Phoenix Race Review: Take Cover! Edition

josefbadandugly

American gunslinger Josef Newgarden obliterated his opposition outside Phoenix Saturday night, leaving a trail of IndyCar carnage stretching clear to Canada. As bad as it was for Robby Wickens, it was Coyne crew members who again got the worst of it.

The race started with an all day-glo – and all French – front row at what Townsend Bell called “this hot, nasty track.” Then again, it almost didn’t. Surprise pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais‘ car stopped dead on pit lane, requiring the help of Robert Wickens’ – or “Wiggins” as TBell calls him – crew to refire his Honda. It wouldn’t be the last issue SeBass had on pit road during the evening.

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Photo from indycar.com

RHR and Marco went high at the start and gained several spots while a now functioning Bourdais pulled away from Pags. Wickens gained a position and joined the top five as the Frenchmen at the front battled early traffic. A hard charging Rossi challenged Pags for the pass before nearly losing it on the apron and drifting high up the track. Narrowly avoiding disaster, he wasn’t done yet.

On lap 41 the first of only two yellows arrived when PFitti got high in turn four and rudely met the wall. Emo’s grandson was first out in his first ever race. During the initial round of pit stops SeBass slid wildly into his pit box, hitting his left front tire changer in an ugly scene. Despite the melee, the Coyne crewman admirably managed to get up and do his job. Then Rossi immediately followed suit, plowing into his AA crew as he arrived for service. Fortunately, everyone on both crews was all right.

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Photo from indycar.com

Following the eventful stops, Power, Newgarden, Wickins, Hinchcliffe and Jones – already up six spots – comprised the top five. Seb and Rossi were penalized with drive-throughs for crew contact, while Pags too had an awful stop. Pit stops would remain an issue for several teams, as during the second round of service under green Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered a rear tire issue, Kyle Kaiser stalled it, and both Jones and Pigot endured molasses like stops. In addition to all that, Marco was “screaming” at his crew on the radio according to Katie Hargitt, though that’s fairly typical.

By contrast, JoNew enjoyed a Penske perfect stop that added more front wing and enabled him to stay in contention. But such calm was rare during the frantic second stops. A.J. Foyt Racing‘s nineteen year old rookie Matt Leist lost his left rear tire leaving the pits, then did a 360, nearly hitting a race official inexplicably standing nearby. Leist’s loose tire bounded down the track, typifying the evening’s sloppy stops.

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Photo from indycar.com

Team Canada – Hinchcliffe and Wickens – inherited the lead, but soon encountered lapped traffic allowing Wickens to pass his teammate and pull away. Suddenly Power dove into the pits after hitting the wall ending his night, and Hinch retook the point. Not long after, rookie Kyle Kaiser predictably walled his Juncos Racing machine. Yet again no yellow was displayed as cars bunched up in the aftermath and very nearly wrecked.

Nevertheless, green flag racing continued and the third round of stops was much less frantic as teams and drivers began to settle down. Rossi arguably turned in the drive of the race, jerking high around his teammate RHR for his fifty second on track pass – nearly all of them coming after the early penalty. In total, the Indy 500 winner passed a remarkable fifty three cars, a full fifth of all passes on the evening.

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Photo from indycar.com

Soon Newkid became the ninth leader of race, a record at Phoenix, as were the twelve lead changes. Power, Hinch, Wickens, Pags, and Rossi all could have won it, but it wasn’t their night. On lap 229 the badly needed caution finally was thrown after Ed Jones smacked the wall from second place. He’d been out driving his teammate Dixon until the late mishap.

In the decision of the race, Newgarden took advantage of the caution and pitted from first, while Wickens, Rossi and others stayed out. After a typically long cleanup, the restart came with eight to go setting up a thrilling shootout finish. As the green flag flew, Newkid on fresh Firestones passed two cars in the first turn, then set his sights on the red car of the calamitous Canuck. After a brief battle, Josef went high into turn one making the pass for the win with four to go. It was exhilarating, and at the same time heartbreaking for Wickens. It was the second consecutive race in which he saw his hopes dashed late.

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Photo from indycar.com

NBCSN’s coverage was far superior to ABC’s as usual, although they couldn’t obscure the fact that the stands featured vast swaths of empty seats. There was lots of talk about one lane racing afterward – at least Dixie didn’t apologize again – and Power did his usual shtick. Interestingly, the track didn’t seem to bother Rossi, RHR, Veach and others as they gained positions and passed cars at will. It certainly didn’t bother Newgarden either, who with some racing luck and solid strategy blew away the field.

 

Post race quotes –

Josef Newgarden: “I don’t think I did anything tonight. This was a team victory.”

Robby Wickens: “To be honest, I was never expecting to win.”

Scott Dixon: “It was a rough weekend for us. . . . [The racing] was definitely [an] improvement over last year.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “I never miss my marks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Phoenix Race Review: Take Cover! Edition

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