will Power, Marcus Armstrong and Scott McLaughlin. The Scandinavian finishing order will be Felix Rosenqvist, Christian Lundgaard, Marcus Ericsson and Benjamin Pedersen. An American will finish on the podium. Dale Coyne Racing has a top twenty finisher. Sleeper: Kyle Kirkwood.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Should IndyCar be Stupid with its Money?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Formula E raced on an un-altered permanent road course for the first time in series history at Portland, set record average speeds, had a enthralling race and Nick Cassidy took the victory and decreased the championship deficit to one point between he and Jake Dennis with two rounds, four races remaining this season. Toyota's best driver in the World Rally Championship isn't full-time. IMSA had a chaotic weekend at Watkins Glen, and it didn't end with the checkered flag, but went through post-race inspection. Ducati is still good. Marc Márquez looks shattered. IndyCar was off, but some business decisions were on my mind.

Should IndyCar be Stupid with its Money?
Lionel Messi will be playing in Major League Soccer in less than a month. Messi, one of the greatest soccer players ever and recent World Cup winner with Argentina, will join Inter Miami. His debut is scheduled for July 21. 

How did Messi end up in the American-based league? Revenue sharing from MLS partners Apple and Adidas as well as financial flexibility from the league to allow a player of this stature to join the league. One thing that separates Major League Soccer from other sports league around the world is it is single-entity, meaning the league owns all player contracts. These players do not sign for the clubs, but sign with MLS and each team owner is a shareholder. 

Inter Miami isn't signing Lionel Messi and the rest of the league has to live with it. MLS is signing Messi. The league money is paying for Messi, and it is something that requires every team owner being kept abreast on the negotiations. This isn't the case of it being none of the other owners' business. It literally is all of their business and done in their best interests.

Messi's pending move had me thinking about something IndyCar did before this season even began. 

Before the 2023 season even began, IndyCar announced it was reducing the payout of each Leader Circle position. With around $150,000 being taken from each of the 22 Leader Circle positions, each team lost money from the foundational payments that they have been accustomed to receive for over 15 years. The main reason for the reduction was to reallocate that money toward marketing and promotions. 

The series said it would increase its marketing budget to around $17 million for 2023, over a 60% increase from the year before. 

While $17 million is simultaneously a lot of money to the average person and chump change in the business world, a 60% increase in marketing is a significant move for IndyCar. This also comes as the series introduced its first docuseries following IndyCar in the build up to the Indianapolis 500. The series is making steps, and like IndyCar is known for, these are clinical moves. IndyCar is not throwing caution to wind as it hopes to grow the series and increase viewership and notoriety. 

However, maybe IndyCar should do something stupid with its money. 

IndyCar does not take many chances. It knows it cannot afford to set money on fire and get nothing out of it, but the series has been playing moneyball for well over a decade. It keeps hoping a small investment with reap big rewards. It is an attractive model, but it earning small gains. IndyCar might be inching ahead, but in the grand scheme of the world, an inch is practically nothing. A yard isn't much but it can at least be seen with the naked eye. 

I understand IndyCar's strategy of spending more money for television ad space and increasing promotion in upcoming markets as a race approaches, but considering the gains we see with IndyCar spending the money this way, I feel like the series would be getting the same numbers, if not better, if it decided to take $10 million of that $17 million marketing budget and gave it to Daniel Ricciardo to come run IndyCar for a season. 

Ricciardo has become a known commodity in American sports circles thanks to Drive to Survive leading the Formula One viewership boom. Actress Anne Hathaway told Ricciardo she was a fan on the red carpet at the Met Gala. People know who Ricciardo is and like who he is. The man was the center of ESPN2's alternate broadcast of the Canadian Grand Prix and will be doing the same thing for the two American rounds to happen this autumn. The man has a following, and it is a following IndyCar needs at its races as well. 

Ahead of the 2023 season, Ricciardo returned to Red Bull as a reserve driver. He is pretty much just doing promotional stuff. Whether we see him boot Nyck de Vries from AlphaTauri midseason remains to be seen (2024 is more likely it appears), but at the present moment, Ricciardo is only making about $2.1 million from Red Bull (on top of the $20 million-plus he is receiving as severance from McLaren). 

If you don't believe he wouldn't entertain a $10 million offer to do IndyCar, you are foolish. Ricciardo may still harbor Formula One world championship dreams, but the man understands money, and if he can make five times more and actually get to compete while also automatically becoming the face of a series in the United States, where he could live year-round, I doubt he would say no. 

That seems like a big gamble for IndyCar to put most of the eggs in this one basket, but shouldn't it at least try something risky every now and then? 

People are not watching Formula One for the racing, and they do not care IndyCar has better competition. You can post all the infographics you want on social media about passing, it doesn't do a damn thing. People are watching Formula One because they have made a connection with the drivers and teams. Red Bull and Max Verstappen might be curb-stomping the field every week, but the audience cares about a majority of the grid. 

They care about Fernando Alonso and his renaissance at Aston Martin. They want to see if Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell can take the fight back to Red Bull and reclaim some of its glory. They cannot wait to see what Haas does and whether it will be a train wreck that sets Guenther Steiner off or possibly be something wonderful that makes everyone shout for joy. They are invested in the Ferrari melodrama as it feels like Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Jr. waste their careers. They aren't thrilled with the racing, but they aren't watching for the racing. 

IndyCar has been consistency getting one-million viewers for its network races for quite some time, but that is the best it can do. The series needs to get more viewers and Ricciardo would bring more people in.

Ricciardo could be a tool to expose new viewers to those already competing in IndyCar, whether that be Josef Newgarden, Patricio O'Ward, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, Colton Herta. Ricciardo would be a springboard for these drivers, and just through association they could attract new fans who came for Ricciardo but stayed because they found someone else worth emotionally investing in. 

It is a risk, but it would at least be a swing for the fences and one where even if it didn't work out, we would at least get to enjoy Ricciardo in IndyCar for a season. Ricciardo would become the highest paid driver in IndyCar at that salary, but considering Colton Herta is currently the highest paid driver, making around $7 million a year and Anne Hathaway likely has no clue who Colton Herta is, $10 million for Ricciardo is sensible.

