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TGIM: Is IndyCar Watching Too Much NASCAR?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 11 2011

Justin Wilson and Rafael Matos were just two of the drivers who were involved in wrecks at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Thank God It’s Monday:

Perhaps it’s the influx of young drivers into the series. Or perhaps it is a heightened threat to career survival. Or perhaps it is just the increasing degradation of the concept of sportsmanship in general.

Or, perhaps it is not that big of a deal to race drivers, teams and fans at all, but me, I find the high number of bumps, spinouts and wrecks that the IZOD IndyCar Series seems to featuring these days to be a tad alarming.

I find that it certainly distracts from the on-track product and hope that at some point, it reverses course. Perhaps when the Indycars get back to ovals.

But in the twisty streets of St. Petersburg in the season-opener two weeks ago, and then over the beautiful winding road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, wrecking ruled.

It was hard on the ability to watch the race, it was hard on the equipment.

Two times in two races, basically, they held Indycar races and Martinsville broke out.

And right there might be where the problem lies.

Back in its golden ages, open-wheel racing was the gentleman’s motorsport. Though its cars were faster, and wrecks nastier, the sport featured a certain tangible, heightened sense of sportsmanship to it. Etiquette played a part on what went on during races.

It was not that rogue-ish, ruffian-stocked NASCAR stuff that was going on down in the Southeast.

Ryan Briscoe is trailed by Ryan Hunter-Reay during Sunday's IndyCar race. A wreck cost Briscoe his chance at victory. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

All that was, at least, the perception – and on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line.

And if that perception had truth to it, and I think it does to some degree, then reasons for it vary widely. But perhaps the biggest reason for open-wheel racing growing up with a heightened sense of sportsmanship around it were the open wheels.

In Indycars up until very recently, there were few small wrecks. There was no rubbing because there were no fenders and no bumpers and no steel cages protecting the drivers. Sportsmanship was a survival tactic.

There was haunting truth to the words of wonderful sports writer Jim Murray when he famously typed out this line in a story about the Indianapolis 500: “Gentleman, start your coffins.”

Advances in safety have made Indycar wrecks infinitely more survivable over the years. Probably to the point where drivers are now taking more chances than they would have when driver deaths came in batches in open-wheel racing.

Perhaps to the point where IndyCar drivers and officials think they can withstand – and possibly need – injections of NASCAR into their sport.

The biggest example of this is, of course, the off-season decision to go with double-file restarts in IndyCar.

NASCAR introduced the concept a couple of years back. The hope being that it would raise the

Will Power leaps from his car after winning Sunday in Alabama. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

excitement level. It was probably the one “tweak” among an avalanche of changes to the stock-car series that fans – old school and recent converts – all endorsed.

IndyCar, struggling to remain top-tier relevant in contemporary auto racing, was apparently watching and listening. And then, acting.

Double-file restarts debuted in St. Pete and there was mechanical carnage.

Before Sunday’s race, officials decided they needed to address the situation and, very admirably, tried. They announced that they would lengthen the start zones and raise the restart speed limits in hopes of stringing the cars out before they hit Turn 1 at Barber.

INDYCAR president of competition of competition and operations Brian Barnhart told drivers before the race that clean racing – and avoiding a St. Pete situation where cars were flying through the air on the first lap – was critical.

“I can’t stress the importance of everyone getting through the first lap cleanly,” Barnhart – whom I consider THE BEST in the business when it comes to managing racing – said.

Of course, it didn’t happen.

Only eight of the 26 cars which started the race failed to finish. But many of those who did manage to finish were involved in incidents and suffered some kind of damage. And the interruptions of the race for cautions and cleanup were pretty darn aggravating.

IndyCar racing is really good stuff. Road racing is great stuff. Both have long histories and bright futures.

But IndyCar is not NASCAR. The two series have differing pasts and differing cultures. Neither should try too much to be like the other. Both will undergo up cycles and down cycles in popularity in the coming decades.

Attempting to be too much like the other will only make the down cycles longer and deeper.

I just thank goodness that Barnhart did not tell drivers in his series to “Have at it, chaps” during pre-season planning.

Team Penske’s Will Power won the IndyCAr race Sunday in Alabama, and Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Cup race in Texas.

But Chip Ganassi did not go winless as an owner over the weekend. He seldom does, especially when

Scott Pruett and his teammate Memo Rojas just keep on winning in the Rolex Grand-Am Series. (Photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Racing Series)

the Rolex Grand-Am Series is on the track.

Ganassi drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas extended their record winning streak to six races by winning the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park for the third time on Saturday.

The drivers of the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley ended their 2010 Daytona Prototype championship season by winning the final three races, and opened 2011 by winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Grand Prix of Miami.

Pruett ran down race leader Burt Frisselle and beat him to the inside of Turn 17 on Lap 78. He led the final 27 laps, beating Alex Gurney in the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet/Riley at the checkered flag by 28.954 seconds.

