Monday, June 26, 2017

Winners and Losers: Road America

Here are your Winners, Losers, and Cone of Shame winner following the 2017 Kohler Grand Prix of Road America:  

Winners  

Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon is simply driving better than he ever has. Had it not been for crashes out of his control at Indianapolis (running top-ten with pole bonus points) and Texas (running second) this championship wouldn't even be close.    


Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden continues to put up great results on road courses, adding to a string of impressive finishes. Had it not been for a double-penalty for Newgarden at GPI, his road course record would be nearly flawless.    


Helio Castroneves
Despite not being able to convert yet another pole / front row start into a win, Helio Castroneves has still done enough to put himself within reach of the championship.    


The Chip Ganassi Satellite
Don't look now, but Max Chilton is racing better than he ever has before. Ever since his epic run at Indianapolis, Chilton has been quietly solid in the top-ten, and now has a top-ten championship effort within reach. Charlie Kimball managed to stay clean (sort of) on his way to a much needed top-ten.      



Losers  

Team Penske
Team Penske has to wonder how they didn't win that race. After dominating every practice session, qualifying, and putting every car in the top-five, they still were no match for Scott Dixon.    


Andretti Autosport
It's pretty sad that when in a 21 car field, your four cars can't get into the top-ten. Alexander Rossi was a thrill early but got caught out by some yellows. Marco Andretti had a stuck throttle. Takuma Sato spun, but before that he was in last. And Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had a solid run going, lost a ton of aero late after being blocked by Charlie Kimball, thus he lost a ton of speed at the end. Andretti limps to Iowa where they've dominated in the past    


Esteban Gutierrez
In Esteban Gutierrez's second weekend in IndyCar, the former F1 driver failed to make an imprint. While his pace was solid, his race craft was shocking in several portions of the race. He ran Conor Daly and a couple others off in turn five, and nailed Carlos Munoz heading into the final restart (I believe the TV didn't show it). Plenty of room to grow, but not a great weekend for him.    


AJ Foyt Enterprises
Obviously, something is a miss for AJ Foyt Enterprises, as the team tries to get through 2017 as quick as possible before starting fresh in 2018. While Carlos Munoz showed promise in the race, he fell just short of a top-ten. Meanwhile, Conor Daly's team has been nothing short of worthless. Though Conor has made some mistakes this year, there was simply nothing he could do to make up for the loss of straight line speed, which is baffling considering Munoz's straight line speed.      



Cone of Shame  



Tony Kanaan
It's not often I go to bat for Alexander Rossi (although I will because he's rapidly becoming one of my favorite drivers), but his role in Tony Kanaan's demise on Sunday is vastly overblown. Heading into the kink, which is not a good passing zone, Kanaan had a superior run on Rossi. When Rossi went to defend, Kanaan forced the issue. Rossi then gave him room and ultimately backed out before the corner, giving Kanaan the line. Yet, Kanaan had a tough time getting back into the racing groove. He carried too much speed in, drifted off the track and hit the wall. It was a tough break for Kanaan, who was chastised after Texas for his role in several incidents. Him trying to shift blame to Rossi doesn't help.


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Take on Texas

Thrilling, side-by-side action.

An adrenaline rush for three straight hours.

Never leaving the edge of my seat.

Those phrases describe how I felt after watching the absolutely thrilling Rainguard 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. It was simply spectacular stuff. I loved every second of it.

First off, I want to address "Pack Racing," because it really bugs me when people lump any racing that is close on an oval has instantly being pack racing. While it was tough for cars to seperate at Texas given the new tires and track configuration, drivers did start to form smaller groups on long green flag runs when the tires fell away. This would not be the case in a conventional pack race, like what we saw in the old Chicagoland days or even the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas. Those races were about putting your foot to the floor with no hope of ever getting out of the giant group. That, in my opinion, is not what we say on Saturday. Consistent yellows and the competition cautions prevented us from seeing the field get spread out into three or more smaller groups on long green flag runs. 

The close, wheel-to-wheel, adrenaline pumping racing we saw on Saturday is what brought many fans to love the IRL Series back in its hay-day, even though I would consider those races back in the day to be textbook definitions of pack racing. Still, great races on tracks like Texas, Chicago, Kansas, and Fontana is what brought many fans to the IRL from CART.

