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: This one may not be terribly long anyway since it’s been so slow….
Huston: Indycar = crickets.
Matt: IndyCar could learn a thing or two from World Cup about how to promote.
Toni: I know. Crazy as it sounds, that’s actually my first talking point.
Matt: Since that’s been robbing IndyCar of attention.
Toni: I know the break is nice but shouldn’t they have been doing SOMETHING?
Matt: Such is life in the world of a third tier sport these days. Itt’s sad, but its reality.
Toni: They have essentially fallen off the planet.
Huston: They certainly have. I thought they’d be trying to get the international drivers tied to the WC in some kind of way…making appearances in Brazil, etc.
Toni: Yeah but here’s an insider thing for our readers–we all get the series press releases, don’t we? Usually there’s one every day, or at least a couple per week, right?
Huston: Usually, but right now they’ve been scant and the news skimpy.
Toni: Have you been seeing them prior to today? What? Maybe one or two, if that?
Matt: Wasn’t the schedule contraction supposed to prevent this?
Toni: I know everyone is on summer vacation but come on, those people are getting paid to publicize their sport. Come up with SOMETHING!
Matt: Not even a test or anything has made the news
Toni: Graham Rahal went to the drag races last weekend, since he was off. There’s something to put out. A bunch of drivers have tested at Pocono. I got more from Pocono than INDYCAR on that.
Huston: Same. And have you visited the IndyCar site, it just seems like they’re going through the motions.
Matt: That speaks volumes right there
Toni: I know Huston and I both struggled for column ideas since nothing was coming out. We can’t be the only media who had that issue. Help us out here! I can forgive going on hiatus during the offseason and putting out sporadic news. I can’t so much forgive it when you are a series trying to find an audience and it’s just a couple of weeks break time in the middle of the season. The world will forget about you.
Matt: That absolute snoozer of a race in Texas certainly didn’t help. Terrible, terrible race. They haven’t had a single good aero package since 2011 for that race.
Huston: Wow, you really couldn’t deal with that one, eh? I didn’t think Texas was as bad as you. Just curious, what made you think Texas was so bad?
Toni: I didn’t think Texas was that bad either.
Matt: That track used to be a really nice combination of draft-racing and tire-management. Drivers actually used to RACE each other at Texas. Now, the drivers just pray their tires hold up and the “battles” consist of one guy just blowing by another guy who’s tires went off. Ed has, what, a 15 second lead at one point. Come on, that shouldn’t be happening at Texas.
Huston: Well doesn’t that make tire management a key idea again? I mean, it seemed like Andretti was out to lunch in their set-ups for that race, as they couldn’t manage their tires for the life of them.
Matt: That’s the thing, it’s all about a balance. Tires need to be important, but they shouldn’t be the ONLY factor that matters in the race. I personally thought the 2011 events at Texas were a really nice combination of everything. The racing was close and drafty, but tires were still a factor. I’ve long felt that IndyCar “overcorrected” after the Vegas fiasco in terms of the 1.5 mile product.
Huston: Having Andretti be non-competitive didn’t help the race much. What does Toni have to offer here?
Toni: I agree that the racing at Texas has been, well, weird, since Vegas. And I don’t know exactly what to do to fix that other than stop trying to make it safer because we’re all scared of the track. That being said, this package was better than last year for sure.
Huston: I think it’s kind of funny, and I hate to do this…but to compare the Indy Texas race with the Cup Michigan race kind of gives an idea of how wonderful it was for tire management to be key.
Toni: What I do find odd is that we always say we want more ovals but a lot of oval tracks in this country are like Texas. So we need to keep in mind not all the tracks are really suitable for these cars.
Huston: True Toni, however, fans would also love to see visits to places like Phoenix or Richmond.
Matt: The car is not necessarily the problem, the aero package and tire combination is the issue. Because Indy had an absolutely perfect balance of everything in my opinion (different style track, I know). Richmond wouldn’t be that great I don’t think, last IndyCar race at Richmond had 1 lead change I believe.
Toni: But that’s the problem–completely different style track so it doesn’t translate. And they haven’t been able to figure out how to get that effect at Texas. I do believe they’ve been trying. But yes, perhaps they have been doing so in an overly cautious manner.
Matt: Texas used to be a draft-heavy track, and Indy used to not be as draft intensive. Now, the two have flip-flopped. That tells me that there has to be a way to make both places race competitively (Indy is already there, though).
Huston: So, question for you Matt…do you think that racing Michigan would give you the bang-for-the-buck that you want? It’s been a possible rumored addition
Matt: Absolutely. Michigan is an ideal track for IndyCar.
Toni: Ah, Michigan. There were some glorious races there in years past.
I’d be happy to see it return.
Huston: Interesting. I’m not so confident that it would be great…but I’d love to be surprised.
Matt: Michigan and Auto Club are about as perfect as you can get for IndyCar.
Huston: Auto Club had 6 cars finish on the lead lap last year.
Matt: Michigan would probably look similar to Indy, with more two-three wide stuff.
