What’s about to happen is this: I’m about to be critical of the IndyCar racing at Texas, and in return be accused of not being a real race fan, and told to go back to NASCAR, and probably have some kind of Danica Patrick-based derision slung at me.
Since I have been reading Jane Austen, I’ll say "But, no matter (Mr. Darcy), I am nonetheless urged to make a most expedient recounting of my feelings thereunto (?)"
Here’s the nub of it: IndyCar at Texas has become NASCAR minus the contact. Whether you think that's good or bad is entirely up to you, but I believe it is the case. Pray, continue ..
It was breathtaking to watch. And dangerous. Which was the rub.
But then came 2011 and the tires-touching accident at Las Vegas that killed Dan Wheldon. That immediately put three-wide for any time at on any track in an IndyCar out of favor. The term “pack racing” gained currency as a way to describe an angry bumblebee formation of a pack of cars racing around a track (think NASCAR Talladega), made famous by IndyCar at Chicagoland Speedway, out of fear (not unjustified, to be sure) of a repeat of Las Vegas.
My first issue is that Texas was rarely a “pack race” unless the most liberal definition of that phrase was used. But let's not get sidetracked by that. The object was to make even three-wide a rarity, with a big dose of saving the drivers from themselves. Because if they CAN go three-wide, you know they WILL go three-wide.
IndyCar used changes in the aerodynamic rules and allowable bits on the car to try to create separation. Here comes the source of the “not a real race fan” stuff: by changing the aero, the cars moved around on the track more, making it impossible to just tromp the accelerator to the floor and hold it wide open for 50 laps between pit stops (Texas before 2011). Now the drivers had to lift to compensate for the non-stuck-ness of their cars.
So the cars were “harder to drive.” And, since less downforce means the cars slide around a bit (by no means dirt track level, but a tiny slide in an IndyCar is like Formula Drift, relatively speaking) the tires wore more. With the aero bits providing less downforce, the tires were called on to do more of the grip work, and consequently they wore must more rapidly under the post-2011 rules.
From a viewing perspective, the racing went from OMG visual LUNACY to far more of a measured, who-has-the-best-car, single-overtake-at-a-time affair. Speeds at last night’s race started around 212 or 213 mph and dropped off at least ten miles per hour during the stint, with cars pitting when they were doing 199 mph or slower because the tires were shot.
So it was a much more strung-out affair, which was the post-2011 goal. The teams that minimized tire wear while maximizing speed were rewarded.
Cue Jane Austen – I believe I may be so bold as to flatter myself that I’ve described IndyCar at Texas’s present situation.
It is not as visually exciting as the old Texas ... to me. It’s also not as visually nerve-wracking with as much concern about people touching tires and bad things happening (cue memories of Las Vegas 2011 which was cued by two cars touching tires).
For those of us who liked the get-flat, go 220, seeing the current Texas race leaves us a bit conflicted. We’re being told that what we liked was lethally dangerous to the drivers involved, and no prudent person likes to risk lives for their own entertainment. We’re further told that old Texas was not a shadow of a test of driver skill as the new Texas is.
Most galling to me, however, is that if to express our issues with Texas or lament the entertainment factor, is to be immediately condemned (by some, not all to be sure) as not a real race fan who like to see a test of skill rather than random chance. A simpleton with no taste or breeding!
BUT, what IndyCar at Texas has become is … NASCAR minus the contact. Virtually every non-plate NASCAR oval race, not only do drivers have to lift , they often use the brakes. Tires degrade (although not nearly the drop off of IndyCars). There’s way way way less aero to lean on (wingless NASCARs). So I would highly advise anyone enraptured by IndyCar at Texas to watch NASCAR on a non-plate track. Same stuff every week.
But, it’s fair to say that the new Texas does fit into the "diversity of skills" branding that IndyCar has going on. Different skill set than Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the short ovals, street and road races. That’s a strong argument. Success in IndyCar does require the most varied set of driver skills of any racing I know.
However, all the highlights promoting Texas remain LUNACY highlights, which tips me that it’s hard to sell diversity of skills to a mass viewing audience, and hard to visually represent the test of tire management and car control. But, whether hte new Texas sells in the marketplace is beyond the point here. The point being that new Texas is not old Texas, and not being a fan of new Texas is highly unpopular with those who are.
The situation was not helped by the commentators on the IndyCar race at Texas. The word “tires” must have been used at least 1,000 times. If “tires” was your drinking word, you’re dead inside the first 10 minutes of pre-race. Tires, tires, tires, tires. Fresh tires. Tires going off. Tire wear. Tire management (including finding a setup that minimizes the wear while maximizing the speed) IS the story at Texas.
It gives me no pleasure to find the racing at Texas less than captivating (I turned to the Stanley Cup playoffs last night and checked the race during commercials), especially since my boy Ed Carpenter won at Texas last night. The triumph of Ed, the loan oval specialist in IndyCar, helps blunt the sting of the race.
Another HUGE, FAT silver lining: If the TMS changes greatly emphsized driver skill, and Ed Carpenter won, can we at least now have an end to the bullshit that Ed's only skill is in being Tony George's son? Perhaps, but haters, confronted with Texas and Ed's two other Ws, will doubtless find some reason to continue to hate on Ed, if only as a way to vent their disdain of Tony.
Is new Texas interesting? Depends on the beholder. To some it is very much so. The drivers say they find it fun, but to be commercially brutal, them having fun doesn’t necessarily translate to me having fun too. If you find it captivating, I congratulate you sir (or madam) and wish you every good enjoyment. But perhaps relish your enjoyment without scorning those of us who pine for the old Texas as somehow less of a fan than yourselves.
Fair point: if you don't like Texas, spend less time complaining and more time not watching. Let the record show, I tweeted only one complaint about Texas last night and then moved on. But please don't further be angry with us for somehow betraying IndyCar by doing just that ... moving on and not watching a race we don't find enjoyable.
Meanwhile, you might want to check out NASCAR at Pocono today.