It would take cooperation from within IndyCar circles, but let's not act like there wouldn't be a spot for the $10-million investment that would be Daniel Ricciardo. He would easily have a competitive ride. Team Penske could expand back to four cars like it was nothing. No offense to Devlin DeFrancesco and the Marcus Armstrong/Takuma Sato pairing, but Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing effectively have open seats. McLaren... ok that wouldn't be an option, but if Ricciardo was getting $10 million he would be in a strong seat and in a competitive position on a regular basis.  

The ship has likely sailed on Ricciardo. A move such as this one requires ambition and chutzpah, one of which IndyCar administration currently lacks. Ricciardo is watering at the mouth with at least one if not two Red Bull-related seats about to open up. The more Sergio Pérez and Nyck de Vries struggle, the more it appears Ricciardo will be back behind a Red Bull car in no time. Ricciardo bet on himself and it likes will payoff. Once he is back in Formula One, IndyCar's $10 million offer will not be enough, but that doesn't mean IndyCar couldn't make another splash. 

Considering the buzz around Patricio O'Ward, IndyCar could benefit from having another Mexican driver in the series, and dropping $5-8 million on Sergio Pérez for the 2024 season could be worthwhile investment. Fuck, drop $4 million on Liam Lawson. Lawson isn't going to add any viewers, at least not the possible Ricciardo level, but Lawson is an unappreciated talent. He has a minor cult following around Formula One circuits. Investing in the grid and making it better isn't the worst thing the series could do. 

IndyCar is a sporting series, but one way to grow an audience is to give the people something worth tuning in for. Nobody cares about the racing, so get a name that turns heads. 

As much as Major League Soccer has done in nearly 30 years to grow the league and have teams drawing over 30,000 people, and in some cases 60,000 people to soccer games in the United States, it is still a league that struggles for attention and respectable viewership. It has not become something for people to regularly tune in for on a weekend. Enter Lionel Messi, a short-term spark, but one that will surely cause more people to tune in, (and one that is already causing ticket prices to blast through the roof), especially from around the globe. The hope is Messi introduces MLS to more people and turns more people into regular viewers. We are about five to ten years aways from knowing if it worked, but it is worth the shot.

IndyCar could use the same thing. Skyrocketing numbers normally do not come from targeted advertising. It comes from kicking the bloody door in and getting everyone's attention.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nick Cassidy, but did you know...

Francesco Bagnaia won the Dutch TT, his fourth victory of the season. Marco Bezzecchi won the sprint race. Jake Dennis won the Moto2 race, his first career grand prix victory. Jaume Masià won the Moto3 race. Matteo Ferrari swept the MotoE races. 

The #25 BMW M Team RLL BMW of Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly was awarded the 6 Hours of the Glen victory after the #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche of Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet was disqualified for the skid block not meeting the minimum thickness. Porsche Penske Motorsport intends on protesting the result. 

The #04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR of Ben Hanley, George Kurtz and Nolan Siegel won in LMP2 at Watkins Glen. The #74 Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Fraga, Josh Burdon and Gar Robinson won in LMP3, its second consecutive victory. The #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth won in GTD Pro, its second victory of the season. The #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Frankie Montecalvo, Aaron Telitz and Parker Thompson won in GTD.

Ross Chastain won the NASCAR Cup race from Nashville. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race. Carson Hocevar won the Truck race, his second victory of the season.

Maro Engel and Ricardo Feller split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Zandvoort.

Sébastien Ogier won Safari Rally Kenya, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar is at Mid-Ohio.
NASCAR has a street race around Chicago's Grant Park.
Formula One heads up to the Austrian Alps.
The 24 Hours of Spa starts July this year.
World Superbike visit Donington Park.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Let's Look at the League - June 2023

We are near the halfway point of the IndyCar season and it is an off-week, that must mean it is time to look over the hypothetical league format for IndyCar.

As you may be aware, along with the regular championship, this looks at IndyCar as if it was a sports league with weekly head-to-head matchups and the teams split into different conferences with hopes of qualifying for a playoff or trying to avoid relegation. While the lowest teams from the top league go down, the best teams from the second division move up for the next season. 

We will start with League One and look over the standings through the first eight weeks of the 14-week regular season. 

League One:

Conference 1 (Top four go to the playoffs, fifth is safe, sixth and seventh to relegated playoff, eighth is relegated)

1. #10 Ganassi 7-1
St. Petersburg: WIN (4th to #21's 21st)
Texas: WIN (3rd to #27's 27th)
Long Beach: WIN (5th to #11's 8th)
Barber: LOSS (5th to #28's 2nd)
GPOI: WIN (1st to #3's 16th)
500: WIN (4th to #12's 23rd)
Detroit: WIN (1st to #7's 5th)
Road America: WIN (1st to #21's 12th)

2. #12 Penske 5-3
St. Petersburg: WIN (7th to #11's 11th)
Texas: LOSS (16th to #28's 14th)
Long Beach: WIN (6th to #21's 26th)
Barber: WIN (3rd to #27's 12th)
GPOI: LOSS (12th to #7's 3rd)
500: LOSS (23rd to #10's 4th)
Detroit: WIN (2nd to #3's 7th)
Road America: WIN (13th to #11's 24th)

3. #27 Andretti 5-3
St. Petersburg: LOSS (15th to #7's 4th)
Texas: LOSS (27th to #10's 3rd)
Long Beach: WIN (1st to #3's 10th)
Barber: LOSS (12th to #12's 3rd)
GPOI: WIN (14th to #11's 15th)
500: WIN (28th to #28's 30th)
Detroit: WIN (6th to #21's 18th)
Road America: WIN (9th to #7's 10th)

