The Spring Years: 2007-2009
As exciting as the summer races at the Kansas Speedway were, the spring races have been lack-luster. During the 2007 race, the leaders ran away from the rest of the field. Dan Wheldon crossed the checkered and yellow flags ahead of the eventual season champion Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti as the race ended under caution. There was no doubt about who the winner was going to be, though. Dixon was definitely the class of the field that day. 3rd and 4th place finishers Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon were just barely on the lead lap, and only Tomas Scheckter and Sam Hornish, Jr were one lap down. Everyone else was at least two if not more laps behind.
The 2008 race marked the first time that the recently reunified open-wheel competition and the race saw a significant number of drivers trying their hand at oval racing for the first time. Needless to say, many failed to complete the full three hundred miles. In spite of the numerous incidents with rookie mistakes a plenty, the 2008 race was far more competitive than the 2007 race. Dan Wheldon won yet again, but this time only by a little more than two seconds over Tony Kanaan. Scott Dixon led most of the race, but got caught out by a late-race caution. Six other drivers finished on the lead lap, including the eventual Rookie of the Year for 2008, Hideki Mutoh. Danica Patrick, fresh off of her historic win at the asymmetric oval of Motegi finished a disappointing 19th after a mechanical issue resulting from her colliding with teammate Tony Kanaan when she was released prematurely from her pit box. The incident resulted in Tony’s famous outburst on the radio, “If I ever pit with her again, I’m never driving for this team again. NEVER!” While I understand Tony’s frustration, it must be said, that the whole mess was really the result of Danica’s crew releasing her when they should have seen Tony coming down pit lane to enter the pit box immediately in front of her’s. Marty Roth also persisted in his display of driving incompetence running into Tomas Scheckter’s Luzco Dragon Racing pit crew and then proceeding to rejoin the race woefully under speed causing all manner of chaos on the front stretch. I will say it was exciting to watch, but not for the right reasons.
For the 2009 race, the OpenPaddock crew met up with several of our comrades from Formula1Blog.com including site founder, Todd, aka NegativeCamber. Sadly, it was probably the WORST possible race to invite a bunch of Formula 1 fans who were already leery and skeptical of oval racing in the first place. The league, in an effort to slow the gradually increasing speeds seen in the series, had mandated wickers on the end plates and under sides of the rear wing, and they’d made illegal brake backer plates, sidepod extenters, and rear wheel ramps. All of these restrictions induced a lot of drag to the cars, which did indeed slow them down, but it also induced a hugely turbulent wake. This increased turbulence meant that the wheel-to-wheel and nose-to-tail that made the 2004 and 2005 races so incredibly exciting was no longer possible. Of course, the 30+ mph gusty winds didn’t help matters much, either. In fact, not too long after the IZOD IndyCar Series qualifications on Saturday night and during the truck race, a tornado was spotted just a few miles from the speedway! …welcome to Kansas. Scott Dixon led 134 of the 200 lap event including most of the latter half of the race. Our apologies to our friends at F1B, and I hope they give oval racing a second chance. When its good, its REALLY good. It just turned out that 2009 at Kansas was really bad.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the lead up to this year’s race, what’s changed since last year, and some pointers on who and what to watch during qualification and the race.