Welcome to the IndyCar Round Table! Several times throughout the season, your favorite writers will get together to discuss the latest IndyCar news, rumors and so much more!
This Week’s Participants:
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch IndyCar Editor / NHRA Pace Laps)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / NASCAR’s Four Burning Questions)
Huston Ladner (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer / Happiness Is)
Toni: First thing I think we should discuss is the Long Beach race. There’s a couple aspects that come to mind: Hunter-Reay’s move and the criticism of it, Mike Conway winning already in Carpenter’s car and what a great arrangement that may turn out to be, the great crowd on hand, or the fact that they’ve locked the event in until 2018.
Matt: Let’s focus on the criticism of the move. That’s a big one.
Huston: Let it rip.
Toni: Personally, I think if you are Hunter-Reay, you understand that your best chance to get by this guy in front of you is going to be while he’s got cold tires and can’t really defend to the extent that he can once he gets warmed up. I think that’s thing number one and I think that’s Hunter-Reay’s thought process, to some extent. I also think he’s thinking, at that particular point, he’s clearly got the faster car and if he can get the nose in there, surely Newgarden will give him the line.
Long Beach generated some hard racing amongst Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef NewGarden. But did Hunter-Reay take things too far?
Huston: I’ll start off by stating that RHRhad the fastest car up until that point. His qualifying effort, taking the pole, also showed how strong he was. While Conway was having a decent, if not better than decent day, RHR should still have been able to pass him. Now, as for the tires… yeah, Conway’s were going to come up to temperature at some point, but RHR could have waited even just half a lap and still been able to pounce.
Matt: Anyways, let me say that I honestly applaud RHR for going for it all in the manner that he did. It’s become increasingly rare these days to see drivers really lay it all on the line like they used to in the days of yore, so when I see attempts like RHR made at Long Beach, it excites me and reminds me that these drivers still have that burning desire to win that is often hidden behind their normal PR-driven personas.
Huston: Got no problem with that, Matt. The move, though, seemed a bit eager. Bit of patience there would have done wonders.
Matt: Oh, it certainly would have. His execution could certainly be criticized. But the underlying desire to get the lead at all costs? That should be applauded.
Toni: Here’s the thing though that we sometimes forget — and what I saw from that move. Yes, patience would have done wonders, but these guys are not perfect, and I agree with Matt. It’s refreshing to see a guy make a move trying to go for it, even if it didn’t work out. Lots of drivers have made lots of bold moves that worked out and lots of drivers have made bold moves that didn’t. This is just one of those that didn’t.
Matt: Precisely, Toni.
Huston: Graham Rahal and Will Power both felt the need to make bold moves during the race — only difference is that they didn’t start a chain reaction mess. Had RHRtaken out just himself and Newgarden, maybe it’s not such a big deal.
Matt: Sometimes bold moves work, sometimes they don’t. I just hope the storm of criticism that followed that move doesn’t deter drivers from being aggressive from now on.
Huston: Nah, the drivers in top equipment are all uber-competitive. I don’t see it deterring them much.
Toni: I agree, Matt. I don’t think it will because when it comes down to that type of situation, those guys aren’t thinking about whether or not people will criticize a move if it doesn’t pay off. They’ll be thinking about whether they can win if it does.
Huston: The person who has to be fuming is Hinch-town, who is now off to a miserable start.
Matt: It’s still early, I wouldn’t fret too much about Hinch. He’s had rotten luck though.
Huston: I don’t know, Matt. He’s in 22nd place at this point — gotta feel those first two races have already crippled his championship aspirations. If only there were a way for him to win and then be in like a playoff situation or something… (Har, no Chase please.)
Toni: Did anyone think though a couple of years ago when Conway said he didn’t want to run ovals any more that he had any chance at a career in IndyCar?
Matt: Yeah, that comment has intrigued me ever since it was uttered.
Huston: Conway and Carpenter have an awesome arrangement — kudos should be thrown at Carpenter for realizing his limitations.