4. #3 Penske 4-4
St. Petersburg: WIN (13th to #28's 17th)
Texas: WIN (6th to #11's 28th)
Long Beach: LOSS (10th to #27's 1st)
Barber: WIN (1st to #21's 16th)
GPOI: LOSS (16th to #10's 1st)
500: LOSS (14th to #7's 5th)
Detroit: LOSS (7th to #12's 2nd)
Road America: WIN (8th to #28's 25th)

5. #7 McLaren 4-4
St. Petersburg: WIN (4th to #27's 15th)
Texas: LOSS (22nd to #21's 11th)
Long Beach: LOSS (22nd to #28's 2nd)
Barber: WIN (8th to #11's 11th)
GPOI: WIN (3rd to #12's 12th)
500: WIN (5th to #3's 14th)
Detroit: LOSS (5th to #10's 1st)
Road America: LOSS (10th to #27's 9th)

6. #28 Andretti 4-4
St. Petersburg: LOSS (17th to #3's 13th)
Texas: WIN (14th to #12's 16th)
Long Beach: WIN (2nd to #7's 22nd)
Barber: WIN (2nd to #10's 5th)
GPOI: WIN (11th to #21's 13th)
500: LOSS (30th to #27's 28th)
Detroit: LOSS (24th to #11's 8th)
Road America: LOSS (25th to #3's 8th)

7. #11 Ganassi 2-6
St. Petersburg: LOSS (11th to #12's 7th)
Texas: LOSS (28th to #3's 6th)
Long Beach: LOSS (8th to #10's 5th)
Barber: LOSS (11th to #7's 8th)
GPOI: LOSS (15th to #27's 14th)
500: WIN (7th to #21's 10th)
Detroit: WIN (8th to #28's 24th)
Road America: LOSS (24th to #12's 13th)

8. #21 Carpenter 1-7
St. Petersburg: LOSS (21st to #10's 4th)
Texas: WIN (11th to #7's 22nd)
Long Beach: LOSS (26th to #12's 6th)
Barber: LOSS (16th to #3's 1st)
GPOI: LOSS (13th to #28's 11th)
500: LOSS (10th to #11's 7th)
Detroit: LOSS (16th to #27's 6th)
Road America: LOSS (12th to #10's 1st)

Conference 1 Breakdown:
Best driver in IndyCar, it shouldn't be a surprise he is the best driver in this head-to-head format. When your worst finish is eighth, you are not going to lose many head-to-head matchups. Álex Palou's only defeat came when he finished fifth and Romain Grosjean was second at Barber Motorsports Park. 

Outside of Palou, it is pretty even. Will Power has the #12 Penske entry second on tiebreaker over Kyle Kirkwood in the #27 Andretti entry, as Kirkwood has recovered from a 1-3 start to be third.

There is a four-way tie for fourth and because the #3 Penske, #7 McLaren and #28 Andretti entries are all 1-1 head-to-head, these entries are ranked based on actual championship position. 

Despite Marcus Armstrong's good form as a rookie, the #11 Ganassi entry is still only seventh. Armstrong has lost each matchup in which he finished 11th and even lost after finishing eighth at Long Beach. Naturally, he lost to Palou at Long Beach. 

Ed Carpenter Racing's rough season is showing here as well. Rinus VeeKay is on the drop zone, but only a win behind the #11 Ganassi entry with six weeks remaining. 

Conference 1 is pretty top heavy and does not have any surprises. These teams are lined up how you would expect them. There are six weeks left. It feels like everyone in the top six could make the playoffs while the #11 Ganassi entry and #21 ECR entry will be competing not to be automatically relegated. 

Conference 2 (Top four go to the playoffs, fifth is safe, sixth and seventh to relegated playoff, eighth is relegated)

1. #26 Andretti 6-2
St. Petersburg: LOSS (20th to #5's 2nd)
Texas: WIN (7th to #8's 8th)
Long Beach: WIN (4th to #9's 27th)
Barber: WIN (14th to #2's 15th)
GPOI: WIN (9th to #18's 26th)
500: WIN (9th to #60's 25th)
Detroit: WIN (11th to #15's 25th)
Road America: LOSS (5th to #5's 3rd)

2. #9 Ganassi 6-2
St. Petersburg: WIN (3rd to #60's 26th)
Texas: LOSS (5th to #18's 4th)
Long Beach: LOSS (27th to #26's 4th)
Barber: WIN (7th to #15's 17th)
GPOI: WIN (6th to 8's 8th)
500: WIN (6th to #5's 24th)
Detroit: WIN (4th to #2's 10th)
Road America: WIN (4th to #60's 14th)

3. #8 Ganassi 5-3
St. Petersburg: WIN (1st to #15's 6th)
Texas: LOSS (8th to #26's 7th)
Long Beach: WIN (3rd to  #18's 20th)
Barber: WIN (10th to #60's 18th)
GPOI: LOSS (8th to #9's 6th)
500: LOSS (2nd to #2's 1st)
Detroit: WIN (9th to #5's 26th)
Road America: WIN (6th to #15's 11th)

4. #5 McLaren 5-3
St. Petersburg: WIN (2nd to #26's 20th)
Texas: WIN (2nd to #15's 24th)
Long Beach: LOSS (17th to #60's 15th)
Barber: WIN (4th to #18's 19th)
GPOI: WIN (2nd to #2's 7th)
500: LOSS (24th to #9's 5th)
Detroit: LOSS (26th to #8's 9th)
Road America: WIN (3rd to #26's 5th)

5. #2 Penske 4-4
St. Petersburg: LOSS (17th to #18's 10th)
Texas: WIN (1st to #60's 17th)
Long Beach: WIN (9th to #15's 12th)
Barber: LOSS (15th to #26's 14th)
GPOI: LOSS (7th to #5's 2nd)
500: WIN (1st to #8's 2nd)
Detroit: LOSS (10th to #9's 4th)
Road America: WIN (2nd to #18's 27th)

