Couple of ovals on the schedule this weekend, which turned my Sunday into a Mr. Sluggard on the Couch day. Insert wife chagrin here. So let’s recap …
NASCAR at Michigan. UMBRAGE TAKEN! Remember that umbrage is good, and we had some umbrage after this one. Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson spent several minutes face-to-face, looking unimpressed with each other, gesturing more wildly as the conversation went on, but no pit brawl broke out. Each was unhappy with the other’s alleged gratuitous paint swapping on the track.
I was kind of surprised that when Jimmie talked about it after the race, he said “vice grips” which is, in fact, a registered trademark (Vice-Grip®) of Irwin tools yet it’s become the universal name for all “locking pliers.” (Think BAND-AID® and adhesive bandage) Carl Edwards, the master of sponsor mentions, would have said “fortunately, we were able to get the Kobalt Self Adjusting Locking Pliers available at Lowe’s in place on the gear shift and keep racing.” Note: from the video it kind of looks like it was an actual Irwin Vice-Grip® locking pliers, but we’ll probably never know the brand name of said tool. Jimmie finished P8.
NASCAR A-Main — A restart with 17 go to provided the A-Main/Trophy Dash for this race. Winner Jeff Gordon outstarted Joey Logano and eventually won. To Joey’s credit, he didn’t go quietly and battled Gordon, even the battle cost him P2 to Kevin Harvick. Logano settled for third. Logano has won twice in 2014, so he’s in the Chase, so maybe being in the Chase helped encourage him to battle for the win rather than just settle for a “great points day” and stay in P2. Gordon notched his third win for the season.
Danica spin and rally — On Lap 26, Danica effed up and spun on a restart and sustaining a bit of damage. The good news for her is the team (including the driver) kept their shit together, used multiple stops under caution to get the car fixed, and managed to drive from P36 and two laps down to finish P18 on the lead lap, thanks to some yellows and the Lucky Dog. A good finish considering the spin-o-ramma. A great team effort for the second straight race. Danica did her part to recover from the spin by putting her head down and driving, getting into Lucky Dog position and staying claim. Crew chief Tony Gibson Jr. and Danica both had praise for the team effort after the race. View the spin and details here.
NASCAR Michigan Race results here.
IndyCar at Milwaukee. Switching from NASCAR on the big oval at Michigan to IndyCar on the Milwaukee Mile was a big adjustment. The two tracks are only 315 miles apart, but as different as the Moon and Mars. Will Power dominated the Milwaukee race and won from the pole.
The Flat Oval Challenge — Milwaukee is a great example an oval track that is FAR better in person than on TV. During the heart of the race there’s action all over the track. In person you can see the entire track from the stands so you can pick the battles to watch. That way if your fav driver isn’t contending for the win, you can still watch him or her race with whomever for whatever position and be entertained. That’s pretty much how I watch every oval race I attend, including all of the IndyCar races ever run at Iowa Speedway. Even back in the day when I would go to Kansas Speedway or Chicagoland, I’d keep an eye on my driver (usually Sarah Fisher back in the day) and also keep tabs on the leader.
On TV they try to show the individual battles, but in my opinion they use too tight of a shot to do so, so you get two cars, one almost passing, the other, but can’t see the upcoming traffic or the relative position on the track and it’s not the same. It’s just very tough for TV to capture it.
Then, when one car dominates and there are few yellows for restarts, the raw excitement element can drop dramatically. That can happen in NASCAR, as well. In fact, if IndyCar had a yellow and restart with about 20 laps to go at Milwaukee it would have dramatically changed the viewer perception of the entire race. Hold that thought for a second.
Power Play — I was happy to see Willy Power win, and here’s why: I think Power’s sometimes bizzaro (OK, “eccentric”) behavior is fantastic for IndyCar. Will is famous for giving race control the double birds a few years ago, and he’s had some similar mental moments and kind of strange post-race interviews and helter-skelter looking moments. He makes goofy mistakes like pit lane speeding and throws Block Parties so Obvious that even IndyCar Race Control calls the penalty. All of that adds a lot of color to the IndyCar series, and I love color.
If Power develops oval skills to match his twisty skills, he could go on a Jimmie Johnson-esque string of championships. That’s a big if, but Milwaukee showed how far Power has advanced on the ovals. “I love winning on ovals!” Power yelled on the radio.
Road Oval — Feeding into that is the Road Oval element of the Milwaukee race. It wasn’t about raw speed — Power had the fifth-fastest lap of the day — it was more about overall strategy including saving fuel and managing tires. Tires tires tires. IndyCar ovals these days are all about tires (for better or worse). Fresh tires won it at Iowa, tire wear caused a 15 mph drop off in speeds during a stint at Texas, and they were the biggest thing in Milwaukee as well. At least based on the NBCSN announcers saying the word “tires” upwards of 2933 times. Getting your car set up and driving in such a way as to go fast while minimized tire drop off was The Key to winning at Milwaukee. Power and Penske delivered that, big time.