Matt: Ed Carpenter is one of the best owners in motorsports.
Toni: I agree Huston. They can’t win a driver’s championship but they have found a way to make that Fuzzy’s car a part of the conversation every week. Conway doesn’t want to run ovals. No problem – Carpenter kicks tail on them. Carpenter can’t get the hang of road courses. No problem – Conway has that part down. The last thing I’d like to talk about as far as Long Beach before we move on is the crowd. Excellent crowd, but then they usually have a good crowd at Long Beach. But what I wonder is should we even be encouraged by that because they always have a good crowd because it’s the Long Beach Grand Prix, 40 years strong. And really, I am not sure they care much what kind of cars — it’s just “the” cool event to go to.
Matt: The promoting staff has done a great job there. They’ve really done an awesome job selling the history and prestige of the event while simultaneously providing the fans with a lot to do around the track.
Toni: I mean, I know we’ve said before about other events trying to build attendance that they need to make it an “event” which is what Long Beach is, but how do you do that? They’ve had 40 years and a lot of star power to do that in Long Beach. How do you create that in Milwaukee, for example?
Huston: I’m not sure that “encouraged” should be the word. Pleased, works. They’re able to keep a good crowd coming back. They also do a good job of generating interest for the event, as the drivers make appearances all over SoCal. But chalking it up, Long Beach is basically holding steady. In today’s climate, that should be considered some kind of win.
Matt: Overall, A+ to the promoting staff for LB.
Huston: As for your Milwaukee question… I’ve never been able to figure out why that race, and seemingly all the big series races there, have failed to do well of late. It’s one of the nation’s most historic tracks. Bewildering.
Matt: Yeah, I really have no answer to that one. Bewildering really.
Toni: Huston has a good point in one sense though. Given the climate in motorsports these days, maybe we should just be glad it’s holding steady. Kudos to the promoters in Long Beach for that.
Matt: Ovals always look worse in terms of attendance just because of the structure of the grandstands.
Huston: Yeah, but Milwaukee isn’t that big, and the stands have not been close to capacity.
Toni: That’s a good point. I also think it’s harder to make an “event” out of an oval weekend. I don’t know exactly why, but it is. You can make an event out of a street course because you can get that street festival feel I think. Maybe it’s because it’s right in a town. On an oval, it’s just more difficult to capture that.
Matt: Yeah, part of that is just because the ovals are comparatively tinier and harder to put a lot of “stuff” around.
Huston: Ah, so what you’re both saying is that the racing isn’t the most important part of the deal.
Matt: For IndyCar, not in the slightest.
Toni: As much as I hate to say that, as far as having an “event” and getting a crowd, no. Long Beach proves it. F1, CART, IndyCar. It doesn’t matter what’s on the track. It’s still the Long Beach Grand Prix and it’s an event and they come out for it. It’s certainly not been an IndyCar race for 40 years. Even though that’s the series that celebrated the anniversary with them.
Matt: It’s almost like Indy. It’s bigger than the sport itself, in some regards, and can almost stand on its own.
Huston: Eh, well, you take what you can get, right?
Toni: I will. We’ll take those couple of big events a year — and worry about trying to grow the rest. On to the next! We’re going to Alabama this week. We’re two races in — any trends developing? Also, we have the Indy Road Course race before we have another of these discussions so now is the time to air our thoughts on that.
Matt: Trends? If anything, I’m seeing a fair deal of parity right now. Lots of different cars/drivers up front. The trend has almost been the lack of any notable trends. I expect we’ll have a clearer picture after the Indy Road race.
Huston: Yeah, it’s tough to draw any conclusions from a two-race sample size.
Toni: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to establish patterns after only two races sometimes. At least not if one team hasn’t completely gone out and dominated. Which they haven’t.
Huston: If Power had taken the pole at LB and then won, that would have been easy — but at the least, his 1 – 2 finishes have given him a fantastic start.