6. #18 Coyne 3-5
St. Petersburg: WIN (10th to #2's 17th)
Texas: WIN (4th to #9's 5th)
Long Beach: LOSS (20th to #8's 3rd)
Barber: LOSS (19th to #5's 4th)
GPOI: LOSS (26th to #26's 9th)
500: WIN (29th to #15's DNQ)
Detroit: LOSS (23rd to #60's 13th)
Road America: LOSS (27th to #2's 2nd)

7. #60 Meyer Shank 2-6
St. Petersburg: LOSS (26th to #9's 3rd)
Texas: LOSS (17th to #2's 1st)
Long Beach: WIN (15th to #5's 17th)
Barber: LOSS (18th to #8's 10th)
GPOI: LOSS (25th to #15's 10th)
500: LOSS (25th to #26's 9th)
Detroit: WIN (13th to #18's 23rd)
Road America: LOSS (14th to #9's 4th)

8. #15 RLLR 1-7
St. Petersburg: LOSS (6th to #8's 1st)
Texas: LOSS (24th to #5's 2nd)
Long Beach: LOSS (12th to #2's 9th)
Barber: LOSS (17th to #9's 7th)
GPOI: WIN (10th to #60's 25th)
500: LOSS (DNQ to #18's 29th)
Detroit: LOSS (25th to #26's 11th)
Road America: LOSS (11th to #8's 6th)

Conference 2 Breakdown:
Unlike Conference 1, Conference 2 has a few notable differences compared to real world results. For starters, the #26 Andretti entry leads the conference. This hasn't been Colton Herta's best season, but he has had some breaks, notably having 14th be enough to win at Barber and 11th be good enough at Detroit. Not to forget mentioning Herta is on top because he defeated Scott Dixon head-to-head at Long Beach.

Herta hasn't won a race and is first. Dixon hasn't won a race and is second. It hasn't been Dixon's worst season, but it hasn't been his greatest either. He does have the dubious distinction of having a fifth-place finish be a loss because David Malukas ended up fourth at Texas. I think this encapsulates Dixon’s consistency and shows even his worst days are better than most other’s good days. 

Patricio O'Ward has the #5 McLaren entry in third as the #5 McLaren has lost its three worst finishes this season, and to make it worse, O'Ward worst finish of the season at Detroit was when faced with Marcus Ericsson head-to-head, hence why the #8 Ganassi entry is third and the #5 McLaren is fourth.

The top two teams in Conference 2 have not won a race and three of the top four haven't won, and yet an entry that has won two races is fifth! Josef Newgarden may have won at Texas and Indianapolis, but he is 4-4, thanks in part to two duds early in the season at St. Petersburg and Barber, but Newgarden was also slightly off on days where O'Ward finished second and Dixon finished fourth.

Despite not having a top fifteen finish since Texas, David Malukas has the #18 Coyne entry in sixth, and Malukas may be the lucky one of the season because he was pair with the #15 RLLR entry for the Indianapolis 500, a race the #15 RLLR entry did not qualify for, so a victory by default. 

Rightfully so, the #60 Meyer Shank entry and the #15 RLLR entry occupy the bottom two positions, but both still have plenty of time to climb out of their respective holes. 

League Two (Top three automatically promoted)

1. #6 McLaren 7-2
St. Petersburg: BYE
Texas Qualifying: WIN (1st to #78's 19th)
Texas: LOSS (26th to #55's 13th)
Long Beach: WIN (7th to #14's 11th)
Barber: WIN (9th to #29's 23rd)
GPOI: WIN (5th to #77's 18th)
500 Qualifying: WIN (3rd to #45's 31st)
500: WIN (27th to #51's 31st)
Detroit: WIN (3rd to #06's 19th)
Road America: LOSS (20th to #20's 17th)

2. #45 RLLR 7-2
St. Petersburg: LOSS (9th to #77's 5th)
Texas Qualifying: BYE
Texas: WIN (19th to #51's 25th)
Long Beach: WIN (14th to #06's 21st)
Barber: WIN (6th to #20's 25th)
GPOI: WIN (4th to #30's 20th)
500 Qualifying: LOSS (31st to #6's 3rd)
500: WIN (19th to #78's 26th)
Detroit: WIN (17th to #55's 20th)
Road America: WIN (7th to #14's 16th)

3. #77 JHR 7-3
St. Petersburg: WIN (5th to #45's 9th)
Texas Qualifying: WIN (17th to #51's 23rd)
Texas: WIN (9th to #06's 10th)
Long Beach: WIN (19th to #20's 23rd)
Barber: WIN (13th to #30's 24th)
GPOI: LOSS (18th to #6's 5th)
500 Qualifying: LOSS (28th to #78's 27th)
500: WIN (12th to #55's 21st)
Detroit: LOSS (27th to #14's 21st)
Road America: WIN (18th to #29's 23rd)

4. #20 Carpenter 6-3
St. Petersburg: WIN (14th to #55's 27th)
Texas Qualifying: LOSS (18th to #14's 14th)
Texas: WIN (13th to #29's 23rd)
Long Beach: LOSS (23rd to #77's 19th)
Barber: LOSS (25th to #45's 6th)
GPOI: WIN (19th to #51's 27th)
500 Qualifying: WIN (16th to #06's 20th)
500: BYE
Detroit: WIN (15th to #30's 18th)
Road America: WIN (17th to #6's 20th)

5. #14 Foyt 5-4
St. Petersburg: LOSS (24th to #06's 23rd)
Texas Qualifying: WIN (14th to #20's 18th)
Texas: LOSS (21st to #30's 18th)
Long Beach: LOSS (11th to #6's 7th)
Barber: WIN (20th to #78's 26th)
GPOI: WIN (23rd to #55's 24th)
500 Qualifying: BYE
500: WIN (3rd to #29's 13th)
Detroit: WIN (21st to #77's 27th)
Road America: LOSS (16th to #45's 7th)

6. #55 Foyt 5-4
St. Petersburg: LOSS (27th to #20's 14th)
Texas Qualifying: WIN (13th to #30's 28th)
Texas: WIN (15th to #6's 26th)
Long Beach: WIN (24th to #78's 25th)
Barber: BYE
GPOI: LOSS (24th to #14's 23rd)
500 Qualifying: WIN (11th to #29's 26th)
500: LOSS (21st to #77's 12th)
Detroit: LOSS (20th to #45's 17th)
Road America: WIN (21st to #51's 22nd)