Some action at Texas (Photo: Autoweek)

So many fans will staunchly defend what we saw on Saturday because of the entertainment values, and for nostalgia, because that was as close to an IRL race as we will ever get. 

The action on Saturday was crazy. It left for a huge debate between those who loved the racing versus those who considered the racing too dangerous. 

If anything, I would argue stupid driving was the biggest danger to the drivers on Saturday and not the close racing. Blocking, forcing three-wide action in a two-groove track, pushing track limits, etc. all contributed to imminent dangers and hard crashes. 

In the DW12 era, races at Texas and other high speed ovals have been low downforce, tire degradation races. This doesn't make for good television, but the dangers are just as real. Josef Newgarden came perilously close to a fatal accident in a crash with Conor Daly last year at Texas. Mikhail Aleshin flew into the catchfencing after a hard crash at Fontana in 2014 under the same sort of specs we've seen in years past.

In general, racing is dangerous, but the tight racing we saw Saturday night compounds the danger if something does go wrong. And without cockpit protection, large chunks of debris from large crashes become impossible for drivers to dodge with no time to react.

And yet, while I love that racing, I would sleep perfectly fine at night if we never saw that type of racing again.

Many defenders of Saturday's race have taken to labels and ad hominem attacks to those who said they wouldn't like to see that racing in IndyCar (labels like sissy, wussy, and others that shouldn't be repeated). But to me, it's not worth it. While races at Indianapolis, Texas, and Pocono are by far the most dangerous races of the year given the high speeds and the close proximity of the walls, the tight racing we saw at Texas is a recipe for disaster if and when things go wrong. When you have that many cars that close together, it's not a matter of if, just a matter of when.

Taking a step back from the situation, to me it is just not worth the risk. We've lost two drivers in the last six years, and taking measures to ensure that unnecessary dangers aren't around the corner should not be taken lightly. 

To me, the entertainment aspect of things is just not worth the risk of losing a human life. If I snoozed out to a Texas low downforce, tire conservation fest again in the future, I would be bored and would complain, but that is a much better than option for the chance to be entertained while the chances of losing a life goes significantly up.

One of the biggest crashes we've seen in recent memory by the
sheer amount of cars that were collected (Photo: Autoweek)

Have we seen the last of "pack racing." Who knows. This year at Texas wasn't supposed to be a "pack race." The new pavement and quick decision by Firestone to change tires created that. Fontana in 2015 wasn't supposed to be a pack race. While I still to this day say Fontana was the best race I've ever seen, I stand by my statement that the risk doesn't outweigh my need for entertaining. The new aero package and fluctuating atmospheric temperatures led to what I would consider a pack race at Fontana.

But for me to sit here and complain if Texas is just a snoozer next year just doesn't seem right. Who am I to criticize the drivers who are the ones putting their lives on the line for glory, fame, and the pursuit of victory? I am not the one going 220mphs four inches from another guided missile with 20 more around me in the span of a couple football fields. My biggest danger in life is crossing the street. Who am I to criticize? 

I could not criticize IndyCar either for choosing to protect their drivers either. I mean, if we are being honest, the race we saw at Texas generated huge buzz, garnered lots of attention, and got people talking, but it earned a .34 rating on NBCSN. If it was a low downforce, not as entertaining race, what would it earn, a .26? Both ratings aren't exactly spectalar. That would be like choosing a Bic Mac versus a Big Mac with bacon; at the end of the day, they're both still not that good.

And the opinions we should hold highest are the opinions of the drivers. If all 22 drivers came out and said they loved that racing and we should do it more often, then I wouldn't bat an eye. But that was far from the case. James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, and many others have come out criticizing the racing. 

At the end of the day, if we happened to get another race like Texas again, I would be highly entertained and would enjoy every second of it. But to me, it is just not worth it. 


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Winners and Losers: Texas

Here are your Winners, Losers, and Cone of Shame winner following the 2017 Rainguard 600 at Texas:

Winners

Will Power
Will Power, who was once considered a liability on ovals, has now turned into quite the oval savant. He is also a staunch critic of the type of racing we saw last night, but when he won, he looked so happy and proud of himself. It was great to see. Power is not out of this championship yet.


