Watkins Glen Race Review: Paid Plugs Edition


Verizon’s new data plan got more than enough mentions Sunday, but its IndyCar series championship suffered a real blow as viewers’ attention spans were severely tested at Watkins Glen.

Pole sitter Scott Dixon commandingly ran away from the field in another fuel saving snoozer on a roadie, winning by a whopping sixteen seconds ahead of Josef Newgarden. Things at the back of the pack did become interesting though, with exploding Firestones, Will Power practically taking himself out of the points chase and drivers fighting for their jobs. Silly season hung over the paddock like a shroud of Finger Lakes fog.


Photo from indycar.com

Three caution flags flew for a total of nine laps, which at the Glen are long at over three miles. Muscovite Mikhail Aleshin was seemingly victimized by a sniper’s round on lap fifteen, his left rear Firestone exploding in an extremely rare total tire failure. The bumper disintegrated in a spectacular display of collateral damage as he spun, collecting no one and brushing the wall.


Photo from usatoday.com

The SPM jockey, who like many others grew furious after being penalized in qualifications, as usual acquitted himself well in interviews afterward, looked ahead to the next race and further ingratiated himself to a growing number of fans. We envision some sponsorship on those blank red sidepods, and soon.


Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Five laps later following the restart, Ragin’ Graham Rahal brought out the second caution when he tangled with Charlie “everybody hates me” Kimball in an ill advised turn one pass attempt. It was a classic display of Graham being Graham, fearless and overly aggressive to an entertaining fault. As they made contact, Rahal’s car snapped hard right, his nose going nearly straight into the guard rail in a scary looking t-bone crash. Afterward he blamed Charlie and spoke of having “completed the pass,” an ambitious claim at best.


Photo from sfchronicle.com

NBCSN’s Kevin Lee filled in with the play by play again, and along with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy did an impeccable job – Robin Miller’s constant video game references notwithstanding. It’s also cute how the adorably diminutive Katie Hargitt can look the drivers directly in the eye during interviews. Jon Beekhuis adds some useful information, but sometimes strikes us as a paid insurance company shill.


Photo from indycar.com

On lap thirty nine as Dixon continued to lead the procession his team mate Kimball was involved in yet another kerfuffle. As he raced against championship hopeful Power they made contact, with the audacious Aussie going wide and then slamming into the wall, his Verizon car kaput. He finished twentieth after starting second, all but handing the points title to his Penske stable mate and Menard’s beneficiary Pags. A possible second concussion in six months’ time is a concern for the Verizon pilot as well as the series.


Photo from usatoday.com

The caution flags served to bunch up the field at least, allowing for brief outbursts of side by side racing. Tellingly, the other bits of decent racing were mainly coming out of the pits. In a weekend full of penalties, Takuma “never crashes” Sato and Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais were hit by race control for blocking, while Marco was caught speeding on pit lane. Future sponsor HH Gregg couldn’t have been pleased with the legacy’s twelfth place finish, though it is one of Andretti’s better results of late.


Photo from twitter.com

With thirty eight to go things got wild as cars went three wide. Rookie Conor Daly cut off Bourdais, forcing him into the grass, over the curb and through the air. Bourdais received his penalty for an abrupt return to the racing surface, and as Miller quipped “let off to save a life.” The curiously crotchety reporter promptly awarded the “altitude award” to the Le Mans native for the amount of air he gained in the incident. Starting seventeenth after being penalized in qualifications, Daly went on to finish an impressive fourth. Gaining the most spots of the race, the young Hoosier frankly admitted it “was weird” in a post race interview.

The final restart on lap forty two brought about the expected level of craziness, with Sato again going off course and “team tactics” being employed by Dixon and Kanaan, according to Tracy. PT was on promotional fire, at one point suggesting Marco find a ride next year “with Uber.” The outspoken Canuck’s commentary helped keep things interesting as the race degenerated into a dreadful fuel saving clinic, at which Dixon excels. The Kiwi led fifty laps on his way to a very un-dramatic and dominant win.


Photo from sports.usatoday.com

What’s wrong with” Juan Montoya joined in the fun with another late race spin, though everyone was able to continue as cars tend to do at wide open Watkins Glen. Adding further comic relief to the commercial, Kanaan did his best impression of a Shriner’s hillbilly car, limping back to the pits with a broken suspension. He finished in nineteenth place. As the NTT Data sponsored driver put it, “we’re not gonna talk about Verizon.” Not for a very long time.

Post Race Quotes –

Helio Castro-Neves, third: “The [Penske] cars are so good.”

Conor Daly, fourth: [Obligatory Verizon plug.] “I can’t believe it, really. . . . which was weird.”

Simon Pagenaud, seventh: “We always have beef. It’s part of racing.” [And being French.] “We get a bonus for the Verizon plug.”



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