Happy Mother’s Day, peeps. Just got done reviewing the DVR, so let’s pull up some dark roast and discuss …
IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis – Where to begin? WHERE? Begin at the beginning, with the FUBAR standing start. Background: road and street racing sometimes (always outside the U.S.) starts with a “standing start.” The cars grid up on the track, park, wait for the signal, then take off. Pretty straight forward concept. The start tests reaction times, etc. I’m not opposed to standing starts, per se.
Cue the replay:
So, what to make of that, besides “scary” and “unfortunate?” Standing starts with the DW12 IndyCar have been iffy at best. The car’s V-6 turbo-charged engine isn’t exactly a robust fire breather especially at the low end. It may be that it’s not suited for these standing starts. Something seems to be up. Maybe everyone just needs more practice on the starts. If so, fine. But if they are trying to get a car to do what it’s ill-suited to do, well that’s courting disaster. The drivers know what the car is capable of (and what it’s not capable of) and while they understandably hesitate to say anything bad about the car in public, if there are issues they better be saying them in private to the league peeps.
Also in the race, James Hinchcliffe was hit in the head by some flying debris, which was a scary moment. Fortunately he came out of it with just a concussion. Stuff flying into the cockpit of an open-wheel car is the ultimate scary, right up there with a car on fire. A lot of on-track deaths I can think of involved something hitting the driver directly. Let’s say thanks large to Hinch’s helmet maker. I’m sure this will renew the ongoing discussion of if IndyCar needs cockpit canopies.
The rest of the Indy GP was pretty standard road race. I don’t understand people who watch a road race and then call it “boring” when it plays out like road race usually does. The Indy GP featured a few televised passes on the track. I thought there were as many of those as could reasonably be expected. Many road races also feature fuel strategy, which is what we got at the end of the Indy GP. I once greatly disliked fuel strategy races, but now I’ve come to appreciate the drama that they provide. Sure, I’d prefer to have the cars hammering at each other over the last lap and two-wide at the line for the win, but I’d also love to be taller, thinner and wealthier. If you have any pit stops in a race, there’s an element of fuel strategy involved.
So give winner Simon Pagenaud and his team credit for the team effort that goes into fuel strategy. Pagenaud is a very likeable guy who it’s easy to feel good for. IndyCar also continued its version of boys have at it with no calls on several moments of on-track contact. There is no blocking rule in IndyCar anymore, which is fine. It’s “defending.” And since the new DW-12 is a far more capable twisty car than its predecessor (which was really a converted oval car), allowing “defending” isn’t as much of an entertainment killer any more. The defensive line is usually the slower line, so if a driver defends then he or she is going slower, which these days tends to bite said driver in the ass elsewhere on the track. You’re going to have to do some serious swerving to get a blocking call in today’s IndyCar.
Again, that’s fine, as long as it stays consistent. So far so good on the consistency front, in my view.
Finally, there’s always always always discussion/examination of attendance at these things. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so CAVERNOUS that 75,000 fans look like about 7500. The volunteer IMS Public Relations efforts on Twitter were fired up in full force with the “don’t be deceived by appearance” tweets. I never have bought the argument that attendance impacts TV appeal. The “looks empty on TV” argument goes that when TV viewers see sparse stands, they don’t watch, because if nobody is there in person, why should I watch on TV?
Nope. Not buying. Think of your own TV sports watching choices. How many are even slightly impacted by the number of people in the stands? If it was, nobody would watch swimming, bowling, gymnastics, etc. etc. In-person attendance matters to the venue and tends to indicate how strong of a draw the race is in on that day and in that area, which may tend to indicate overall fan support or brand strength. Maybe. A packed house is encouraging because it shows interest in the sport and makes for a great backdrop on TV, but it doesn’t noticeably impact my decision of if I watch or not. What happens on the track does that.
Overall, the Indy GP was just dandy. I had no issue with IMS running a road race there in early May. If the market can bear that race and the 500 without damaging the 500, then by all means run it. Free enterprise economy! Murica! Aside from the FUBAR start and Hinch's injury – which both could have happened at any venue – I don’t see negatives. The race wasn’t a pulse pounder as it was perhaps wishfully anticipated by the drivers, but it wasn’t throat-slashingly boring either.
NASCAR, Kansas and the Danica Factor – I got home from watching my daughter graduate from college Saturday in time to see the last half of the Kansas race. Frankly, I had forgotten it was even on. I turned on my TV to cue up the Indy GP on the DVR about 9 p.m. Central and noticed it was recording the NASCAR race. Imagine my froth when I turned it on and Danica Patrick was P6 half way through the race. Party on, Garth!
So I fired up the Race View Audio to listen in to Danica’s radio and made some coffee.
First, Jeff Gordon won. Yay. Jeff seems popular. I have no issue with Jeff. He won it fair and square, holding off hard-charging Kevin Harvick on the final lap to move into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
Cue the replay:
So, good race. It wasn’t a plate race where everyone was in a pack and passing for the lead becomes somewhat meaningless until the end. It was single file, BUT cars were moving up and back in the pack based on many things. Several overtakes for the lead. Yellows, pit strategy, tire strategy. Great race for one of my favorite tracks, Kansas Speedway.
Also a great race for Danica Patrick, much to the elation or chagrin of many people. There’s a lot of people at either pole when it comes to Danica. People like me (a former hater, no less) were elated to see how well she drove, finishing P7 and inhaling several real-deal cars. It was a legit P7 earned on the track, so Danica Nation was thrilled and kicked out a festival of excited tweets.
Any more, the reaction to Danica’s performance on the track is almost as interesting to me as the performance itself. Almost.
