Pocono IndyCar postscript
After recording his first podium finish of 2013, and completing a 1-2-3 sweep the victory rostrum for Chip Ganassi Racing, Franchitti began to extol the virtues of teammate and race winner Scott Dixon. The win was Dixon's 30th career IndyCar style victory, which moved the Kiwi into tenth place on the all-time wins list, one behind Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, and Franchitti.
Franchitti pointed out that the ceiling for Dixon at 33 is very high. “I think Scott, with his age, with how good he is, he can put up some really stout numbers going forward,” said Franchitti about his teammate. And while Franchitti is 100% correct, I must say: Dario, we beat you to it.
Yes, if you recall AR1 ran an article 11 months ago after Dixon won at Mid-Ohio, arguing amongst other things that Dixon from a historical perspective had possibly yet to even enter his prime years. After all, numerous IndyCar drivers (Franchitti being a perfect example) enjoyed their finest years in their mid-late 30s. Johnny Rutherford, for example, scored 26 victories after turning 35. Emerson Fittipaldi scored 22 victories after turning 38. Plus, Dixon has numerous other factors working in his favor (top equipment, a good head on his shoulders, the ability to win on different circuits, etc.).
In short, the unassuming Kiwi is poised to make a serious assault on the IndyCar/Championship racing record books. While I doubt he will match A.J. Foyt's 67 victories, third-place Michael Andretti's 42 are within reach, and surpassing Mario Andretti's 52 wins for second place, is conceivable.
And Sunday was classic Dixon.
Starting 17th, Dixon methodically moved through the field in the first half of the race. Long considered the best at "making fuel," of this generation, Dixon was able to gain positions, yet stretch his fuel mileage longer than other front-runners. Late in the race, Dixon found himself out in front, and because he stretched his fuel window, had enough fuel to run to the end without the worrying about conservation.
The win was the 100th across major forms of motorsports for longtime sponsor Target, and 200th IndyCar win for Honda.
One of the major stories making headlines last week was the fact IndyCar’s return to Pocono would serve as the hometown race for AutoRacing1.com, headquartered just outside Trenton, New Jersey.
Ok, not really.
But after a 24-year absence, this was a homecoming for the Andretti family based in nearby Nazareth, PA. And unfortunately, Dixon's triumph came at great disappointment for hometown hero and pole-sitter Marco Andretti.
Andretti, of course, was the dominant driver in testing, practice, qualifying and the first 100-plus laps of the race. However, he was unable to match the fuel mileage of Dixon and other Honda runners. As a result, the third generation IndyCar driver was forced to dial back the speed in an effort to save fuel; essentially becoming a sitting duck.
Now, I don't want to appear as though I am saying some sort of grave injustice was done. Dixon and the Ganassi team clearly got the strategy right and ran a fabulous race.
But it was hard to not feel sorry for young Andretti, who seems to have inherited some the infamous "Andretti Luck," and admitted to being "gutted," in a post-race interview.
Despite the hometown hero's disappointment, no one can dispute this was a successful return for IndyCar. I know the estimated crowd of about 40,000 didn't look great on television (something can be done about that), but the drivers were excited about the turnout. Further, there is no layout anything like The Tricky Triangle, and its presence on the schedule adds diversity to the most diverse championship in racing.
Plus, when Pocono Raceway CEO Brandon Igdalsky, and his brother COO Nick Igdalsky met with the media Saturday, their enthusiasm was infectious. One answer in particular stood out to me.
AR1 President Mark Cipolloni asked Nick if they were concerned about selling tickets for three major events (remember NASCAR runs both first week of June, and first week of August) in an 8-week period. Nick answered a definitive "no," stating that it was actually a part of their overall promotion/marketing plan.
While I initially chalked his answer up to PR-type spin, the more I thought about it, the more encouraged I became.
Considering, Pocono is not tied to the NASCAR affiliated race conglomerates SMI and ISC, it will be interesting to see if IndyCar can succeed, minus the politics of those two organizations. In other words, Pocono is marketing racing at their track rather than racing as part of some larger conglomerate. In essence, the Igdalskys see IndyCar as fundamental to their business plan, not as some auxiliary to fill a date at their facility.
If we are to believe that, IndyCar has found itself quite a partner.
Now, there were a few mentions in the media center to the effect of "if this were a NASCAR race, a caution would have been thrown here," or such and such circumstance would have occurred there. The insinuation, of course, being that something would have been done to increase the chances of an Andretti victory. This would have sent the very partisan crowd home happy, making it more likely the partisan crowd would return in future years.
For the record, I don't disagree with the suggestion a NASCAR race would have turned out differently.
I definitely agree an Andretti win would have sent the crowd home happy.
However, to me the larger issue here is not the fact "hometown hero didn't win." Rather, my concern is over the fact many didn’t understand why the hometown hero didn't win. Let me explain.
I spent a good portion of the race in different spots amongst spectators, many of whom were new to racing, or at the very least don't follow the series regularly. And to those more casual fans, one minute Marco Andretti was leading the race, looking untouchable. He came in for a pit stop, came out, and suddenly wasn't leading anymore. Many in the stands had no idea why.
While us regulars (people reading this column) knew that Dixon was stretching his fuel, and is historically masterful at saving fuel, we all agree we are trying to reach a larger audience. And there was nothing there that someone in the stands would have been able to access that would have explained this to them. I didn’t bother to try the “Dixon is probably running a different fuel mapping, and stretching his window, so he can run full rich in the final stint type,” diatribe.
Such examples of disconnect were not limited to the situation with Andretti.
For example, one young lady, who was part of the Coastal sunglasses promotion team thought Tristan Vautier was being black-flagged for his radio not working. I told her that the radio not working was an inconvenience, but not a punishable offense. I then pointed out he didn’t that because the radio didn’t work, Vautier didn’t know he was being black-flagged, which could cause another penalty.
One boy (he was maybe 10) randomly walked up to me and asked what the blue flag was for. I explained it was the "move over," flag for a slower car with a faster car approaching. Still, I don't think he totally understood.
In other words, with cars flying around and around, a 10 year old may not understand the #25 car is lapping the #18 car, for example. That boy simply sees two cars, and one is trying to pass the other.
Now, such things are not an IndyCar problem per se. Also, I’m not blaming this person, that sanctioning group, or anyone in particular for that matter. However, remember our recent series about racing losing its relevance with the younger generations. Part of this is racing, all forms of racing, and those within racing, must seek to educate others about the sport.
Otherwise, to many it will just be cars flying round and round, with no real purpose. And that’s a tough sell.
A Few Quick Things:
--Of the twenty-two drivers who have started all 11 races, only Sebastien Bourdais has yet to score a top-10 finish.
--Simona de Silvestro scored her best career oval finish, coming home 11th. The Swiss Missile looked visibly more upbeat than two weeks ago in Iowa. Still, I think de Silvestro will be pretty happy to see a street course this weekend in Toronto.
--Pippa Mann scored her career best finish, coming home 15th.
Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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