Ryan Dalziel and Mike Forest finished third in the Starworks Motorsport No. 8 Miracle Grout Shield Ford/Riley.

The Spirit of Daytona gave the TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing duo its biggest challenge. Antonio Garcia started on the pole in the No. 90 Chevrolet/Coyote and led 38 circuits. Paul Edwards then took over and led 12 laps. The car then began losing power in the final hour, dropping Edwards to ninth at the finish.

“The 90 team had everybody covered today,” Pruett said. “We caught up to them after I got in the car, and we cut down about an eight-second differential between us and them. I’m sliding around and he looked pretty pasted down to the ground. I just thought, ‘You know what?’ These guys are really strong here today. You never know how it’s going to play out, but they were certainly in the catbird seat to sneak in a win this week.”

Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana scored their second consecutive GT victory in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, moving from fourth to first in the point standings. Six different cars shared the GT lead, with Auberlen finally taking over on Lap 63 and leading the final 38 circuits.

Gunter Schaldach and Oliver Gavin finished second in the No. 07 The Cool TV/Mobil 1 Camaro, followed by Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 70 MazdaSpeed/Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8.

Kurt Busch just keeps on losing in the NHRA.

The latest setback came over the weekend when the driver who beat him in the first round of the

Kurt Busch was edged by Erica Enders in Pro Stock at the Gatornationals. Reporters wanted to hear all about it over the weekend in Texas.

Gatornationals last month showed up at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR show.

That driver who beat Busch in his Pro Stock debut was Erica Enders. Yep, a girl. Busch was beat by a girl and some in the NASCAR garages found that kind of, well, interesting.

“I was actually talking with some of Kurt’s crew guys, who had come to the Gatornationals to help Kurt when he was racing the Pro Stock car, and a reporter started asking about my race against Kurt,” Enders said. ‘It just kind of took off from there.”

Then, the media found Enders.

“They were all pretty interested in how Kurt did when he raced his Pro Stock car in Florida,” Enders said. “I told them the truth; he did a great job. They also seemed to have a lot of fun with the fact he lost his first race to a female driver so I let them know that girls have been drag racing for a long time, and we’ve been beating the boys along the way. I let them know it’s not a big deal to drag racers.”

I’m sure they bought that one alright.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 11 2011
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • john says:

    The difference from St Pete to Barber was significant, the double-file restarts worked much better and the MAJORITY of the incidents were single car, and often happened much later in the lap. The double-file restarts are great and will definitely help the series.

    What isn’t helping the series is Ganassi and Penske winning everything. Road racing is not the problem, massively dominant teams are the problem. If you look from 3rd or so on back, there was TONS of passing all race long. Hell, Danica at one point went from 11th to 5th, picking cars off left right and center, mostly due to taking the Soft tire.

    • paul gordon says:

      Totally agree……can you remember off the top of your head the last Indycar race won by a driver not on Ganassi or Penske..Had to look it up..(Tony Kanaan June 20 Iowa) the only other winner in 2010 not with Ganassi/Penske was Ryan Hunter-Reay April 18 Long Beach………btw……There are only 2 good races on the Indycar circuit: 1. The hype/race of the Indy 500 and 2. The Saturday night race at Texas…(hmmm both ovals)

  • Rob says:

    Unfortunately, the wrecks become the most interesting part of the road races because there isn’t enough dynamic to the racing. It’s a parade.

    You hear the broken record for Indy racing every week, “Well it’s going to be really hard to pass.” That’s why they need the double-file restart gimmick.

    Fix the parade problem and these other things will go away. After these first two races, I doubt I’ll watch another non-oval this season. The changes they keep trying just aren’t working.

    I actually think they may need less power in the engines, so that it’s easier to overtake if you hold speed through a turn. Not sure of the physics of that.

    But I do know that push to pass should change from being instantaneous power, to a gradual build up over 10 seconds let’s say. That would prevent using it defensively. It’s pretty worthless as-is, in fact it may actually hurt the objective of more passing.

  • J says:

    You consider Brian Barnhart “the best” in the business…?

    That takes a lot of credibility away from this article, in my opinion.

  • Paul Gordon says:

    Hey, I looked at the official 2010 Indycar stats…these are averages per race (before the new “restart rule” # starters ave: 26, out due to “contact” ave: 4.67.
    2011 stats (with new “restart” # starters ave: 25.5, out due to “contact” ave: 4.5
    Actually in comparison “officially”
    2010 St.Pete 6 drivers “out by contact”…
    2011 St. Pete 3 drivers “out by contact”
    (the other side 2010 Barber. No contact…2011 6 “contacts”…however I don’t recall any being in the first turn of restarts.

  • kyle martin says:

    Everyone talks about the “double-file” restarts being the reason for the wreck at St. Petersburg…Let me remind everyone- that was the “normal” start of the race…not a restart. It would have happened without the restart rule… The only exciting parts of the Barber race were the laps following restarts. If it were not for restarts Will Power would have finished the race over 10 seconds ahead.