Quite honestly, I just thought the race was okay. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I wouldn’t really consider it thrilling either. It was kind of a typical Milwaukee race. To really enjoy it, you have to almost view it as a street course and really understand the subtle nuances of the event. While it is an oval, the tires and fuel strategies are much more closely aligned with road and street courses. It’s not the type of race that will ever remind anyone of Chicago or Texas.
That said, there was plenty of good racing to be had, typically well behind the leaders. For most of the race, the leader ran unchallenged when in clean air, caught only when cautions led to restarts and gave chasing drivers a chance.
And restarts will be the topic of conversation this week — more precisely the penalty leveled on Scott Dixon on the lap 123 restart. Still hours after the penalty was handed down, race fans still haven’t gotten a good explanation about why Dixon was penalized or even for which restart attempt the penalty occurred. The ABC telecast showed one replay time and time again of Dixon simply following the crowed on the restart. This replay drew immediate scorn on Twitter as there was no apparent violation of any sort. Finally, ABC showed the replay of the aborted start one lap earlier. If this restart was the source of the penalty, one could make an argument for why Dixon was nailed, but I argue that he was no further out of line than the leader when the yellow flag was thrown. At worst, this was an awful call by race director Beaux Barfield that may have a significant impact on the season-long championship. At best, it is another sad example of the deplorable communication between INDYCAR Race Control and the ABC broadcast team tasked with ensuring the fan base is properly informed during the race. This failure continues year after year and severely undermines the fans’ confidence. If jumping the start is to be a violation this year, it needs to start at the front of the field with the leader. For too long, leaders have been jumping the start knowing there was little chance of repercussion. Those days need to end.
The best news of the day is that promoters Andretti Sports Marketing confirmed that the Milwaukee Mile will be back on the schedule in 2013. Whatever success this event was able to muster in four months (and all indications are that it was indeed a great event) should be easily trumped with a whole year of planning and preparation for next year’s event.
Right off the top: kudos times a thousand to Andretti Sports Marketing for announcing at the call to start engines that next year’s event is already a go and tickets will go on sale tomorrow. That extremely savvy move allowed us all to stop worrying about the rain delay and the empty aluminum in the stands and focus on the race.
As for the race itself, it looked promising early on, but it ended up feeling like roughly a 7 out of 10 to me based on the TV coverage. Given that this was an ABC race, though, I’d buy it if someone told me it was an 8.5 or 9 from the stands. Honestly, these guys couldn’t possibly be worse — while Ryan Hunter-Reay was making the pass for the lead that would ultimately allow him to win, Marty and Scott sounded like they were calling hole 5 of the British Open. But this is certainly not the first complaint about this and won’t be the last, and since nothing ever seems to be done about it, I’m not interested in investing much energy into complaining, especially since the flat commentary combined with the rain delay will let ABC skew the dismal ratings into an excuse for labeling INDYCAR a valueless commodity yet again.
The penalty call against Scott Dixon — which, sadly, is bound to end up being the biggest story coming out of this race — was the first time this season that a call of Beaux Barfield’s has truly left me scratching my head. It’s not because I don’t think Dixon jumped the restart — if it was the aborted restart that he was called for, I can sort of see the reasoning behind the call — but because the offense really didn’t seem that bad, and I find it extremely hard to believe that no one has done anything at least equally egregious up to now this season. A drive-through penalty at some tracks wouldn’t be so bad, but at Milwaukee it’s catastrophic, and Dixon’s actions to my mind warranted a warning or maybe a wrist-slap at most.
Overall, it warrants pointing out again that not every race can be a barn-burner, and I’ll still take this race over what we saw at, say, Detroit any day of the week. Other than the Briscoe/Franchitti incident, the restarts were remarkably clean and professional, and there was plenty of the fast dicing and hair-raising action that the Mile is well-known for. Andretti Sports Marketing did a bang-up job of turning this race into an event and putting it back on the map, and it’s fantastic to know now that it appears to have a secure place on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.
ADDENDUM: Beaux Barfield has admitted that a failure in the timing and scoring system in Race Control caused the wrong replay to be used as a basis for the decision to penalize Scott Dixon.