NBCSN made the best of the race, and for a while it looked like Juan Pablo Montoya would chase down Power and give us a knife fight for the win, but alas he (say it with me) … used up his tires … before he could reach Willy P. Again, if we had a yellow and restart with 25 to go, the race is transformed from lackluster into “a nail biter at the end.” Sometimes you get the yellows (Iowa), sometimes you don’t.
So Power won, Montoya second, Tony Kanan third. Race results here.
Joe New was THIS Close, Again — Newgarden’s team rolled the dice on fuel strategy, hoping for a yellow, and it came up snake eyes. But, they did recover a bit and bring him in before the last possible lap to refill the car and get new rubber with enough laps left to give him a chance to drive back through the filed. Newgarden went a lap down on that pit stop, but, with fresh rubber was able to pass Power on the track to unlap himself, then carve the field to get back to P5. Impressive. If we were at the track, we would have been able to watch Newgarden carve the field and been entertained. But, since there was a question of whether Montoya would catch Power for the win, the cameras stayed up front and we missed the aforementioned carving.
Boring? Fascinating? — That’s one of them eye of the beholder deals. Some are entertained by tire and fuel strategy. That’s legit. Some are also entertained by classical music and chess. Also legit. If you say the race was boring, be ready for angry reaction, because with some you’re not allowed to think something is boring. It’ just one of them hard-core IndyCar fan rules (and probably one of them hard-core NASCAR fan deals as well). I thought the race was “lackluster.” There were points when we sat up, like at the end when we wondered if Montoya would catch Power and watched (OK, heard about) Josef Newgarden’s fuel strategy fail then almost succeed. But, I admit I dozed a couple of times earlier in the race.
What should be done?? Maybe nothing, as far as tweaking the cars. You’re going to get the Milwaukee 2014-type race on flat ovals, especially with IndyCar lightening downforce or the nature of the DW-12’s aerodynamics (I’m honestly not sure which it is) that creates less downforce, which means more sliding around and more or faster tire degradation. When you miss the setup (which means you can’t go fast and make your tires last) at a place like Milwuakee, you’re screwed. I don’t care if you’re the second coming of Rick Mears, you’re screwed. Throw in long greens and pretty soon you have four cars on the lead lap. It’s the same in NASCAR and IndyCar. I should throw in a shout out here to IndyCar for refusing to reach for the phantom yellow for MENACING HOT DOG WRAPPERS in order to spice it up. Often three or four cars get it right and they end up contending for the win on a flat oval like Milwaukee, but on Sunday only one got it right. Power had the best car, so justice was done on the track at least.
Scanner … please. — Here’s why I watched all of NASCAR races and rarely doze off, even during races that have audiences dropping like flies and BAWLING for yellows: NASCAR RaceView Audio. It’s a subscriber service that I pay for (so I’m motivated to use it) that lets me listen to the radio of any driver in a NASCAR Cup race. So you can listen to your favorite driver, or jump around, I think you can even set it to scan all the drivers.
So what I do is get Danica Patrick on the scanner (act shocked), turn on the TV with the volume down low and watch timing and scoring on my tablet. Bam. SO, even if Danica is back in the pack and getting no love on TV, I can keep track of her on timing and scoring, listen to what she, her spotter and crew chief are saying, and stay engaged in the race.
I’ve begged IndyCar to get a scanner service forever to no avail. It must be an economic thing. Most likely they don’t think enough people will pay for the service to make it work. Fair enough. But, again, the service keeps me connected to the NASCAR race even when it’s not a barn burner.
I hear that you can listen to select drivers via the Verizon IndyCar App, which is great for Verizon customers (which I am), and if it’s reliable (I tried it a couple times and it crashed on me), but web-based is far superior in my view. More reliable, less chewing up my phone data allowance when I am not connected to wi-fi, just more convenient. Not as many infamous IndyCar.com workarounds involved.
Merger Mania -- Big news out of the Milwaukee race is that Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman racing will merge into a two-car CFH Racing in 2015. No word on who the drivers will be. One assumes Ed will drive the ovals in one car. Sarah Fisher Hartman supposedly offered a contract to Joe New, but he's not signing nothing until the end of the season. Hmmmm. Maybe Joe New has some other offers? STAY TUNED. I'm happy about the merger because I'm a huge fan of both Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter. Boom.
That's a lot of spewing from me. Let me know what you thought of the weekend's activities below. Happy Monday.