What a difference a week makes!
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park was one of the best road races I can recall watching for the past many years. From the initial drop of the green flag, there was great action and racing all throughout the field. What’s even more spectacular is that we, the viewers at home, actually saw it!
Let me start with the broadcast. In a word, it was stellar. The director was truly on top of his game and did a fantastic job of keeping up with the action, which was hot and heavy all over the track. We saw battles that lasted for several laps, and the TV crew did an excellent job of staying with the battle through its completion. If we missed action elsewhere on the track, we were immediately provided a replay of it. Few and far between were the mystery position changes that riddled last week’s despicable coverage from St. Pete on ESPN. Kudos to NBC Sports Network for the fantastic job.
The only downside I noted is that Bob Jenkins seems to be continuing down his path toward becoming Harry Carey. His gaffes and constant misnaming of drivers is becoming a distraction and not something that should be as prevalent on coverage of a top-level racing series. Fans were far less patient with Paul Page in 2003 and 2004 than they have been with Jenkins the past two seasons, and I won’t be surprised if fans start to become even more vocal should Jenkins continue to make so many blatent mistakes on a regular basis.
Now, onto the racing. Again, spectacular! On a track that has been lambasted the past several years as a parade, a “gorgeous facility,” and a course that is not well-suited for Indy cars, the drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series put all such notions to rest and put on the best show they’ve had in years. Many theories will abound as to what led to the dramatic difference in the race action this year – new cars, new engines, new race director, or something else – but it doesn’t really matter to me. The fact is that, for whatever reason, the racing was excellent (and that’s not something I often say about a road or street course!). The new blocking/defending rules really showed how passing can still be achieved at a track like this without forcing the leading driver to yield the position. The jury is still out though, at least in my mind, on whether the rule/system will work out on a much tighter track like Long Beach or Toronto.
Finally: yes, I will be eating crow this week after I said Will Power has struggled to convince me that he can successfully move through the field when he starts or gets shuffled back in the field. He drove a masterful, steady race today and showed that he can win even when he doesn’t give a dominant, crushing performance. If he has indeed gotten the DW12 suited to his driving style (a statement for which Steph is also eating crow this week), his “disappointing” seventh-place finish at St. Pete will soon be but a distant memory.
Ladies and gentlemen, we saw a professional INDYCAR race today.
You can credit the durability of the new cars, the engine battles, or the adjusted blocking rules – but does it really matter?
What’s more important to my mind is that post-race we’re talking about the things we should be. Power overcame his struggles with the new car to win from 9th starting position, something his critics questioned his ability to do. There was plenty of passing and bumping from flag to flag, but there were no boneheaded moves or brain fades.
(I do have a minor gripe with the idea of moving lapped cars to the back on restarts with 20 laps or less to go. It’s gimmicky. But it does improve the racing at the end, so my complaints will largely fall on deaf ears. I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying the heck out of a great race.)
NBC Sports Network deserves huge kudos for their role in displaying what a great race this was. The post-race feeling could have been very similar after St. Petersburg had ABC not dropped the ball. But NBC Sports Network gave us emotion, information, and the vast majority of the passing – live, no less – no matter where it happened throughout the field.
Today, I have the same feeling I did after I watched Indy car racing as a kid: giddy with excitement both now and for the future, and desperate for more.
Finally, INDYCAR racing is back to what it’s meant to be!