Toni: I approach Auto Club with a different mindset personally.
Matt: Yes, but a lot of that at Auto Club was due to attrition and such.
Toni: I see that race as a test of endurance. Hard, hard, hard race going all those miles at those speeds. I don’t expect many cars to finish at all, let alone on the lead lap. So the attrition does not bother me.
Matt: IndyCar at Auto Club reminds me a lot of the 2010-era Daytona for Sprint Cup cars.
Toni: IndyCar at Auto Club has a certain throwback air for me.
Huston: I was just wondering, because really, I didn’t see a serious amount of difference between Texas 2014 and Auto Club 2013 — except that Andretti barely showed up to Texas
Toni: This is probably going to sound insane, but in racing, not just IndyCar, I mean all of it, at one time, attrition was not some weird anomaly, it was the norm.
Matt: To my eye, there is more wheel to wheel battling and slingshot draft passes at Auto Club. Texas used to provide that but it doesn’t anymore.
Huston: Sure, part of the whole point of racing was pushing the limits of the equipment.
Matt: In truth, my beef with Texas right now is that it used to be something fun, special, and exciting and it feels like its been neutered.
Huston: You know what’s weird about both Texas and AC? Will Power excelling at them. Didn’t see that coming.
Matt: I never would have predicted that.
Huston: Don’t think anyone would/could have.
Toni: Oh my God. Will Power excelling on ovals. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. excelling on a road course. What has the world come to!
You think they swapped cars and didn’t tell anyone?
Huston: Ssshhh, you’re spilling the secret.
Matt: Next, Ed Carpenter is going to win a street race and Kasey Kahne is going to excel at a plate track.
Toni: Ed Carpenter is a freakin’ genius. Let me just throw that out there.
Huston: Yeah…whatcha got?
Matt: Love love love watching Ed on ovals.
Huston: I wanted to know what brought on Toni’s comment.
Toni: Nothing new, I just mean this tandem deal with Conway has been stellar. That car is part of the conversation every single week.
Huston: And yeah, he’s pretty damn good on those oval things.
Toni: I suspect it may have worked out even better than he originally hoped. I mean let’s think about this. That little team has a car that’s running with the big teams every week now.
Huston: It’s fantastic. There are 2-car teams that don’t run nearly as well as Ed‘s team, they’ve got it going on.
Matt: I really don’t know what to attribute it to other than just hard work and serious know-how.
Huston: So just bouncing onto something else…thoughts going on to Houston?
Toni: Does anyone know if they’ve tweaked the circuit for this year?
Matt: I sure hope so.
Toni: If I am recalling correctly, there were some complaints about some of the corners last year. And then Franchitti’s incident didn’t help quell those concerns.
Toni: And I haven’t heard anything about it.
Huston: Just checked, seems they did a bunch of safety improvements, mainly with fencing, but also removed a couple cement bumps, mainly on the main frontstretch.
Matt: The races themselves were pretty hectic last year from what I remember.
Huston: Other than Dario’s accident, I recall the races being pretty decent.
Toni: Double points on the line again this weekend. Funny how that comes out–it’s really just two races being run in two days, but it does, to me at least, give the aspect of urgency as being for double points.
Huston: I mentioned it in my column, but I feel sorry for the fans. Houston in the summer, during the day, hot.
Toni: I recall the same. Yeah–this race was much later in the season last year. But then there really isn’t much choice other than to make it July or August. Which would be even worse.
Matt: Yup. I bet the attendance will reflect that Huston.
Huston: Good vibe going in, or is their some hesitancy after last year?
Toni: I feel like there is a good vibe going in. If there is a vibe that is. I’m just really looking forward to getting some action going on again.
Huston: Yeah, too long and weird time for a break. Let’s get those engines going again.
Toni: Although I guess maybe the consolation is we get a double weekend anyway. And, NASCAR is night racing so maybe that will help some. They won’t be stepping on each other.
Huston: That’s the hope.
Matt: NASCAR at Kentucky. Eeek
Toni: Come to IndyCar–we’re more exciting and we’ve got TWO races
Huston: Hey, maybe that’s good for IndyCar…if people remember it’s still out there. And maybe they’ll still be hip to road courses after the Cup at Sonoma.
Toni: Again with the irony. We always want more ovals in IndyCar and more road courses in NASCAR.
Huston: Right Toni — added bonus, extra race.
Toni: Anyone notice we haven’t complained about the double header weekends this season? Guess we got used to it.
Matt: Variety is the spice of life. I’m still not a fan of them Toni. I still think it’s a cop out.
Toni: He thinks the doubleheaders are a cop out.
Huston: Oh, ha, I thought he had a problem with NASCAR on road courses.
Toni: I think it’s a serviceable solution when there aren’t enough tracks willing to host you to fill out the schedule you need to have that has turned out to make for a decent weekend of racing.
Huston: Yeah, I’m not a huge fan, but I see it as a solution for now — with the caveat that things will change in the near future.