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 / Michael Annett Driver Diary)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer)
Huston Ladner (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer)
*Give your thoughts on the MAVTV 500 overall. Did it live up to the hype?*
Toni: I think it definitely lived up to the hype. I thought the race was great on its own and the championship had all the drama you could want. I particularly loved seeing so many different drivers running well.
Huston: I really don’t have anything positive to offer. For being a championship race, I thought it fell flat.
Matt: I thought it was a pretty good race. Did it live up to the hype? I’m not so sure. Having Power wreck out that early in the event kind of killed some of the drama, and the race itself was “good not great” in my opinion. I felt that they kind of missed a bit on the aero package.
Huston: I had a problem with an oval being the site for the championship when it was clear that the drivers just hadn’t put in the hours racing on them during the season. That there were so many wrecks continued to hurt any kind of momentum that could have developed
and the ending, oh hell, don’t get me started.
Toni: I don’t think they made the cars as difficult to drive as they were at Texas. You could see them sliding around more there for sure. More drivers got themselves in trouble there. But I think they got it in terms of keeping them out of a big pack but letting them race each other.
Matt: I certainly support the championship being held at an oval, I don’t really think that was an issue given how the best races this year have been the oval races.
Huston: Before the halfway point of the race, a quarter of it had been run under caution. Hardly consider that good racing. I’ll agree Matt, I actually like them running on ovals. I just wished they ran more of them so that these drivers really had a feel for them, as well as the engineers.
Matt: Couldn’t agree more. This low downforce package results in a lot of wrecks too.
Huston: I’m also not so sure that Auto Club Speedway is the place to end it. I kind of liked Homestead more.
Matt: Paradoxically, however, I think Indy actually was well-served by running three different aero packages at the three “big” oval races this year (Indy, Texas, Fontana) since it is clear they are trying to hit on the right balance. The Fontana race was a little closer to what we need, but ultimately I think INDYCAR had it right with whatever the combination was that they brought for the Indy 500. As for the championship itself, it was a satisfying finale but certainly not the barn burner everyone was hyping it up to be.
Toni: My first thought on the championship was that it was that it was a drama killer seeing Power out that early but then the team rebuilding the car and Hunter-Reay not running so great saved it, I thought.
Huston: I’m just not sure that the race hit the mark. Motorsports fans were gifted a tense finish for the championship, but hardly one that was truly interesting with the points leader crashing out so early.
*We’ve talked about the idea of doing green/white/checkered finishes before but let’s talk about the red flag at the end of Saturday’s race – good call or bad?*
Huston: I have long felt that within 20 laps of the finish that caution laps should not count, so consider me a fan.
Toni: I understand why they did it, my only problem with it is if you are going to do that, make it a rule. If the caution comes out within ten laps of the finish we will red flag the race to clean up so it doesn’t end under caution. Don’t just spring it on us.
Matt: Yes, I am always in favor of doing whatever it takes to get the race to finish under green.
Toni: I have absolutely no problem with making that a rule. I’m in favor of trying to get a green-flag finish. And I like the red flag idea better than green/white/checkers, incidentally.
Matt: But I agree with Toni, they should at least outline it in the rulebook for the sake of transparency.
Huston: Toni, your comment is spot on. Make sure there is some kind of provision in the rule book letting everyone know what to expect. It seemed like a call made on the fly. But the goal is to see the drivers race to the finish, and we got that without the gimmicky GWC.
Toni: Exactly, Huston. It seemed to just come out of nowhere and no one was expecting it.
Matt: That’s the only real issue I have with it. Just make sure it is outlined in the rulebook, otherwise it is a perfectly legitimate call.
Huston: Wow, agreement all around! That’s no fun.
Matt: This is a first!
*Let’s talk about the championship. How DOES Will Power fix his Achilles’ Heel on the ovals? What will having an American champion mean to the sport, if anything real?*
Toni: Will had a bit of a point about getting stuck in a lot of other people’s junk, although he did this one all on his own. But he certainly didn’t at Indy. He was a bystander who just was in the wrong place at the wrong time and how do you fix that? But part of the answer might be getting his mindset off of hating ovals and running better so he’s up front. That takes out some of the risk of getting caught in other people’s accidents.
