Phoenix Race Review: IndyCar Drivers Just Love To Apologize


The pilots really shouldn’t be so hard on themselves after races. Phoenix wasn’t that bad, although the series’ handling of it was.

From Fontana last year to Phoenix last night, IndyCar drivers have apologized enough. It isn’t their fault. The fact that they feel the need to constantly make amends is quite telling, though. It’s high time to take a good, hard look at those running the series, as we’ve advocated for some time now.


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In a near weekly ritual, PIR was billed as “the most physically demanding” track on the schedule. A mildly entertaining race had Scott Dixon cruising to a whopping thirty ninth career win, fourth on the all time list. Like others, our expectations for IndyCar oval track racing are sky high; unfortunately, the return to Phoenix didn’t exactly soar. Dixie took the checkers ahead of Pags and Power under caution. He then promptly began to apologize for it.


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In his article, cringe worthy Curt Cavin resorted to hyperbole calling passing “impossible” and quoting Will “Sour Grapes” Power to that effect. In reality, there was some exciting three wide action and a fair amount of passing throughout the field, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and the less publicized Graham Rahal making impressive Honda powered charges to the front. Son of ‘stache improved fourteen positions and finished fifth as top Honda. Afterwards, he pointedly mentioned the competition’s “five mile an hour advantage.” RHR and Rahal’s extraordinary underdog efforts alone made the race worthwhile.


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Still, Hunter-Reay felt the need to apologize for the show. “It wasn’t the most exciting race in the world,” he frankly admitted. “But, we’ll fix it. We’ll come back and we’ll have a much better race next year. Hopefully with a package similar to the DW12, maybe. That would be great, ’cause we had some great racing back then.”


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Further spicing things up, Phoenix involved a sprinkling of crashes, spins and near encounters – and that’s not even counting practice. The former included Ed Carpenter walling it after “a desperation move” – again according to the ever outspoken Rahal – and Carlos “OK” Munoz, performing his second smash up of the weekend. Upon reflection, perhaps Munoz’s description of his first win in Detroit is also apt for the racing Saturday night at Phoenix: OK.

A clean, green start to the commotion saw the field string out for the first fifty laps, leading to the feeling it was going to be another one of those disappointing kind of races. But when Penske’s boys experienced pressure problems, things momentarily got interesting. Early leaders Helio Castro-Neves and “what’s wrong with” Juan Montoya both suffered flats, the lightning strikes effectively ending their chances to win. Eventually Dixon grabbed the lead as a couple of cut Firestones ended up allowing him to pull away, controlling nearly the final two thirds of the race.


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Almost incredibly, the three headed monster in race control actually called a penalty during the race for a change. CGR‘s Charlie Kimball, who was doing his best Team Penske impersonation last night, got called for flagrant televised chopping on Josef Newgarden in a call that simply had to be made, in part because Newkid was forced to pit for a new front wing. Kimball, who races with diabetes, was given a drive through penalty for the rarely cited – much less enforced – avoidable contact.

Stretches under the lights saw cars strung out in a procession, though in IndyCar there are more than enough rookies and veterans of dubious talent to keep things interesting. Dale Coyne‘s Luca Filippi was one such example, spinning, managing to avoid the wall and then killing the engine in the inaugural incident of the evening. Embarrassingly, the Italian looked like it was his first ever IndyCar race instead of merely his first oval adventure. He finished back in twentieth, ahead of only the crashers.


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Troublingly, the crowd was sparse and looked particularly thin on television, estimated at between eighteen to twenty thousand. Happily, Cavin also wrote that the track president was somehow pleased, looking to the future and – importantly – saying that IndyCar will return next year. Thank goodness, as the loss of another oval due to the series missing the mark on down force with those ridiculous aero kits – which it did at Phoenix, predictably so – would have been unbearable. And recall, Michael Andretti demanded even more down force!

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Race control fumbled the yellow at the end big time. Dark yellow debris from Hunter-Reay’s late brush with the wall settled right in the middle of the front straight. Just what the series didn’t need – another ubiquitous aero kit winglet, this time mucking up the conclusion. IndyCar’s mishandled cautions for years now, and last night was no different. There were lengthy yellow periods – six in all – sometimes when no contact had even been made and no cleanup was necessary. But they proceeded to clean the track anyway, meanwhile the race dragged by at one third speed. This pattern’s definitely worthy of an apology.

After recklessly holding off on the yellow flag for several laps, the stewards were forced to finally throw it, thereby giving race fans a less than thrilling ending. While some argued the caution was unnecessary, on an oval where speeds approached two hundred miles an hour it unfortunately was a no brainer. The fault came in waiting so long to throw it, thereby guaranteeing a yellow finish. Paul Tracy rightly labeled the late call “a shame.”


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Overall NBCSN’s coverage was above average, although for some strange reason we missed Daffy Leigh Diffey. Tracy’s become our new personal favorite IndyCar commentator however, adding much needed color to the broadcasts. On a critical note, it’d always be nice to see more of Katie Hargitt.


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There were some amusing on air moments, as SPM’s mad Russky Mikhail “making a comeback” Aleshin backed down pit road and then stalled it, nearly missing the entrance altogether. Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais’ KV crew practically had to force him to come into the pit box after his own French kiss of the wall in the second half of the race.


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In victory circle, Dixon apologetically mentioned putting on “a better show” and “making adjustments” to improve the racing next time. Kanaan too expressed regret, as well as a “need to apologize” for violently chopping Newgarden. Fellow founding member of IndyCar’s three stooges Power chimed in again, as well. And on and on.

This recent rash of mea culpas is unbecoming. We accept your apologies – enough already. Drivers need to stop apologizing for the racing – especially when it’s decent. More significantly, IndyCar’s brass needs stop giving them reason to feel they need to.


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