With the checkered flags flying over Auto Club Speedway early this morning (for those of us in the Eastern and Central time zones), another season of the Verizon IndyCar Series has drawn to a close. Here are our First Impressions of last night’s season finale.
I feel a little bit at a loss for words for this last First Impressions of 2014. Mostly, it’s because I’m sad the season is over. We’ve had such terrific racing all year long, with a staggering level of competitiveness from a field that is strong top to bottom. I just wish there were a few more races to enjoy before the winter sets in…
Last night, we saw the eleventh different race winner out of the 18 races – at long last, it was Tony Kanaan’s night. It would have been a real shame if he’d gone without a win this year, especially since he was so strong in the second half of the season. Good that he ended the season on a high note and can start what will be a very special off season with that weigh off his shoulders – he and wife Lauren Bohlander are expecting their first child in January.
Speaking of weight off shoulders, I can’t imagine what Will Power is feeling today. His championship win was a long time coming, and he kept his head in the game and did what he needed to do to take home the Astor Cup. He kept saying, “I can’t believe I did it,” which was his problem all along: He couldn’t believe he’d get it done. Well, now that he’s won it all, lots of folks (myself included) believe he’ll get himself a few more before his career is over. The genie is out of the bottle.
As for the race itself, not much drama until the only restart, at which time Power gave me about 3 heart attacks with his charge to the front of the field. Add to that the packed up cars going four-wide for a few laps and I was watching through my fingers for a bit. Only one caution late in the race for a Ryan Hunter-Reay spin with no contact meant the crews were under extra pressure with tons of green flag pit stops. There were a few penalties but no big mishaps in the pits. My one big heartbreak of the race was Simon Pagenaud having handling problems from the start and thus having zero impact on the championship outcome the whole race. It will be interesting to see how Simon does next season, and on which team we’ll find him.
I’ll close with my thoughts going to Mikhail Aleshin, whom I hope has a full and speedy recovery from his practice crash injuries. He had an impressive rookie season and I hope we see him back and strong next year.
Until then, let’s hope the off-season goes by in a flash and is full of news about aero kits, driver deals and new races on the schedule.
It’s hard to believe that the season is already wrapped up and we now begin the very long off-season. Truly, though, the more I’ve thought about this layoff, the more I think it has been somewhat blown out of proportion. Several major sporting series have very long off-seasons, longer than IndyCar is facing. The NFL is out of season from February until September (seven months), NCAA football is off from January until basically September (eight months), and NCAA basketball is off from April to November (seven months). Perhaps it’s a symptom of wrapping up so early in the year or because NASCAR both begins earlier and ends later, but in the world of sporting series, a six-month layoff certainly isn’t unheard of. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there for the time being. About last night’s race…
The MAVTV 500 played out remarkably similar to the other 500-mile races this year. The beginning of the race was pretty clean and tidy with the first caution not coming until well after the 300-mile mark. The first part of the race was pretty processional, and quite honestly, the second half of the race was as well. The race never really got into a side-by-side, jockeying-for-position type of affair as we’ve seen at this track the last couple years. Nor did this race have the question of reliability that hung over last year’s event. It seemed the drivers were all content to mind their P’s and Q’s throughout the night and do everything necessarily to make sure the equipment lasted all 500 miles.
It was fantastic to see Tony Kanaan score a victory for Chip Ganassi in the season finale. It’s not as if Chip needed the win, but I think one could make the argument that TK did. Once considered one of the top drivers in the series, many have questioned whether TK’s best years were well behind him as he had only a 2008 victory at Richmond, a 2010 victory at Iowa Speedway, and, of course, the 2013 victory in the Indianapolis 500 to show in the win column since 2007. However, Kanaan has been knocking on the door almost every week since Pocono and easily should have had two or three wins this year. Seeing him break through was a joy. I expect much better performance from the #10 car next season, starting right out of the gate whenever and wherever that first race may be.
On the flip side of the coin, a couple of drivers had disappointing nights that were quite difficult to watch. For Simon Pagenaud, he entered the race still with a chance, although very slim, to capture the title but could have taken second place with a good performance. From the drop of the green flag, it was a forgettable night for the likable Frenchman. The Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team just never got the car back where it needed to be after the testing crash on Wednesday, and Simon suffered all weekend long.
And in a performance that pretty much epitomized his season, Graham Rahal had another race that he would surely like to forget, sending his National Guard sponsorship out with a complete dud. After a respectable 10th place qualifying effort, Rahal languished around the back of the field all night and eventually finished 19th, six laps behind Kanaan. It’s hard to understand what has gone wrong with Graham’s career but he certainly seems to have floundered in every good ride he has been in. What will become of Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this off season sans the massive National Guard sponsorship is something we will keep an eye on. Is anyone else willing to take a flyer on a driver whose best season finish was seventh way back in 2009?
Oh yeah, and Will Power finally won the championship. I hate to say it, but now that the monkey is off his back, I feel Power could go on a streak over the next few seasons that will make him difficult to top. The knock on Power over the past several years was his inability to close the deal on the ovals. He has now shown that he is proficient on the roundy rounds and they are no longer his Achilles Heel. If the rest of the field was hoping to take advantage of Power’s one weakness, the door may have closed and winning a Verizon IndyCar Series Championship over the next couple years may have gotten even more difficult.