I’ve been following Danica since she came into IndyCar in 2005. At first, I wanted her to crash. I seriously hated Danica. I thought she was overrated, used her skin to get cash, was full of herself and a princess. As a fan of Sarah Fisher , I was extremely jealous of the team and resources Danica had and Sarah didn’t. Not proud of that attitude, but that’s the truth. But gradually I saw the unfairness of my attitude and transfigured into a Fanica. The story of my journey back from haterland is here.
If you are determined to not like any athlete, you tend to find any justification for your dislike. And if one justification proves untenable even to your hate-jaundiced eye, well you move on to the next and the next, suckling on each reason for dislike as long as possible.
With Danica, the progression goes something like this:
Phase 1: No talent publicity whore who uses her skin to get money.
Phase 2: No talent publicity whore who has great equipment but still sucks.
Phase 3: Any glimmer of success she has is because she has the best equipment. Anyone else in said great equipment would win 29 races a year.
Phase 4: FLUKE! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.
Phase 5: (My personal favorite) RIGGED! The sanctioning body wants Danica to win because it means tons of cash for said sanctioning body.
Phase 6: (As heard after her Motegi win, at Daytona and used by me after Danica led laps at Indy in 2005) Not authentic. Fuel mileage-induced. Lucky. All car and track. Doesn’t count.
Phase 7: (this one can actually come and go throughout the progression) Not worth the hype! Unfairly hyped! Getting excited about P7? Come on. P7 is not that big of a deal. Nobody got excited about P7 and Martinsville this year. Six people finished in front of her. Where are the stories??
Phase 8: (After a win or a good performance) If she does it consistently, then I’ll believe.
Phase 9: (Even if Danica wins three races in a year and then goes winless for a season) She’s done. Got lucky a few times. Now the true lack of talent is showing.
I used to argue against each Phase, try to tell people they are not being fair, using dual standards (one for Danica, one for everyone else), which were the conclusions that ultimately jolted me out of my hate for Danica, with a big assist from Sarah Fisher leading me by example.
But arguing with people intent on cheering against someone I cheer for is 1) a waste of time and 2) just brings me down. So I don’t do it any more (except sort of passively by posting stuff like this). Here Danica herself is a good example. As long as she’s sure she’s doing her best every time out there, she doesn’t get caught up in the hate. I have never ever seen her engage the haters. Ever. THAT takes a great big pair of steel ovaries. Also, Danica says she’s buoyed by the lovers (the opposite of haters) who cheer wildly for P40 as well as P7.
I think the most undefendable position of all these days is that Danica Patrick has zero talent. That’s so ludicrous I rarely hear that one anymore. It’s one thing to say she’s mediocre, or mid-pack, or even marginal … it’s another to say she has no business being on the track. The evidence is so overwhelmingly against the zero-talent argument that responding to it is like responding to a Flat Earth or Earth-is-Bigger-than-the-Sun theory. Danica’s performance in both NASCAR and IndyCar (cast an eye over her Indy 500 record as a refresher) is case-closed against the “zero-talent” argument.
Disarmed of that untenable zero-talent argument, many go to the old stand-by … other drivers would do far better than Danica if they had her money and equipment. Perhaps. But it’s easy to advance that argument (and cling to it) because it’s impossible to either prove or disprove.
Danica has the advantages she has because she’s worked within the same system that everyone works within to secure rides. Hate her for it if you want. Talk about how it’s “not fair” if you want. Insist she doesn’t “deserve” it if you want. But I decided long ago there’s just no pure “deserve” in racing, what with the need for drivers to help attract sponsors. The good news is there’s plenty of negatives to cling to if you so choose. You can be mad at her for the media harvesting revenue by writing stories about a driver that millions of us are interested in if you want. Hold her to a way higher standard than any other driver – seven short-track wins or she’s not a real racer!! – if you want. Your standards for Danica’s performance are not higher than her own. Or maybe cling to an actual or perceived slight you got from Danica days or years ago.
Don't misunderstand me. I have no problem with dislike of Danica. What I do have a problem is with double standards, unfairness, and personal attacks leveled at any athlete.
You do what you want, but what I'm going to do is enjoy Danica’s run at Kansas. And I’m going to hope that she repeats it and eventually wins a few races. In part because I’ll take pleasure in it and be happy for Danica and her legions of fans, and in part to see how the Danica deniers react.
Maybe you’re going to have issue with me investing all these words in talking about someone who finished P7 when there were six people in front of her, and I didn’t do this last week for Kevin Harvick (P7 at Talladega) or Dale Earnhardt Jr. (P7 at Richomond) which confirms your view of Danica getting too much hype for too little.
Hey, free country. It’s so free that I’m quite sure there are many many anti-Danica blog posts out there you can enjoy, or go to blogger.com and start your own. Knock yourselves out.
Finally, let me just tip out the door with this transcript of what Danica said on her radio on the cool-down laps at Kansas:
Danica: The car was awesome … I mean, it was really good. Thank you so much for working hard, building these cars like this. It makes all the difference. Nice work guys. Nice work on pit road. You did it when it counted.
Crew Chief Tony Gibson Jr.: 10-4. Nice job all weekend long, right there. We need to carry this into Charlotte next week. That was 92 laps on your left. Nice job.
Danica: Nice job, Brandon. Thank you for keeping me out of trouble because I sure hell had no idea what was going in the back straight.
Spotter Brandon Benesch: You did awesome, buddy. Absolutely the best night ever.
Danica: Yeah, that was by far the most consistent, up-front run. All I wanted to do was stay up front and we did so thank you.
Brandon: Very smart. Very fast. Very impressed.
And the haters said … “She’s just being gracious because she knows everyone is listening …”