7. #06 Meyer Shank 4-5
St. Petersburg: WIN (23rd to #14's 24th)
Texas Qualifying: LOSS (21st to #29's 12th)
Texas: LOSS (10th to #77's 9th)
Long Beach: LOSS (21st to #45's 14th)
Barber: WIN (21st to #51's 27th)
500 Qualifying: LOSS (20th to #20's 16th)
500: WIN (15th to #30's 18th)
Detroit: LOSS (19th to #6's 3rd)
Road America: WIN (15th to #78's 19th)

8. #78 JHR 4-5
St. Petersburg: WIN (12th to #30's 22nd)
Texas Qualifying: LOSS (19th to #6's 1st)
Texas: BYE
Long Beach: LOSS (25th to #55's 24th)
Barber: LOSS (26th to #14's 20th)
GPOI: LOSS (21st to #29's 17th)
500 Qualifying: WIN (27th to #77's 28th)
500: LOSS (26th to #45's 19th)
Detroit: WIN (14th to #51's 22nd)
Road America: LOSS (19th to #06's 15th)

9. #51 Coyne 2-7
St. Petersburg: WIN (16th to #29's 26th)
Texas Qualifying: LOSS (23rd to #77's 17th)
Texas: LOSS (25th to #45's 19th)
Long Beach: BYE
Barber: LOSS (27th to #06's 21st)
GPOI: LOSS (27th to #20's 19th)
500 Qualifying: WIN (32nd to #30's 33rd)
500: LOSS (31st to #6's 27th)
Detroit: LOSS (22nd to #78's 14th)
Road America: LOSS (22nd to #55's 21st)

10. #29 Andretti 2-7 
St. Petersburg: LOSS (26th to #51's 16th)
Texas Qualifying: WIN (12th to #06's 21st)
Texas: LOSS (23rd to #20's 13th)
Long Beach: LOSS (16th to #30's 13th)
Barber: LOSS (23rd to #6's 9th)
GPOI: WIN (17th to #78's 21st)
500 Qualifying: LOSS (26th to #55's 11th)
500: LOSS (13th to #14's 3rd)
Detroit: BYE
Road America: LOSS (23rd to #77's 18th)

11. #30 RLLR 2-7
St. Petersburg: LOSS (22nd to #78's 12th)
Texas Qualifying: LOSS (28th to #55's 13th)
Texas: WIN (18th to #14's 21st)
Long Beach: WIN (13th to #29's 16th)
Barber: LOSS (24th to #77's 13th)
GPOI: LOSS (20th to #45's 4th)
500 Qualifying: LOSS (33rd to #51's 32nd)
500: LOSS (18th to #06's 15th)
Detroit: LOSS (18th to #20's 15th)
Road America: BYE

League Two Breakdown:
Because of the expanded size to League Two, it looks a little wonky. The #77 Juncos Hollinger entry has still yet to have its bye. 

The #6 McLaren has been one of the best this season, and it makes sense that Felix Rosenqvist is on top. I think this puts into context how Christian Lundgaard has done this season. While it has not been an easy season, the #45 RLLR entry has performed above expectation. Callum Ilott started the season well, but he has fallen down to earth. It will be curious to see if the #77 JHR entry can hang onto the final promotion spot. 

We know Conor Daly was relieved of his duties at Ed Carpenter Racing, but considering where Daly had the #20 ECR entry in the standings, maybe his season wasn't that bad. He was 5-3 before being fired, but it wasn't against the strongest competition, either way, the #20 ECR is in promotion contention. 

Both Foyt cars have been relatively competitive and are still in the fight as have been the #06 Meyer Shank entry and the #78 Juncos Hollinger entry. Meanwhile, arguably the three worst teams in IndyCar season are the bottom three in League Two, and after doing this for a handful of years, that is what we should expect to see. We should see it balance out where the teams that are regularly on top end up on top and the teams regularly at the bottom are on the bottom. There will still be occasional fluky runs of results where some teams head-to-head results are better than they actually are or worse than they actually are. Luck plays a significant role in head-to-head matchups.

Across the board, there is plenty to keep an eye on. Nothing is locked up in terms of playoff spots in League One as are the relegation spots and then the relegation playoff. There is still a lot of time for League Two for promotion as it is only in the halfway point in that season. We will follow up on the leagues in August when the playoffs are set. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Should This Have Been IndyCar's Doubleheader Weekend?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Formula One had rain on two days, but not race day. Red Bull hit a milestone. Ducati stomped the competition in Germany. Marc Márquez had five accidents and fractured a bone in his hand, keeping him from competing. There was a pair of photo finishes, including one for a first-time winner. Will Power was angry. Carlos Sainz, Jr. earned himself a penalty. NASCAR was off. Virginia International Raceway hosted some races. Álex Palou is on fire and the IndyCar championship is practically his. IndyCar was at a popular track, but one must wonder if it is the best place IndyCar can be on this weekend.

Should This Have Been IndyCar's Doubleheader Weekend?
IndyCar had a race this weekend, Road America, a fond weekend in the IndyCar schedule, the tipping point to the season. Eight races down, nine races remain, all that is left is the summer and in four months we will know who will be the 2023 IndyCar champion.

NASCAR did not have a race this weekend. It is the only true off-weekend during the NASCAR season. There were no races, and I mean there were no races. No Cup race. No Grand National Series race. No Truck race. Every national series was off. Starting next weekend, it will be 20 consecutive weeks for Cup, 19 of the next 20 weekends for the second-tier division (enjoy the weekend of September 30/October 1) and 11 of 20 weekends for the Truck series. 