Huston: I’m not sure what Power can do to fix his oval woes. It’s not that he’s terrible, it’s just that he seems to make those occasional debilitating mistakes. What he really needs to do is to clean up on the street/road courses so that he can cruise to the title. Had he taken Sonoma or Baltimore, he’d be the champ.
Toni: Yeah but I think you still have to allow for the occasional bad road course finish too – and he does clean up mostly otherwise which is why he’s been road course champion every year.
Matt: Will needs to get serious about running them. Instead of whining and complaining about how he dislikes ovals and how they are brainless to drive on, he should focus on getting better at them, whether that be on the simulator or simply by putting more focus into practice sessions. Will has always had a very snobbish attitude towards oval racing, and he will never, and I repeat, _never_ have success on these tracks if he continues to undervalue and loathe them. He is a talented enough driver to get it done; he just needs to get his mind right.
Huston: To respond to Matt, I think part of Power’s mindset comes from his F1 background, where the drivers are developed to be so technical and focused on what it takes to turn both directions.
Matt: Will needs to put his ego aside and hone his oval racing skills.
Huston: I agree, put some time in on some ovals, and Power could cruise to the championship. He’s got the resources and the skills on road/street, that if he just consistently finished the ovals, he would be tough to beat. As for having an American as champ, I’m confused on this topic. It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I’ve read on a number of chat boards how people wanted an American taking the crown again. But with an overall fan apathy it’s hard to understand what kind of promise it will bring the series.
Toni: Huston, that’s exactly why I ask. I hear so many people use the excuse that there aren’t any good American drivers in IndyCar so they don’t like it, or I’ve heard so many even who are fans wanting an American champion. But does that translate into more fan support? I’m not sure if it does. People want more oval tracks on the schedule but don’t go to them.
Huston: I’d love to see it translate to more support, but I’m skeptical that it will. As I wrote recently, these guys deserve all the respect in the world, but there just seems to be a fan malaise. And I love Indy cars running on ovals and would love to see them run more. Let’s see if they make that happen.
Matt: As for an American winning the championship, it is a big deal. Part of the reason this series is not as popular as it could be is because it has traditionally lacked big-name American drivers capable of winning. RHR has changed all of that, and for a short while (like 2 years max) Indy can gain fans from this. But for any of this stuff to really translate into more fans long-term, RHR and other American drivers have to continue to be successful. If nothing else, RHR is just a plain old good guy who will represent the sport well as a champion.
Toni: As I wrote, it’s interesting that while fans said they wanted good American drivers or an American driver, it took RHR years to finally find an owner with the funding to back him with good equipment that believed in him. We spent years wondering why RHR couldn’t get a ride.
Huston: I’d like to say one more thing about the interest in the series. I realize that the race ended late, but I checked all the prominent sites and there was no mention of RHR winning the title. Someone in the PR department of IndyCar needs to step up his/her game. They’re just not getting the national attention, and that’s pathetic.
Matt: Don’t even get me started…
Huston: If ESPN is the mothership of sports coverage, where was any mention that night after RHR won? It killed me.
Matt: IndyCar is woefully far down the pecking order at ESPN.
Huston: I’m just amazed that the series doesn’t do a better job on the PR front. There’s enough money involved at this point, so to continually botch this aspect just shows poor thinking. Not to argue with you Matt, but the sad thing is that ESPN/ABC televises some of the freakin’ races. You’d think they’d have a vested interest.
Matt: That’s the saddest part Huston, it’s just extra pocket change for them, and it’s mostly just to have the Indy 500.
