An impassioned plea against the Lucky Dog

IndyCar commentary — By on March 9, 2011 8:56 pm
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(Writing duties on this post were shared by Paul and Steph, who both have the same strong views on this topic.)

INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard has been given a lot of credit over the past year for his forward thinking and responsiveness to fan suggestions. For the most part, it’s been difficult to find fault with his decisions. He’s been universally lauded for leading changes that add excitement and entertainment value to the IZOD IndyCar Series without impacting on the sport’s integrity.

That is, he had been doing so — until today.

The majority of fans, even those who have been mostly happy with the way races have played out over the past several seasons, were willing to give double-file restarts a try. It may not have received unanimous approval, but most fans were at least tentatively supportive.

Shortly thereafter, news broke that in addition to starting two-abreast on restarts, lapped cars would be moved out of position and placed at the end of the line. Screams of rejoicing and cries of disapproval came from all corners before the news had even become official. Team owners, drivers, media, INDYCAR officials, and fans all weighed in, and it seemed that a majority of those who would not be watching the race from inside the cockpit agreed that moving cars out of line was a step that began to encroach on the integrity of the racing. Agreement certainly wasn’t universal, but it seemed that the voices opposed to the practice were louder than those in support of it. Many made reference to classic, epic race finishes that never could have happened had this rule existed in the past and lamented the loss of opportunities to repeat such events. (Steph points out in particular that her country wouldn’t have a representative on the Borg-Warner Trophy had this rule existed in 1995.)

And then, Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star reported that, in addition to moving all lapped cars to the back of the restart line, the IZOD IndyCar Series plans to impose a system similar to NASCAR’s Lucky Dog rule, which allows the highest-positioned car more than one lap behind the leader to make up one lap.

On this matter, the outcry from the IndyCar Nation has been universally negative. IndyCar fans have long chided NASCAR for gimmicks and rules that consistently attack the integrity of its racing. Those fans, who don’t hesitate to compare NASCAR’s brand of sport entertainment to the transparently artificial antics of the WWE, might find the implementation of a Lucky Dog rule enough to make them lose interest in IndyCar for good.

The counterargument to this is that there was once a group of race fans who considered bunching the field up behind the pace car on a yellow to be an artifically race-altering rule when it was introduced in the late 1970s. However, this change was implemented largely in the interest of safety. With there being no similar motivation behind the Lucky Dog rule, the same type of widespread acceptance cannot be expected here.

Paul likens INDYCAR’s approach to rule changes this off-season to the way his lovely wife attempts to control the temperature in their car: it’s up to full blast, then down to below freezing, then up and down again. Similarly, INDYCAR doesn’t seem to be finding a happy medium in its method of implementing change but is instead throwing everything but the kitchen sink at its rule book in an effort to create excitement.

Our suggestion: allow double-file restarts to play out for a year with no other alterations and evaluate the success of the change after 2011. In the majority of situations, restarts come after pit stops and shuffle lapped cars out of the way naturally, so it’s possible that the impact wouldn’t be as great as some suggest. If after a trial period it’s determined that leaving lapped cars in place does indeed create a hazard on restarts, that would be the time to investigate moving lapped cars out of the queue.  In other words, don’t automatically alter the integrity of the racing when the alternative may not present a problem in the first place.

If the belief behind this is that NASCAR fans won’t be drawn to IndyCar if the rules of both aren’t consistent, we counter with this suggestion: let the die-hard NASCAR fans, many of whom themselves are vocal about growing weary of NASCAR’s gimmicks, come over to IndyCar and see how motorsport is meant to be run. A great finish that was realized through driving skill on the track and not at the benefit of a made-up rule might be just what’s needed to make them stand up and take notice.

It seems we’re not alone. This email landed in our inboxes via CC today:

“Randy,

I don’t think the Lucky Dog belongs in IndyCar. It’s made fun of by every IndyCar fan I know — and by a lot of NASCAR fans.  It didn’t come about when NASCAR went to double-file restarts with the lap down cars in the back, it started when NASCAR started freezing the field at a caution instead of racing back to the yellow after a caution came out.  That was a horrid rule that endangered people and I’m glad it’s gone, but the need for the Lucky Dog was barely justifiable. While I can see more of the point of it if you move the lap down cars to the back, it’s still so very gimmicky that it’s jarring to think of it in IndyCar.

Please, please don’t add this gimmick to IndyCar!

Thank you,
@Kraegar”

We couldn’t agree more.

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