Simon Pagenaud
That is back-to-back years at Texas where Simon Pagenaud was in a tight battle at the ending stages of the race. Somewhere in that battle, Pagenaud had the patience and understanding to back out of a potential accident in order to secure a good finish. After the late crash, Pagenaud went from fifth to third, and that solid finish puts him second in the championship.


Gabby Chaves
Gabby Chaves, in only his second race with new team Harding Racing, kept it clean and finished in fifth place. He put in the same performance at Indianapolis, not doing anything overly flashy but came home in the top-ten. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long and successful relationship between Chaves and Harding.


Conor Daly
It wasn't a pain-free night for Conor Daly, but Conor finally secured his first top-ten of the season. In a car that hasn't seemed to mesh well with the Chevy aero-kits, Daly kept a clean nose and was in the lead group at the end of the race scrapping with the leaders. Hopefully this can springboard Daly into a strong second-half of the season.


Honorable mention: IndyCar
I love the type of racing we saw last night. It is dangerous and measures should be taken to calm the drivers down a bit, as there was plenty of stupid moves going on, but that type of racing is what first brought me to IndyCar. And I'll argue that racing on an high speed oval is always dangerous, the only reason that the close racing we saw is scorned is because when they make a mistake that close, the mistake is compounded. It was a relief to see all the drivers walk away okay last night, and no cars got airborne. I just loved that kind of racing, the same racing we saw at the end of Texas last year and Fontana two years ago.


Losers

Chip Ganassi
Many took to blaming Mikhail Aleshin for that huge crash just after the halfway point, saying Aleshin should have backed out of making it three-wide. A majority of people placed blame on Tony Kanaan for drifting up into James Hinchcliffe. Chip Ganassi, owner and shot-caller for Kanaan, started a third theory and blamed Hinchcliffe, saying that Hinchcliffe was trying to crash all night and should have kept his line. I am a Chip Ganassi fan but he was so full of shit that even his eyes started to turn brown. Hinch was asked about Chip's comments when he was interviewed, when he responded by saying, "That's adorable." Hinch dragged Chip and it was fun to watch.


Scott Dixon
While running second with a handful of laps to go, Scott Dixon was taken out by Takuma Sato. It is a shame, as Dixon was set to continue an absolutely mammoth start to the season, with the only blemish being his massive crash at Indy. Still, even with the crash, Dixon finished 10th and collected decent points considering his perils.


Emma Dixon
I am finding it harder and harder to like Emma Dixon because she spews more garbage than a disgruntled politician. Over the last couple of years, anytime something happens to her hubby Scott Dixon or anytime she deems IndyCar does something questionable, she unleashes on them in a usually unprofessional manner. Last night, she took to Takuma Sato, who did wreck Dixon pretty carelessly. Still, Emma took to responding to fans bashing Sato, claiming Sato wrecked Dixon three times (I counted once...), and the lowest of the lows, telling another fan she will never "get any" based on her face. That was pretty classless. I don't care how much wine you drink when you watch IndyCar, tweeting filth like that is just uncalled for.


Dale Coyne Racing
Dale Coyne Racing was set for another impressive oval run with Ed Jones and Tristan Vautier, but both were collected in the big crash after the halfway point. With a flurry of big crashes in recent memory for Dale Coyne, one has to wonder how the team is doing financially. Vautier was one of the most exciting drivers of the night, and he was charging to the front. Ed Jones said after the race that he had the best car and the most fun he's ever had. Both were poised fora great finish. Coyne was so upset that during the red flag, he went up to Tony Kanaan and seemed to give him a piece of his mind.


Honorable Mention: IndyCar
On the other hand, the whole compeition caution thing, upon second thought, was a bad idea. I like the idea of making safety important, as the Firestone tires were blistering, but on the other hand, I heard of only two drivers complaining of the blistering, and that was Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves. If it was a chronic problem throughout the field, then it would have definitely been the right move. I just thought it was a bit much when only two drivers seemed to be having an issue.