After this weekend, IndyCar has nine races over eight race weekends over the next 12 weeks. Of those nine races, only three are head-to-head with Cup races (Toronto/Loudon, Iowa II/Pocono, Laguna Seca/Kansas). Mid-Ohio is effectively leading into the Chicago street course race, as is Nashville with Michigan and Portland with the Southern 500 at Darlington. The second IMS road course race for IndyCar is held on the same weekend with NASCAR at the Speedway, and the day before the Cup race. Gateway is the day after the Daytona night race. The first Iowa race is the day before the Cup race from Pocono, and should lead into the Grand National Series race from Pocono.

Head-to-head conflicts are unavoidable occasionally, but IndyCar's second most promoted weekend is the Iowa doubleheader. Hy-Vee is constantly running advertisements during IndyCar races. It is the most expensive ticket, especially with the musical acts. And yet, the Sunday race is held simultaneously with a NASCAR Cup race at Pocono. It has notable competition and that competition is on NBC properties nonetheless. For as much as Hy-Vee has done for the series, its big weekend should be in a spot where it has a little more of the spotlight for itself. 

This was NASCAR's only off weekend during the season. Wouldn't it make more sense for IndyCar's only doubleheader weekend, and one of only four oval weekends, to be held when no NASCAR is present? 

There was also the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend, so it wasn't a case of the afternoon being free of motorsports in the United States, but there was still a prime opportunity. NASCAR is still averaging around three million viewers for each Cup race. IndyCar is hovering around a million. As much as Formula One has grown in recent years, there is still a segment of motorsport viewers in the United States that are not going to be interested, especially NASCAR fans. 

Whether it is because of xenophobia, road courses, Red Bull domination, or something entirely different, there is always going to be a segment of the NASCAR viewership, again an average of three million people, that will not be interested. Those people might not be interested in IndyCar for many of the same reasons, but there could be a greater chance to get them to tune in for a pair of races at Iowa than a race around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. 

Road America is great, arguably the best we have in the United States, but road courses are always going to have detractors in the United States with ovals being the preferred track discipline in this country. With that being known, shouldn't IndyCar, which has a strong oval product, especially at Iowa, want that on display when NASCAR leaves a void? A certain viewer may not be interested in IndyCar at Road America or Portland or Mid-Ohio, but Iowa may catch their eye. 

Iowa was held in June for its first seven seasons on the IndyCar schedule before shifting into July. A month shift wouldn't be inconceivable. One of the issues with this weekend is NBC broadcasted the U.S. Open golf tournament this weekend. That is why Road America was on USA, one of three cable races this season. There was no room on network television for IndyCar, but would that be a bad thing? The television rating will be lower, but IndyCar could take a USA cable window and take more time. There wouldn't be a need to rush off air. The only thing that would be broadcasted around it are re-runs of Law & Order SVU or some other films. 

IndyCar could also use NASCAR's off weekend to its advantage. Those NASCAR drivers will not be busy, and Kyle Larson is already scheduled to attempt the Indianapolis 500 next year and in 2025. If Larson isn't busy, why not also run Iowa and get a little more seat time? Why couldn't Iowa be an open weekend for two or three NASCAR drivers to sample IndyCar? If any of them want to run the Indianapolis 500 they will need to get seat time somewhere. Iowa is far different from Indianapolis, but it could be a good way to get a feel for how the car handles and get used to the buttons and doing a live pit stop. 

It could also be used as a way for NBC to promote its NASCAR coverage, which starts this weekend. Two or three NASCAR drivers are at Iowa, NASCAR is back on NBC the following weekend. Motorsports synergy at its finest, plus, if Jimmie Johnson can finish in the top five at Iowa, why couldn't a few other NASCAR drivers do the same? 

Road America is fine this weekend, but there should be a strategy to the schedule. You can run Road America this weekend, but is that maximizing this weekend for the series? With the race being on cable it is always going to be a matter of taking a loss, but how can it get the most out of a unideal situation? Running two races, the doubleheader weekend, at one of the few oval tracks on the schedule but at a track that has produced its fair share of impression racing could be enough to catch a few eyeballs.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Álex Palou, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Canadian Grand Prix, his fourth consecutive victory and his sixth of the season. It was Red Bull's 100th grand prix victory.

Jorge Martín won MotoGP's German Grand Prix as well as the sprint race. Pedro Acosta won the Moto2 race, his second consecutive victory and fourth of the season. Deniz Öncü won the Moto3 race, his first career victory. Jordi Torres and Héctor Garzó split the MotoE races.

Nolan Siegel won the Indy Lights race from Road America, his sand victory of the season. Michael d'Orlando and Lirim Zendeli split the USF Pro 2000 races. Simon Sikes and Lochie Hughes split the U.S. F2000 races.

Mark Winterbottom, Broc Feeney and Jack Le Brocq split the Supercars races from Hidden Valley Raceway.

Ritomo Miyata won the Super Formula race from Sportsland SUGO, his second victory of the season.

The #9 TR3 Racing Mercedes-AMG of Kenton Koch and Danial Morad and the #04 CrowdStrike Racing by Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG of Colin Braun and George Kurtz split the GT World Challenge America races from Virginia International Raceway. The #92 Random Vandals Racing BMW of Kevin Boehm and Kenton Koch and the #41 Auto Tech Racing BMW of Zac Anderson and JCD Dubets split the GT4 America races. Todd Treffert and Memo Gidley split the GT America races.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP has its final round before its summer break, the Dutch TT.
FormulaE makes its first visit to Portland.
IMSA has the 6 Hours of the Glen with 57 entries.
NASCAR will run at night from Nashville Superspeedway.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters heads to Zandvoort.
The World Rally Championship contests the Safari Rally from Kenya.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

First Impressions: Road America 2023

1. The championship is over. With Álex Palou's third victory of the season, the Spaniard has a 74-point lead over Marcus Ericsson with nine races remaining. We aren't halfway through the season, but it is done. Palou has this. Why? Not only is this Palou's third victory of the season, it is his seventh consecutive top five finish and his worst finish this season is eighth. Palou doesn't put a wheel wrong. The team doesn't beat itself. This group isn't going to trip up anytime soon. 