Matt: Penske and Andretti look the strongest thus far. Ganassi is there, too but they seem to be just a touch off the other two right now. I certainly don’t think it’s anything for Ganassi fans to fret about, though.
Huston: Was thinking the same thing, Matt. Perhaps their new driver lineup is causing a moment of adjustment.
Toni: Ganassi changed manufacturers so I don’t think they need to hit the panic button just yet.
Matt: I think the driver shake up is definitely throwing them for a minor loop, Huston.
Toni: And the new driver lineup too — good point, Huston.
Huston: Hard to replace someone of Franchitti’s talent.
Toni: Just things to get used to that are new for them. New chemistry that needs to come together.
Toni: Let’s talk about something looking ahead. I don’t want to overlook Alabama this week but we are about to head off to Indy for May.
Matt: I am very much intrigued by the Indy road race. It’s going to be on ABC so I’m extremely curious to see how much it “moves the needle,” so to speak.
Huston: Good question, Matt. With the ESPN/ABC hype machine promoting the race, it should get a few eyes more than ones on NBCSN — but how many?
Matt: I’m guessing it’ll attract more eyes than St. Pete did. It is “Indy,” after all.
Toni: I’m not sure what to say. It depends on if they can really sell it as part of “Indy,” I think. Really make it part of the package of the month of May and not just a separate race.
Matt: I honestly didn’t like the move at first but the road course race has grown on me immensely. It’s a great “prelude” of sorts.
Huston: Really — what didn’t you like about the move?
Matt: I’m honestly pretty satisfied with how it is now. I think they’ll evaluate how the schedule works in the current format and if it’s successful, keep it. If not, maybe move it closer to the 500.
Toni: See, I like it. I may be giving more credit than is due here, but it seems to me if you can successfully package this as part of the whole “Indy” month of May deal and get those eyes, it goes a long way to sell the REST of the series. We talk about all the time how Indy almost stands alone, how so many people show up for just that one race and not the rest. We even go so far as to say we wish they had a bunch of ovals directly after Indy to keep the interest of those people who tuned in for the 500. But the reality of the series is not that. It’s ovals, but it’s also road and street courses, even more so than ovals really. So if you can give people a taste of that as part of what they will tune in for — Indy in May — I think that can go a long way toward selling the rest of the series.
Huston: Sorry Matt, thought you said you didn’t like it at first, and I wondered why your first reaction was a negative one.
Matt: I think my first reaction was negative because it seemed like a PR grab at first, but after some thought, it really does make sense.
Huston: Ah, you were playing the role of the old fuddy duddy who doesn’t like change when it was announced. Kidding. I thought it was a smart move from the get-go. Everyone’s there already prepping for the 500. Why not make more use of everyone’s time? And it helps fill the schedule, which we all know is a mess.
Matt: I honestly was at that point! So silly of me in retrospect.
Huston: That’s all good, it’s one of the challenges that motorsports faces nowadays.
Matt: It’s funny you mention that, because “old-fuddy-duddyism” is a massive pet peeve of mine regarding the motorsports community. It’s taken some time to accept it, but I dig the GP of Indianapolis.
Toni: Mine too, Matt. I’m so tired of hearing “that’s not the way we do things — we’ve always done it THIS way” whenever anything new is suggested.
Huston: Yeah, there tends to be a conservative mindset towards changes that it seems to hinder smart moves.
Toni: I’m looking forward to the GP of Indianapolis. For me, I am an old-timer as far as how long I’ve been following, but I’ve never understood why the resistance. WhyCAN’T you run Indy cars on the road course that is already there? Just because we’ve not done it before? So what?
Huston: Right. Never mind that F1 cars used to run the course.
Toni: F1 cars used to run the Long Beach course. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Matt: Fuddyduddyism has always perplexed me, especially in NASCAR (looking at you, Chase haters). But that’s a story for another day.
Huston: What?! We’re not going to debate the merits of the Chase here? Ha!