Cone of Shame



Tony Kanaan
Fairplay, Tony Kanaan fessed up to his mistake and took ownership of the big crash that took place just past the halfway point in the race that took out seven cars, but at the end of the day, he still caused the wreck in my opinion. It wasn't a racing incident, it was Kanaan drifting well up the track into James Hinchcliffe, causing the big crash. I do really appreciate his willingness to apologize and take ownership of what happened, but at the end of the day, it was one of the most careless moves I've seen. That might fly in a low speed corner on a road course, but drifting out like that on high speed oval like Texas is unacceptable.



Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Saturday, June 10, 2017

My First Non-IndyCar Experience

I have long been a critic of NASCAR, as it has never really appealed to me. Ever since 2005, I have been IndyCar or bust. I've fallen in love with IndyCar so much and watching their races is some of the best moments of my year. I watch the occasional F1, NASCAR, and endurance race, but nothing has stuck with me quite like IndyCar.

But when I heard that the ARCA Series, a stock car series that is not officially sanctioned by NASCAR though the influence is apparent and obvious, was going to be about 20 minutes from my house, I had to check it out.

I traveled to Elko Speedway, in the town of Elko New Market which is about 10 minutes outside of the edge of the Twin Cities, to see my first ever non-IndyCar race. I had no expectations and no idea what kind of race I would see, but I was just hoping it wouldn't be like a Monster Energy NASCAR race, which puts me to sleep.

Once I got there, the good impressions started. All told, the night cost me $28 bucks, $20 for the ticket (pretty damn cheap) and two beers. Right when I got there, the drivers were having an impromptu autograph session on the grid next to their cars. I was thinking, how about that for access? You can just walk right up to the drivers who had hero cards to sign for the fans. Considering that kids got in free, this is a great way for ARCA to expose their drivers to new fans. It is also important to note that it is held only an hour before the race when a lot of fans are there, rather than the morning of the race or the day before the race when few people are there. I was already thoroughly impressed.

When they fired the engines, I felt like someone kicked me in the heart. THEY ARE SO LOUD! It was awesome. When the race started, I knew it was going to be a good race. The track was so small and the speeds were not great, but the tight turns track meant that passes would be tightly contested on the outside.

Also, their first pace lap is called the wave lap. Us fans stand up and wave to them, and I thought, this was a nice way to show our appreciation to the drivers. The best part? Almost all of the drivers stuck their arms out the window netting as far as they could and waved back! That image will stick with me for a very long time. Hard to find imagery like that of sheer fan appreciation!

Winning driver Austin Theriault (Photo: 929 The Ticket)

One thing that surprised me was the differences in the chassis in the field. Two-thirds of the field were in the brand new specs of stock cars that are comparable to the cars in the Monster Energy Series, whereas the rest of the field were in the old models comparable to the NASCAR cars before they launched the Car of Tomorrow, and thus were virtual sitting ducks the entire race. I referred to these cars as the "B" Class cars in my tweets. These were usually low budget teams with few mechanics who were out there for the love of racing.

One thing the "B" class did was enhance the racing. I pictured it like a stock car version of IMSA on an oval. There was no way a "B" class car was going to finish in the top-five, but they had good battles amongst themselves. While they battled, they also made the faster "A" class negotiate around them. Since the track was so short, that meant it could be every five-seven laps. I enjoyed the battles all throughout the track!

Another thing that was impressive was that for the small cohort who attended the race, the fans who sat around me seemed well versed in the knowledge of stock car racing and the drivers who were racing. I honestly had no idea who was in the race or what teams were there, while many fans around me knew who every driver was and could rattle off some facts about each driver.

While the race was awesome on all fronts, it was the finish that was utterly spectacular. With four laps to go, the field went green and had a exciting shootout. Four cars broke away, with bumping and shoving occurring on all four laps. Austin Theriault won in a photo finish despite only leading 4 of the 250 laps!

Coming to the line, fourth placed driver Riley Herbst, who is a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, wrecked Zane Smith, who was demolished by two cars at speed coming to the finish. Looking at the replay, Herbst, who I thought was driving like an entitled clown all night, completely dumped Smith. Herbst was on a confusing tire strategy. He took new tires late in the race during a caution and put himself in the back of the field, and was hyper aggressive trying to get back to the front. First comparison that comes to mind is the track temperament of a Kyle Busch, another Joe Gibbs driver. I was not impressed with him.