Even the bad days are good. The Indianapolis 500 would have been a disaster for any other team if it had contact exiting the pit lane after leading most of the early stages. Instead, Palou drove his buns off and finished fourth. 

Palou doesn't even have double points padding his championship lead. This is all naturally, baby, and Palou is by far the best driver in IndyCar. He isn't going to lose any races. If he is averaging a finish of 3.5 through eight races, even if he takes step back and only averages a seventh or eighth for the remainder of the season, nobody is going to come close. 

Even if someone matches the tear Palou has been on for the first half of the season in the final nine races that will not be enough to take the championship. This is over. The question is whether Palou is hoisting the Astor Cup in Portland or Laguna Seca or maybe he does it Gateway. 

2. Josef Newgarden is going to put up a fight for Palou, but second isn't going to be good enough, especially if Palou is winning races. We know Newgarden could do it. In 2020, he clawed himself back into the championship battle after Scott Dixon had a gargantuan championship lead and that was with a double points Indianapolis 500. 

Newgarden is 81 points back with nine races to go. That is nine points per race he must make up. I know I just said Palou has locked up this championship, but Newgarden can do that. There is still a doubleheader at Iowa ahead of us. We will know whether Newgarden has a legitimate shot after those two races. Today was a good day. Definitely worthy of a podium result.

3. This wasn't Patricio O'Ward's best race. It is kind of startling that O'Ward finished third after losing so many spots at the start, some of which were self-inflicted after blocking Santino Ferrucci. It felt like another race where O'Ward was going to overstep it and lose out big time. He settled into this race and made up spots late. Considering how the last two races have gone, pulling out a third today is a massive result for O'Ward and McLaren.

4. Start 23rd, finish fourth, who else but Scott Dixon? Oh, and he did it in a backup car. Dixon was clinical today. He avoided some trouble, which gave him a few spots, but he was making passes and getting more out of the alternate tires than others. Only Scott Dixon can pull out results like this. It really was the drive of the day. Last season, Dixon had a significantly better second half of his season compared to the first half. He could be on his way to repeating that in 2023.

5. Andretti Autosport has a Ph.D. in stupid, and Andretti Autosport cost itself another race victory today. This should have been Colton Herta's first victory in over a year. Herta led 33 laps from pole position and was close to untouchable, but Andretti Autosport just does not know how to win races. The team brought Herta in for his final pit stop with 15 laps remaining and the fuel save in the closing laps not only cost Herta a victory, he went from first to fifth. 

There was no reason why Herta had to come in with 15 laps remaining. He could have come in with 14 laps to go, like Palou, Newgarden, O'Ward and Dixon all did. Herta may have been able to hang on until 13 laps to go. A team could make it to the finish from 15 laps to go, but not at the pace necessary to win today. Andretti Autosport had control. It was on serve and it double faulted mightily. 

There really is no excuse. This is a massive loss for the team. Herta might be the highest paid driver in IndyCar but that comes with a cost and that cost at the moment is driving for the most inept team strategically in IndyCar. I hope the money is worth because Herta isn't going to be close to earning the Super License points necessary of qualifying for Formula One anytime soon.

6. Most times a sixth-place finish after a few tough moments in the middle of the field would be a great day for a driver. When one of your teammates wins and another finishes fourth, sixth is a disappointment. I don't want to say Marcus Ericsson should be devastated with this result, but he wasn't in the same zip code as Palou today, and that is the man to beat. 

I know Ericsson is second in the championship, but just finishing in the top ten isn't going to be enough. He is doing well, but Ericsson is more likely to lose a handful of spots in the championship than maintain second. 

7. For all the problems Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has exhibited in recent weeks, Christian Lundgaard is doing a remarkable job and his third consecutive top ten finish on permanent road courses should be raising some eyebrows. These aren't some lucky results either. In all three races, Lundgaard qualified in the top ten as well. In one of them, Lundgaard started on pole position. The #45 team is finding some speed, and it is good. RLLR might be lost but it isn't that far off if Lundgaard is consistently qualifying and finishing in the top ten on road courses. 

This team should see this result as a positive even if there is plenty of work to do. The biggest concern is somebody is going to snag Lundgaard if he keeps doing this.

8. Scott McLaughlin pulled out an eighth-place result today. Nothing stellar, but a good day. McLaughlin was racy but he was stuck in the middle of the field. It is hard to believe his only top five finish this season is his Barber Motorsports Park victory. It feels like we have seen good days from McLaughlin this year but they haven't quite been there. McLaughlin is still going to be a threat throughout the rest of this season, but I think through eight races he would see the results a tad underwhelming. 

9. Kyle Kirkwood spun at the start, had to serve a penalty for avoidable contact, which was dropping to the rear of the field under green flag conditions and then he was balked coming into his pit box when Marcus Armstrong had an unsafe release, and despite all this, Kirkwood ended up ninth! This is one race after being run over at the start of Detroit and finishing sixth. If Kirkwood can make it through the opening lap in one of these race he could end up with a second victory before we know it. 

I know I said Dixon had the drive of the day, but Kirkwood has a strong case, and for a driver who made numerous mistakes last season and cost himself plenty of respectable results, Kirkwood has turned around plenty of disastrous results into something impressive this season. He has a victory, but races like Detroit and Road America show much greater growth. 

10. New team, same old struggles on alternate tires, Alexander Rossi's stint on the alternate compound cost him and that is partly why ended up tenth in this race. This day should have been better. He was better than O'Ward all weekend. He was better than I would say eight of the other nine guys in the top ten all weekend, and yet Rossi is tenth. 

Rossi was the fastest driver in every practice, but when it matters most, Rossi was fifth in the final round of qualifying and wasn't a threat for pole position. In the race, one stint took him out of contention. Rossi was never going to win this race, but he should have finished at least in the top five. It felt like entering qualifying we were on the verge of Rossi's McLaren breakthrough, but something always seems to go wrong. It feels like it should happen, but will it? 