Toni: It took until Tuesday for anything to appear in USA Today and then the article focused less on the championship and RHR and more on the continuing rumors of discontent among car owners and the possible ouster of series CEO Randy Bernard… again…
*Looking ahead to next year, the most intriguing new idea on the table is the doubleheader race weekends, which Randy Bernard says he wants to have at least two of. What do you think of the idea?*
Matt: I’m not a fan. Having two races devalues the event as a whole and lessens the prestige of an individual win.
Huston: My initial reaction is meh. That’s not where I think they need to focus their efforts. They have only 13 races on the schedule right now. Maybe they should figure out where they’re going to get those 7 races that would hit Bernard’s magic number of 20 (which is sorely needed).
Matt: I could live with one doubleheader weekend, but that’s it.
Toni: I wonder if people would really come to both thinking they get more bang for the buck or if you just split the crowd and make it look smaller by having it on two different days.
Matt: That’s exactly what would happen, Toni.
Huston: Good question Toni. And what is the scheduling of those double-headers? None of this has been outlined very well.
Toni: That’s apparently part of how they hit the magic number, by doing some of these doubleheaders and calling it two races.
Toni: Beefs up the race number without actually finding more tracks to host races.
Matt: If that’s how they hit the magic number, they’ve got bigger problems at IndyCar HQ then I imagined.
Huston: Get Pocono, Homestead, Kansas, and a few other ovals on the schedule. And get Watkins Glen back too. I have no idea why this aspect makes me angry, but it does.
Matt: You are not the only one Huston, far from it.
Toni: Honestly having only 13 races is pretty scary for INDYCAR in my opinion. Having those ovals on the schedule would be great but why would they want to host races if no one is coming?
Huston: I think one of the funny things about the ovals and attendance is that 30k fans isn’t so bad, but at an oval it looks like no one is there.
Matt: That’s a tough question. Major league open-wheel racing just isn’t a big sell anymore.
Toni: Here it is: estimated crowd at Fontana was 33K, which really isn’t terrible but they looked lost at that huge track. And from what I am told it’s more than they get for NASCAR Nationwide and trucks there, so it’s really not bad. But how do you get Pocono, which holds like 100K, to host when they think their stands are likely to look the same and is it worth the cost of opening the place up and putting on a race?
Huston: I haven’t seen the attendance figures for Cali, but that track seats over 90k, and it looked pretty empty, but I would hazard that more people were there for Indy than NASCAR Nationwide (Sprint Cup is a different thing). I think part of the problem also sits with the track operators. I remember the 2005 Indy race at Cali and they were practically
giving away tickets. Do what it takes to get people to the track. You’ll make it back in concessions or repeat business.
Toni: I’m also curious what happens at a double-header if someone totally destroys the car in the first race. Do they get to use a backup or do they have to rebuild it or are they just out of luck?
Huston: I like do-overs — fresh car, fresh start.
Matt: Most teams don’t have the resources to burn through 2 cars in a weekend.
Huston: I agree Matt, but is that what IndyCar sees as the increased cost of doing business? But hey, maybe Bernard will be pushed out by next season anyway. Seems to be what some want.
Toni: And the ones that want that are knuckleheads… owners pull that crap again and they can watch the dust clouds as what fans they have left head for the exits.
Matt: It’s the increased cost of stupidity if you ask me. Doubleheaders are just wrong on so many levels. It’s bad for finances, it’s bad for TV, it’s bad for attendance, it’s bad for wrecked equipment, I could go on and on.
Huston: No arguments, Matt. Yeah, the CEO position is a topic for another day. Or should I say, the idiot owners’ desire to screw with the position is.
Toni: That idea just ticks me off. It’s never worked when they took over in the past and it’s part of why open-wheel racing is where it is today.
Matt: Back to topic, doubleheaders are just wrong. Period.
Toni: I’m not entirely sold on how the double-header weekends are going to be good for the series. There seem to be a lot of people enthusiastic about it but I feel like it’s just a cop out to get the magic number of races until they can get enough different tracks interested.
Huston: Not sure I have much to add. The schedule is and continues to be a serious problem for IndyCar. I find it telling that it’s an area that keeps on being botched.
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