Happy Memorial Day. Just some thoughts on the Indy 500 from out here in TV land.
The Indy 500 in person and the Indy 500 on TV are almost two different races, for many reasons. Primarily, the majesty and excitement and State Fair (in a good way) like experience of Indy in person tend to make every Indy 500 THE GREATEST EVER. I get that. Not dissing it. It’s a very experiential deal.
Since I watched here in Iowa, DVR delayed, I can only speak for my TV experiences, so here goes.
Ed Got Screwed — Had to get that out of the way early. He got hosed on a restart. Townsend Bell went high into turn 1, which was fine, but then James Hinchcliffe dove under low, making it three-wide in the turn, and essentially cutting off Ed’s line through the turn. Contact. Spin. Crash. Ed and Hinch are out. I THINK the kerfuffle also caused Townsend Bell some damage such as a bent front end part that several laps later sent him into the wall. But don’t quote me on that.
So Ed got hosed, and he was pissed afterwards. Hinch did the right thing and said it was 100% NOT Ed’s fault. I let go with a flurry of obscenities … but what are you gonna do? One of them racing deals. Hinch had brain freeze, Ed got punted while driving a car that had a shot to win it. Can’t undo it. I don’t think Hinch should be BANNED from racing or anything. Hinch screwed himself as well as Ed, just sucks more for Ed.
Ed said that it was "It's a good thing he (Hinch) already had a concussion” or he might have popped him in the head in the safety truck ride back to the care center. INSERT UMBRAGE OVER ED’S “THREAT” HERE. Please. The guy just saw maybe his best shot to win the Indy 500, which he wakes up every day thinking about, screwed by a bonehead move. It’s not reasonable to expect him to say “Well, that wasn’t very sporting.” Wide latitude from me. SAYING you felt like kicking someone’s ass is way different than throwing hay-makers.
First 150 laps green, green, green. Love it. Love love love. I love the green flag. Of course I grew up watching sprint cars, where yellow laps don't even count. Racing is what I’m here to see, not yellows and pit stops and restarts where your driver gets SPEARED out of the race by some over-optimistic move. It’s been interesting to see the reaction to the first 150 green as in who loves and hates it and why. I don’t think there has ever been an Indy 500 that hasn’t had at least one yellow.
To me, the lack of yellow to start the race was a sign that drivers were getting a clue that the Indy 500 is a marathon, not a sprint. The first 150 laps are used to give you a chance to win in the last 50. SO, why would you hazard your car in the first 150 unless you’re a wanker? Combine that with the lack of mechanical issues causing spins and you got a green fest. Love it. I hope IndyCar doesn’t dick with the cars to make them “harder to drive.” Why would you do that? To bring out more yellows? Isn’t yellow love a NASCAR thing? Makes no sense for IndyCar.
IndyCar’s Red, Yellow, Green, White, Checker (RYGWC) Rule — Toward the end of the race (10-ish laps to go, I believe) Townsend Bell biffs the wall. Yellow yellow yellow. Normally, I think (and the ABC booth guys seemed to agree) that the yellow would have ended he race. BUT, chief steward Beaux Barfield (perhaps among others) decided to show the red flag, stop the field, allow for repairs on the SAFER wall and cleanup, and give us a 6-ish lap green finish.
The Indy 500 had not finished under green since 2009. I believe that with every yellow finish the pressure builds to adopt a NASCAR-like Green-White-Checkered rule that would extend the Indy 500 if a yellow comes out at the end of the race. A GWC rule would have extended last year’s Indy 500 which went yellow with three to go. It wouldn’t have impacted the 2012 Indy 500 which went yellow on the last lap (GWC doesn’t come into play once the cars take the white flag) nor in 2011 when they yellow came out on turn four of the last lap.
BUT, these are different times, and people who pay hundreds of dollars (all expenses considered) and invest days to go to the race or hours to watch it on TV expect more return on investment than an anticlimactic yellow finish. That’s just the reality of today’s marketplace. So the debate usually comes down to the “give the fans full value” vs. “don’t f-bomb with tradition/race integrity.” Also, anti-GWC fans claim that it extends the race distance which screws with strategy, and makes one guy the winner of the Indy 500 and another the winder of the Indy 505. I understand and respect those arguments.