11. Graham Rahal said he was having some back issues before this race, but despite those issues, Rahal still finished 11th. Road America has always been one of Rahal and RLLR's better tracks. This was a good weekend for the team. The team wants to be better, but this is a stepping stone that must be taken. Let's see how this group does at Mid-Ohio.

12. I am covering both Ed Carpenter Racing drivers here. Rinus VeeKay was 12th, but probably, definitely should have had a penalty for spinning Felix Rosenqvist. How that wasn't avoidable contact is baffling. VeeKay also had an unsafe release. It wasn't a great day but considering how things have been for ECR, VeeKay will take it.

Ryan Hunter-Reay did a good job in his first race with the team, finishing 17th. Hunter-Reay ran all the laps. If he had not brought out a red flag in the first round of qualifying, he likely starts better than 27th. That set Hunter-Reay back today. Let's see what steps he and ECR takes heading into Mid-Ohio. 

13. Will Power had a weekend from hell, accident in practice with Scott Dixon, poor qualifying run, and he was forced off strategy after the team could not get the car full of fuel on one pit stop. Power salvaged a 13th-place finish today. This championship defense is not going to plan. Taking into account the terrible qualifying results, Power is off this season. His wife has had some health concerns. It is understandable if Power is distracted. Things were on the verge of boiling over this weekend. 

14. Meyer Shank Racing had Simon Pagenaud finish 14th and Hélio Castroneves finish 15th. This is a step forward for the team. Pagenaud at least looked competitive today and was racing again some bigger names. The team still has some work to do. It wasn't that close to cracking the top ten. 

15. Santino Ferrucci was 16th in what was a little disappointing of a day. Ferrucci started 11th and spent much of the first stint in the top ten, but then he lost some spots in a pit cycle and he had a brief moment heading off course after racing his teammate Benjamin Pedersen. It could have been worse, but could have been better. Pedersen had an off at the start and he went from tenth to outside the top twenty immediately. Pedersen never recovered and ended up 21st.

16. Let's crack through the rest of the grid. Juncos Hollinger Racing is stuck at the moment. Callum Ilott was 18th with Agustín Canapino in 19th. I think we are waiting for JHR to have another one of those breakthrough weekends. It feels like the team is due. We know Ilott can do it. JHR cannot find the pace this season. 

Dale Coyne Racing failed to have a top twenty finisher for the fourth consecutive race. David Malukas broke down. It wasn't going to be a stellar day but it was going to be better than 20th. Sting Ray Robb had an off and was 22nd. 

17. Felix Rosenqvist was spun off after Rinus VeeKay made contact. Rosenqvist drove back into the top ten, an incredible recovery drive, but the last stint did not go his way and Rosenqvist finished 20th, a harsh weekend for him. 

18. Speaking of harsh weekends, Marcus Armstrong was in the thick of it for a top five finish, but he didn't stop under caution in the middle of the race, a questionable choice, but somewhat understandable as the team could have gone another five laps before Armstrong had to stop. It was setting up a short penultimate stint on the alternate tire, but the team didn't stay out long enough to open a gap. Armstrong got stuck in traffic, had to make an additional stop and then he spun off late. 

This should have been at least a top ten result, instead it was 24th and it wasn't really on the driver. 

19. Devlin DeFrancesco lost spots the entire race and finished 23rd, but Romain Grosjean looked like he lost his mind today. Grosjean spun off on his own, he dropped a tire a few other times. He just didn't look comfortable today. His season has unraveled. Entering the month of May, it felt like Grosjean was arguably the best driver this season though the results didn't match it. Halfway through June, he is far from being one of the ten best this season. 

20. Another difficult day for Jack Harvey, botching a restart while already at the back of the field. Harvey cannot afford to overdrive the car. Sometimes just getting the car home and completing all the laps will be enough for a good results, at least something better than where a driver starts. RLLR already made some engineering changes. There is one spot left open to change. 

21. This was not a great day from race control. 

One, there was holding the caution until after every car entered pit lane for the Grosjean spit and stall in turn three. If every car was going to pit and all the cars were beyond pit in when Grosjean stalled, there was no need to hold the caution. The caution should have come out and then everyone could stop then. It likely could have prevented some, if not all, the unsafe releases. 

Then there were the penalties. Kirkwood was penalized for avoidable contact when he bumped the rear of O'Ward at the start, sending O'Ward a little wide and costing O'Ward some positions. Kirkwood spun, was at the rear of the field and was still penalized. VeeKay hit the rear of Rosenqvist entering turn three and there was no penalty. 

That doesn't line up. 

The O'Ward block was the right call, but then Graham Rahal was called for one that didn't look like much, especially because of the way the straightaway bends heading into Canada corner. 

Then on the unsafe release penalties, Armstrong came out and cut off Kirkwood, forcing Kirkwood to miss his pit stall and costing Kirkwood positions. VeeKay cut off Pagenaud, but Pagenaud was still able to get into his pit box, though delayed. VeeKay also served the same penalty. 

Not long ago, an unsafe release was to the back of the line. This one-position penalty is quite a forgiving change of heart. Considering how tough these penalties have been in the past, to reduce these penalties to giving back a spot here and there is awfully kind, almost too kind. It is almost like if roughing the passer went from 15 yards and an automatic first down to just five yards and a replay of the down. That is a big change. 

IndyCar had done thing consistently for such a long time that these changes are too much in the other direction. I don't think anyone was calling for less strict penalties. I think some of these calls were fitting for the infractions. It is unclear why race control wants to be less stringent in some of these cases. It feels like race control doesn't want to play the bad guy ever. I am not sure we should want race control to take such a stance. 

Then there was the free-for-all natural of the start and restart where cars again are darting out of line and attempting runs from six cars back to make a pass. The start and restart procedure must be adjusted. Again, it is too kind to let the drivers do whatever they want. There shouldn't be an issue with cars holding their positions until the start/finish line. It would at least clean up the mess.

22. The re-pave didn't take any of the luster out of Road America. It was another brilliant race. Now we have two weeks until Mid-Ohio.