The IndyCars under the lights at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, TX always look spectacular, and this year was no exception. The weather was excellent and so was the crowd. Attendance at this week’s event was strong, something that the series desperately needed for a 1.5-mile oval after the anemic showing at Kansas. As usual this year, the start’s and the restarts were fantastic with lots of jockeying for position all through the grid. After a few laps, however, the ability for drivers to pass lapped traffic, let alone for position, was significantly hampered. Some drivers tried too hard to pass at times. On lap two, Graham Rahal’s car stepped out and collected Viso and Duno to bring out the first yellow. On the restart, Ryan Briscoe resumed his quick race-leading race and stretched his lead. Under one of the longest green-flag stints in recent memory, Briscoe continued to gap and lap the field.
By Lap 150, Briscoe had worked up a 2/3 of a lap (15+ seconds) lead on second place and had put P8 a lap down, closing in on doing the same to P7 and P6! It really looked like we might have seen a feat not witnessed in IndyCar racing for a very long time, a driver lapping the entire field. It very well could have happened except for an extremely suspicious yellow flag at the end of Lap 150 for “debris in Turn 2”. When asked about the nature of this debris after the race, both Helio and Briscoe they both responded with comments to the nature of “Debris? What debris? I didn’t see any debris!” This call really smacks of a NASCAR-ish “competition caution”, a move done to compress the field and make the race more “exciting”. What it did was to negate a legendary caliber performance by Briscoe. The IRL needs to realize that excellent racing can’t be scripted, and that side-by-side battles, although fun and exciting, aren’t the only way for a race to be entertaining. I, for one, was very excited about seeing Briscoe lapping one car after another. It truly was a masterful performance.
The only other yellow of the race came on Lap 173 when AJ Foyt IV suffered a suspension failure and ended up in the wall. This caution period invited the entire grid to come down and get one last tank of fuel and set of tires. Briscoe’s pit crew did a great job, but with Castroneves’ pit stall being the first in line, Helio was able to leave when his crew saw Briscoe leave and beat him to the line. On the restart, it was Helio in P1 and Briscoe in P2. The two Penske cars ran in these positions for the remainder of the race. Briscoe was certainly able to keep pace with his teammate, but he was never able to overtake. Two other teammates were also battling for position in the last laps, Marco and Danica. Danica, fourth in the series championship, was defending her fifth-place position against Marco’s slightly quicker car. Marco pulled along side her on the high side several times, but was unable to complete the pass. With seven laps left, Marco finally got down on the low side of Danica and was able to claim the position. After the race, the battle between the two continued with Marco blasting his teammate on air claiming that she should have let him pass and didn’t know how to be a quality teammate. From my seat, I saw Danica put a block on Marco a time or twice, going into Turn 1, but in the turns when they were side-by-side, she always gave him plenty of room. I think its time for young Mr. Andretti to grow up and understand that people aren’t just going to pull aside for him because he’s the boss’s son.
In the end, Helio won again, and this time there was no one to impede his path to the fence. Good for Helio, but a tough, tough break for Briscoe. Here are my take-away points for this weeks race:
- Briscoe was masterful and by all rights should have won this race.
- Competition cautions suck!
- Marco needs to grow up and learn some humility.
- Danica needs to be more careful about blocking.
- Graham needs to grow up and learn patience.
- and finally, the current chassis is developed to its limit. I can’t wait for the change.