So much for a friends reunion at IndyCar’s annual parade ’round a motorcycle track in Alabama. None were made and, what’s worse, auld acquaintances fractured under the pressure Sunday afternoon.
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The Cap’n’s Frenchman Simon Pagenaud – who has few friends – dominated the road course race winning from pole. It’s his second straight triumph and sixth overall, a trend that won’t win him many new friends in the IndyCar paddock. The fuel saving and “coasting” exhibited yet again during the affair won’t win the series many new fans, either.
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It was a fugly start, with AA‘s Carlos “unfriendly” Munoz smashing into Mad Russian Mikhail Aleshin. He in turn knocked AJ Foyt’s Jack Hawksworth off track, bringing out the only caution of the day. The wreck voided the start and turned out to be one of the few exciting parts of the telecast. Inexplicably, the victims Aleshin and Hawksworth were sent to the rear for the restart while Munoz went unpunished by the famously fickle race stewards. Neither an official penalty nor an explanation were given. It was the increasingly friendless Munoz’s second such stunt of the season, as he went punting at St. Pete, too.
One entertaining episode featured an unfriendly scene between “lifelong friends” Conor Daly and Graham Rahal, according to NBCSN. The young Hoosier battled to get back on the lead lap and in doing so held up a hard charging Rahal. After several laps Daly eventually let him past, though clearly the two weren’t finished with the episode. After the race an obviously peeved Daly got personal with his old friend publicly, tweeting:
“Thanks for the radio comments @GrahamRahal some of us cant be as lucky as you growing up. An[d] to think u thanked me for letting u by at end.”
Remarkably there were no DNFs for the second race in a row, though Graham “rammin'” Rahal certainly tried. At one point late in the contest we were actively rooting for a yellow to liven things up, but it turned out in vain. Stand in Rick Allen (Schwieger) did an ok job with the broadcast along with the rest of the crew, despite having little with which to work. Frankly, we’ll be glad when our old friend “Daffy” Leigh Diffey returns from exile, as he’s more fan friendly. Incidents of on track passing, a rarity Sunday, were missed by NBCSN’s coverage, though in fairness some were shown as replays.
In easily the biggest shock of the race, IndyCar’s non-rejiggered race control actually started doing its job and called a couple of penalties on the reckless competitors. Like Pags going “over the line!” at Long Beach as Walter from buddy movie ‘The Big Lebowski’ said, both penalties at Barber were blatant. The first was on Sebastien “the other frog” Bourdais for avoidable contact after he hit and spun Scott Dixon just as things got going for the second time. Screwing Dixon royally, the Frenchman received a drive through and finished sixteenth, six spots behind him. The other call came late in the race on Charlie Kimball for blocking. In a friendly decision, CGR’s pilot was made to give the spot back and finished ninth.
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Uncalled was Graham Rahal’s dramatic bashing into the back of Pagenaud during what Rahal called “a nice block” in the latter stages of the procession. Paul Tracy happened to agree with son of ‘stache on air. Pags ran off course as a result, but furiously charged back around Rahal to reclaim the lead. Indeed, they were the only two leaders of the entire grand prix, putting on a fine though brief battle. The non call didn’t reflect well upon the temporarily revived race control, as further contact with Hawksworth smashed Graham’s fragile Honda nose and effectively handed the race to Penske’s hottest hand for the second consecutive week.
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It’s safe to say after Sunday Rahal and Pags aren’t becoming fast friends. The runner up hilariously referred to the Frenchman as “See-moan” in an interview. Asked about Rahal’s blocking allegation, Pagenaud mentioned that he won the race. “OK fine. I won’t answer,” he said.
That’s not an overly friendly approach, is it? Then again, Pags isn’t exactly known for his social graces. Neither is Rahal.