So I’m wishy washy on the GWC. Fortunately this year the last crash happened at a point where Beaux had a chance to put out the red. You have to have about five laps remaining to get the red out there, because you go red, then you go yellow for a couple laps to restart the race, then you go green, white, checkered.
I believe the Indy 500 has a new unofficial policy that says red flag will come out on any crash between 10 and 5 laps remaining.
Beaux et al did get some cover here because the SAFER wall needed to be repaired before the race could restart, hence maybe an extra justification for the red. However, I don’t believe that Beaux was required to stop the race to allow for SAFER repairs. If it happens in the middle of the race, the cars keep going under yellow (and clicking off laps) while repairs are made. Pretty sure the red was provoked primarily by the desire to give fans a shot at a green finish.
Give Beaux credit for avoiding the big big big kerfuffle today over “does IndyCar need a GWC rule?” Insert umbrage from both sides. I, for one, was super pumped that the race finished under green, and I don’t believe the use of the red damaged the integrity of the race. It did not extend the race distance.
ABC Coverage — ABC does a good job, on the whole. I like ABC. I’m not a pre-race guy, so I DVR fast-forwarded through the packages, but lots of people enjoy them. They put in the effort. They bring a zillion cameras to the Indy 500. They care about the race, clearly. I like Lindsay Czarniak!
So, B+ to ABC. My issue is always when cars suddenly retire or lose five laps, maybe let us know why. Not asking for a big 90-second report. Just asking to maybe shoot Jamie Little or one of the pit reporters down to Buddy Lazier’s pit and find out why he’s no longer in the race and let us know. Twenty seconds of air time, tops. The coverage of the cars that retire or are having issues is extremely spotty.
Another reason for the B+ was the appalling (to me) use of split screen at the end of the race so we could activate the Spouse Cam. We had the battle on the track on one half of the screen, and a camera on the spouse of the leader on the other, even switching from spouse to spouse when someone passed. Yeah, I get the “capture the emotions and drama” goal here. And, yeah, these are very nice women who are experiencing very strong emotions.
But SHOW ME THE BATTLE ON THE TRACK. It's not often I yell at my TV, but I did yell “SHOW ME THE (very bad word) RACE" at my TV at the end of the Indy 500. If you want to show the spouse, make her a small inset with race MUCH bigger. When they FINALLY did cut away from the split screen, it was compelling TV. Too bad we missed a lap or so of it because we had to see the spouses emote. Again, nothing against them. Love them. I validate their emotions! I just want to see the race. Show me the spouse later.
Blocking Rule — Get ready for a shock, but I thought Beaux et al did a good job calling blocking. The rule that you cannot react to what the pursuing car does is a good one. It lets drivers take “defensive lines” down the front straight (generally diving toward the inside wall) without penalty. BUT, if you don’t take that line and then react to someone trying to dive under you, no-no. The defensive line is usually the slower line, so often when someone “defended” they would get inhaled later. The new IndyCar has evolved enough that a pursuing driver has more options to overtake even if the leading car “defends.”
Kurt Busch — I was NOT a Kurt Busch fan before May, but my opinion of Kurt has dramatically improved based on his conduct in trying to do the double. He said everything right. He proved you can be complimentary of the Indy 500 and IndyCar WITHOUT dissing NASCAR, and vice versa. Kurt really did a fantastic job in handling himself and in driving in the Indy 500 (he finished P6). Sucks that he blew an engine in Charlotte. IndyCar and its fans should give him big respect and thanks for adding a lot of publicity to the race, as well as how well he handled himself. Props.
Overall, great stuff. Clean racing. Strategy. Great finish. The 2014 Indy 500 was better than the 60-some pass for the lead 2013 Indy 500. Primarily because in 2013, the leader was going to be passed, only a matter of time. In 2014, nobody had anything for RHR at the end. Helio Castroneves made it close, but he just couldn’t get there.
Robin Miller breaks down the race in his own unique way ..