Riley Herbst, who had the best looking car but the worst race craft (Photo: ARCA)

While the crash at the finish was a little sour, the race to the finish was exhilarating. I caught myself giggling like a little five year old when the cars were battling side-by-side in the last half of the race. The noise, the side by side, the lap traffic, the friendly fans, the relatively cheapness of the attending the event, the access to the drives, and the product put on made for a memorable event. I really enjoyed myself!

Having said that, I still can't justify sitting down for three hours to watch a Monster Energy NASCAR Series race. While I had an absolute blast at the ARCA race, it is different watching on TV. I think NASCAR can make the steps to get me to watch it on TV (shorter races, shorter schedule, more side-by-side action, less gimmicks, no chase / playoff system / whatever the fuck they do next year when they change it again, etc.). So I did have a lot of fun, but I'm still nowhere near getting on the NASCAR bandwagon.


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Monday, June 5, 2017

Winners and Losers: Detroit

Here are the Winners, Losers, and Cone of Shame winner from the 2017 Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit:

Winners

Graham Rahal
Utter domination from Graham Rahal, absolutely destroying the field in both races at Detroit for the second sweep in doubleheader history. Rahal, who was out of the championship, is now suddenly a potential contender. He also returns to the track where he wont a thrilling race last year.


Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden set the fastest lap in both races, and was the highest finishing Team Penske driver in both races. Whatever struggles former Team Penske drivers have had in their first year, Newgarden clearly is ahead of the curve early on. His performances at Penske can earn him a championship if he can continue to be solid on the track.


Takuma Sato
Takuma Sato carried momentum from his historic Indianapolis 500 win with two solid finishes at Detroit, solidifying himself as the best championship hope for Andretti Autosport. Sato just needs to limit the one or two mistakes that he is prone to.


Scott Dixon
Broken foot and all, Scott Dixon continues to mount a championship effort in 2017. Just think, an average finish in the top-15 at Indianapolis would easily put Dixon in the championship lead. His results so far this year has been incredible.



Losers

ABC
Ah, yes, one last time, I get to list ABC and all of their terribleness as a loser one last time. To recap, the pros of ABC are their ability to reach large audiences and their pit reporters. The cons are just about everything else. Allen Bestwick is average, but it doesn't help that he has tweedle dee and tweedle dumbass in the booth. Eddie Cheever Jr. and Scott Goodyear are intolerable. Their coverage is subpar. And the amount of commercials are brutal. Please bring on NBC next year.


Conor Daly
Despite being knocked out of the top-ten at no fault of his own in race #2, Conor Daly continues to find tough luck this season. His car failed him in race one, and a top-ten effort ruined by the red flag restart and a certain driver. Nonetheless, Daly is following the dangerous path set by his predecessor Jack Hawksworth, who could not manage a top-ten in 2016 with AJ Foyt Enterprises.


Oriol Servia
Oriol Servia's one saving grace was Graham Rahal winning two races, adding to the speculation that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing should be a two-car team all the time. However, if they want two cars, they'll need more from the second car, because Servia was absolutely terrible in the races. He did not do a whole lot to merit a return on results, but his help for the team will certainly get him back in the field soon.


Ryan Hunter-Reay
It just doesn't look like it will be Ryan Hunter-Reay's year, who is going to need an absolutely goliath second half of the season to insert himself in the championship conversation. He got involved with wrecking ball in race two, which was looking like a top-five at minimum for the former champion before the front wing damage.



Cone of Shame



Helio Castroneves
It seems like I keep giving Helio Castroneves the Cone of Shame. Well, it's justified. The dude was a complete liability in race two. He swung out too far and hit Ryan Hunter-Reay, effectively ruining his race. He would later go on to make contact with Marco Andretti in the same area of the track, cutting him off at turn in. Like I said on Twitter, some blame falls on Marco, but even if Marco is making a stupid move, you gotta give him room. You can just turn into him because that guy is being an idiot. On the last restart, Helio put Conor Daly into the wall, knocking Conor out of the top-ten. How many times do I have to say it: Helio Castroneves is a dirty driver who covers it up with great qualifying performances and consistent finishes, but he's a hazard out there.


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey