FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Texas

First Impressions, IndyCar — By on June 10, 2012 9:09 am
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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

The disintegrating track at Detroit, the coup attempt on Randy Bernard, the rumors about IZOD and China, the aero kits, the hand-wringing about whether this race would be tragic — or whether it would happen at all.

It’s all forgiven. All of it.

INDYCAR has finally figured out how to put on a safe and high-quality race at 1.5-mile ovals. At this moment, nothing else matters.

It doesn’t hurt that a young American looking for his second win made a mistake and handed victory to a guy who was never supposed to win on an oval, ever. That’s the kind of headline-writing story you just can’t make up.

But that wasn’t the only story — far from it. There were stories all day. If you looked away from this race for five seconds, you missed something. It’s going to take all week to sort through them all.

And the passes didn’t take laps to make, nor were they engineered. The drivers had to drive the cars. Imagine that!

And at the end, the winner displayed some emotion. Burnouts on the frontstretch! Levity and hugs in victory circle!

Not a thing about this was engineered or routine. This was open-wheel oval racing at its purest – the way it should have been all along.

Randy, Eddie: whatever it is that’s going on between you two, you gotta work it out. Seriously. If INDYCAR doesn’t return to Texas Motor Speedway after this, the world will be an emptier place.

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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

If that race doesn’t put an end to the drivers’ bellyaching about racing on 1.5-mile ovals, it’s just a lost cause!  The race featured everything that the drivers have been asking for over the years on these types of tracks — less downforce, the ability to complete passes, less pack racing, an aero package that really requires compromise by the teams to run solidly throughout a fuel or tire stint.  This race really had all of that.  I consistently felt while watching the race that it was a very similar type of racing to what we used to see at Michigan back in the early ‘90s before CART went crazy with things like the Hanford device and fuel-saving knobs.  That’s a good thing.

While the old-guard IRL fan in me thought I would really miss the close pack racing that used to be the hallmark of INDYCAR races at Texas, the reality is that such racing really hasn’t been present for the past six or seven years.  In the last several races at Texas, the car that led the race early typically ran away with the rest of the race because no significant changes to the cars were ever required throughout the remainder of the laps.  Tonight was completely different, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed.  It makes me all the more frustrated that we could have followed a sensational Indianapolis 500 with another outstanding race like this instead of the debacle that was (and always will be) Detroit.

There’s no doubt that Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing scoring the win is the major feel good story of the night.  To see that little team come on strong and win this race because they earned it was fantastic to see.  Wilson was strong at Indianapolis, and he showed early on tonight that he was going to be a force throughout the race.  Great work by the DCR crew and a smart, patient drive by Wilson showed that this team is for real!

Perhaps as much as Wilson’s surprise victory, there are two major headlines that I will really remember from this race.  First was the essentially forgetful night of Chip Ganassi Racing.  Graham Rahal was just over five miles from erasing the rest of the teams’ miserable night before he brushed the wall and handed the victory to Wilson.  Second was the blocking penalty called against Will Power while leading late in the race and trying to hold off a charging Tony Kanaan.  It was absolutely the right call, but I’m not sure we would have always seen it enforced on the leader late in the race in previous seasons.  Serious kudos to Barfield for pulling the trigger!

Finally, it appears that Chevrolet’s early-season dominance is but a long-lost memory.  Once again, the Honda teams showed dominating power throughout this race with Dixon and Wilson (and Rahal for a while) clearly having the fastest cars all night long.  For a while it looked that the Chevrolets would be able to make a run of it through Ganassi attrition, but in the end, the simply didn’t have the horses to get it done.  Even worse, the reliability bug bit the Chevrolet teams hard tonight with Barrichello, Hunter-Reay, Servia, and Viso all retiring from the race with engine-related problems.  It will be interesting to see what changes the Bowtie engineers make in the post-Milwaukee engine update period because it is obvious that Honda has overcome the early deficit and clearly has an advantage as we reach the mid-point of the 2012 season.

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