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After the most compelling IndyCar race in many years Saturday at Auto Club Speedway and before an almost completely empty house several drivers embarrassed themselves by bitching about “pack racing,” going so far as repeatedly calling the race “crazy.” The phrase “pack racing” is the newest pejorative in the sport and was oft used in relation to the MAVTV 500. This gratuitous hurling of abuse was unfair in our eyes, not to mention unhelpful and ungrateful. In fact it was a superb record setting race with a stunning eighty lead changes among fourteen drivers, an American winner and relatively few incidents. After all, no one was killed or even injured other than another of Dale Coyne’s crewman, and with a constant rotation of drivers for the shoestring team that’s par for the course. Listening to some drivers after the race though you’d have thought a massacre had just occurred on national television.
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Graham Rahal gained an amazing eighteen spots to win the race which ended under yellow, leading our pick Tony Kanaan to the line. This occurred after a red flag stoppage of the race to clean up an earlier incident caused by Takuma Sato, which we also predicted. It’s Rahal’s second win and first on an oval track in nine years of racing. He overcame a dangerous incident in his pit when his fueler inexplicably shoved the fuel buckeye back into the car as it dropped off the jack and sped away. The fuel hose broke, spilling fuel everywhere on pit lane and the yellow was soon displayed. Oddly, race control opted to fine and dock Rahal points rather than issue a drive through penalty. The thus far unexplained and controversial call ended up affecting the outcome of the race.
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The ghosts of Dan Wheldon and Las Vegas were even evoked in a truly sad display of professional whining by athletes who are well paid to race closely while side by side and entertain fans. They are not paid to degrade the product or to take a giant dump on a classic display of riveting oval track racing, yet that’s precisely what they did. It was an outrageous display of complaining the likes of which we at IRR have never seen in decades of closely following the sport.
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The post race interviews – specifically Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Juan Montoya – were dreadful, sounding like baseball players complaining about the lack of hitting in a perfect game. The racing’s not crazy Will, you are. The race and racing were both tremendous, and those who don’t like it need to shut up or go away. What was on display Saturday in Fontana is called good old-fashioned IndyCar oval racing – not “pack racing” – and was exquisite, by far the most entertaining and exciting race of the year. The comments of Power, Montoya, et al were worse than those of insipid trolls on Twitter and the Cap’n outta be ashamed.
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No one was seriously injured and the action was what was packed for a full three hours of sometimes four-wide high speed ecstasy. The few thousand fans who bothered to show up on a hot Saturday afternoon even got an attempted green finish, although it wasn’t meant to be. Robin Miller ripped IndyCar boss Mark Miles afterward, estimating “one of the greatest” IndyCar races ever was held in front of three thousand fans. The crowd didn’t amount to much more than that, perhaps ten thousand or so on a questionable race date and time. He alluded to the track president being unhappy and urged a sort of owners strike to get Miles to return the race to a night time finale – as it was previously – and to listen to those who know something about racing. Miles didn’t immediately comment.
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Will Power: “What are we doing? What are we doing? We went in there and told them it’ll be pack racing. That was a Vegas situation right there. I’m just so happy that no one was really hurt. . . . Someone’s gotta take responsibility for how this day’s panned out. As exciting as it is, it’s insane ’cause you can’t get away – you can’t get away – and you have to take massive risks to gain track position. . . . That’s crazy racing. It’s crazy, crazy, crazy. We just don’t need another incident like we had at Vegas, and running like this it’ll happen. It’s a matter of time.”
Tony Kanaan: “It’s a new package so we keep guessing and we guessed it on the wrong side. I think it was a great race for the fans, but you know I get criticized a lot when I talk about this kind of thing, but people are not in the race car to see. You know 215 miles an hour doing this, it’s – I would like you guys to try, the people that criticized us. So, it’s tough man. It’s stressful and it makes you think ‘Do you still want to keep doing this like that?’ So, hopefully we get together and come up with a better solution and move on.”
Marco Andretti: “I’m glad everybody’s all right there at the end. That was crazy.”
Juan Montoya: “Honestly, I felt it was a little too stupid, you know what I mean? What I told IndyCar yesterday is, we shouldn’t be racing like this. This is full pack racing and sooner or later somebody’s going to get hurt. So, we don’t need to be doing this. You know, we had a helluva show and everything, but . . . ”
RHR: “It was pack racing. It was crazy out there.”
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Ed Carpenter – who took out his team mate Josef Newgarden in a dumb move adding to a terrible season – defended the racing at Fontana to his eternal credit. He denied that it was pack racing and then bluntly took on the critics and complainers. “I just hate that the first thing that guys do is get out and slam the sport we’re a part of. If you don’t want to do it, go somewhere else. There’s plenty of other guys who want to be here,” he rightly told USA Today.
We say amen to that, Ed. Amen. If yesterday’s race was pack racing, then it’s not a pejorative it’s a positive. We’d like to see more of it.
Here’s the incident between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe at the end of the race which caused much of the consternation after Briscoe flipped. Hunter-Reay later blamed Montoya for the accident.