IndyCar had quite the time in Toronto. Border security, rules interpretation, feuds, and Scott Dixon’s domination mixed together in a doubleheader race format to provide a highly entertaining weekend. In other words, the IZOD IndyCar Series is sometimes just a blogger’s dream. So grab your poutine (fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds) and settle in for that other messy treat that is “Ten Worthless Opinions.”
1. There are so many interesting/entertaining/puzzling storylines to the weekend, I truly don’t know where to start. Let’s go ahead with what was the big interest going into the weekend: standing starts. The IndyCar series has a knack for taking the big story and fumbling it like Sebastien Bourdais did his runner-up trophy after Saturday’s race. Standing starts are a big deal only because IndyCar has for years been unable to have competent two-wide starts due to driver gamesmanship and officials unwillingness/inability to enforce a standard for rolling starts. The only reason to use a standing start to spice up the beginning of the race is because the normal rolling starts are so brutally ugly.
2. The standing start concept did, however, generate interest, which makes the fumbling on Saturday even more egregious. I have no problems with IndyCar using standing starts. My problem is the seemingly amateurish handling of the concept. The drivers and team principals are allowed to publicly question/ridicule the choice of starts. That’s the way to build a brand, if your brand is churlishness. The fumbling occurred when the officials decided to abort the standing start when Josef Newgarden had an issue. And I’m OK with that choice. What leaves me rolling my eyes is how IndyCar did not make clear to its on-site and TV audience what the rules for using or not using the standing start were. I’m pretty sure if IndyCar handed a list of the standing start rules to NBC Sports and said,”You might want to make a graphic of this for your booth and your audience,” they would have done it. And NBC Sports is not off the hook. How could they not request/demand the rules in a production meeting? Picture the fans at the venue and the hundreds watching on television with their palms up saying, “What the hell’s going on?” Be prepared to tell the story.
3. Loved the NBC Sports booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Steve Matchett. Matchett in particular brought enthusiasm and insight to his first foray into IndyCar. He watched it like a well-informed fan. Bell continues to be smooth, and his low-key delivery is a nice contrast to Diffey’s exuberance. Jon Beekhuis excels at giving technical information, this week explaining how the clutch works in a standing start. NBC Sports broadcast shames ABC, which seems to simply go through the motions.
4. I did question how NBC Sports handled the Dario Franchitti/Will Power contretemps, though. After Franchitti blocked/held his line against Power’s aggressive/optimistic/stupid move in turn three, there was a great opportunity to build a feud between members of the two dominant teams in the series. How did NBC Sports handle it? They had the two talk it out on the Sunday broadcast with Robin Miller, the same Robin Miller who says, “Hate is good.” What a let-down. Where’s the shit-stirring Marty Snyder when you need him?
5. The racing was great. And that’s not just shilling. Other than Scott Dixon absolutely checking out on Sunday, cars were passing and being passed on both days. Scott Dixon may be rather vanilla when it comes to personality, but what a racer. He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend. Speaking of Ganassi Racing, the in-race and post-race comments of Mike Hull are always informative, even when he is being sly about strategy. Chip Ganassi was at his well-behaved best in the post-race interviews, even welcoming Dragon Racing’s Jay Penske to the rich guys’ club. His feigned magnanimity chafes me since his normal demeanor is peevish and irascible. Leopards and spots, you know.
6. I wonder if we will ever hear the full story of IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield and his border bang-up? Was he smuggling Cuban cigars into Canada? I mean, who doesn’t like a good Cuban to smoke after dinner? Was his passport not up-to-date? That happens to the best of us. The truth is probably mundane, but I would love to know. Until then, I will just make it worse by offering conjecture and innuendo, as a reputable blogger should. Of more concern is Derrick Walker’s seemingly less-than-enthusiastic support of Barfield in Jenna Fryer’s recent AP story. Beaux had relatively free rein under former boss Randy Bernard. My guess is life is different under the dominion of Walker. Keep your eye on this relationship.
7. Let’s talk about rules! In race one, the rule was that two wheels had to be in contact with the racing surface at all times to keep the drivers from curb jumping. IndyCar gave warnings for violations and then rescinded the rule during the race Saturday when the drivers continued to jump the curbs. I imagine the conversation going something like this:
- Race Control: “Stop jumping the curbs!”
- Drivers: “No!”
- Race Control: “Stop it!”
- Drivers: “No!”
- Race Control: “Never mind.”
8. More rules interpretation.
- Race Control: “Dario Franchitti, you blocked Will Power!”
- Franchitti: “No, I didn’t!”
- Race control: “Yes, you did!”
- Franchitti: “I’m getting my dad!”
- Race control: “Never mind.”
9. Even more rules interpretation.
- Race Control: “You will do standing starts/double-file restarts/two laps on red tires.”
- Drivers: “No.”
- Race Control: “OK.”
10. OK, that last was a cheap shot. The drivers and teams knew about the rules for aborting the standing start, the change from double-file to single-file restarts, and the codicil permitting a change of tires without using them for two laps. The people who did not always know were the broadcasters and the fans. And since IndyCar is trying to engage the fans, it might consider keeping them informed. Just a suggestion. One more: when announcing rules interpretations to the audience, IndyCar might want to include the phrase, “Pursuant to Rule #…” That would certainly have helped the NBC Sports crew give the audience the facts instead leaving both the booth and the fans twisting in the wind.
There you go, my WO’s (worthless opinions) for Toronto. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get these poutine stains out of my shorts. The stuff really is messy.