Apologies for the brevity of these thoughts, written before having to pack up and run for the airport.
First, to set the general atmosphere around the Firestone Twin 275s: It was another hot day, but by race time, the shade and a breeze made things a bit more bearable. (Still, when I finally stopped for a look at the Firestone stand during race two, the ambient temperature was 93 degrees — at 10:30 pm!) The grandstands looked fuller than the last time I was here two years ago. And the starting grid was quite full with a record 30 cars in the field. You never know what you’re going to get at Texas — it might be a parade or a night of wild pack racing — and this format was new, so there was a buzz of anticipation about what would happen once the green flag dropped.
In the first race, what happened was the usual: the red cars moved to the front and then dominated the race. It was a stout win by Dario Franchitti, his first at Texas Motor Speedway.
I want to touch on the second race before talking about the format and the draw. It was great to see Tony Kanaan leading a good portion of the race, 39 laps in all. KV Racing Technology is still plagued by the occasional wreck, but they are improving their race results this season. Sato and Viso both had impressive weekends with Sato getting a fifth-place finish in the first race and Viso making up a ton of positions in both. And we always wondered how long it would be until Will Power won on his first oval — wonder no more. Will was extra animated when he jumped from his car after winning race two, and his team was excited to greet their oval winner in victory lane.
Okay, results chatter over. Let’s talk about the draw. I’ll be honest: I hadn’t thought much about how they would conduct the draw because the more I thought about the mere fact there was going to be a draw, the more peeved I got. I guess I assumed they’d draw pills from a hat and have a snappy quip about the number they drew. But this is Texas, so it was going to be a show, and there needed to be some way to fill the time the crews were getting to tweak their cars on pit lane. The chosen approach — turn a Firestone tire like Vanna White turning letters on Wheel of Fortune to reveal your starting position — was actually fun, and some drivers played to the audience in asking for their guidance on which tire to turn. It did run a bit long and could have used a bit more zip in the presentation, but it had some entertaining moments.
But, no matter the laughs, I just cannot accept the draw as an equitable way of setting a starting grid, and I’m pretty embarrassed for INDYCAR that it happened. I fully understand and accept that there needs to be more entertainment value added to races, but something as critical as starting position should always be related to performance. Imagine something like your yearly raise or a promotion at work being determined by something so random. I doubt anyone would blame a person for complaining about a situation like that and looking for another job. Yet my Twitter stream has been filled with people telling Dario (the loudest complainer before, during, and after the races) to shut up and drive. There needs to be a line drawn that prevents entertainment elements from impacting race results, and using a draw was a huge miss in this respect. In the post-race press conference, Power was asked if he agreed that the winning pass was made on the stage (by drawing a third starting spot) rather than on the track. He said he did agree with that. In my mind, that perfectly illustrates how wrong this situation was.
I like the idea of twin races with a little time for teams to make changes and improve their chances in the second race. Several drivers — including Will Power, who greatly benefited from the random draw — agreed that inverting the finishing order for the second race would be a much better way to add value to it. The top drivers coming through the field could be a pretty entertaining thing to see, and they’d all be in a similar boat as far as starting position was concerned. Then, let skill and racing luck determine the outcome.
You’d just have to find some other way to fill the time during the intermission. Reruns of Wheel of Fortune, anyone?
Rant over. Thanks for following my coverage here at More Front Wing this weekend.