My son and I got to spend most of Saturday at IMS and were able to watch a bunch of action as we
dodged showers, worked around his baseball schedule and enjoyed a get-together with our family (today). If you don't like IndyCar or any racing, this post won't interest you...but J should have a curling playoff post up soon as the general public demands it to be so.
There weren't a ton of surprises at the track this weekend...but one of the few shockers was atop the board. Ed Carpenter has always been pretty fast at Indy, but I thought Andretti or Penske would place one of their drivers on the pole; Carpenter would have none of that.
Andretti Motorsport has been fast all month...and they were still fast on Saturday, but Carpenter was faster. Carpenter is a guy that Indianapolis likes. Indy loves Kanaan because he's in the line of Raul Boesel and Scott Goodyear; He's been good-to-great at the 500, but hasn't gotten his likeness on the Borg Warner (yet). When he took the lead last year, the crowd erupted. But Carpenter's a bit different because he's everyman...kinda.
Carpenter graduated from Butler and calls Indy his home...and Donald Davidson calls him a throwback driver because he doesn't run the full circuit, lives in Indy, isn't a rockstar and is a family man. In fact, I have been at a playground with one of my kids and Carpenter was there with his. Without a sleek machine moving at a high rate of velocity, or a fire suit or bobble head-like helmet on his dome, he's an average Joe.
But he's in the line of John Andretti- he's got connections that surely don't hurt him...in fact, just like Andretti's name allowed him to have a longer career than most drivers with his record of success, Carpenter's stepdad, Tony George, has helped his career along...but merely having a famous name or money behind you doesn't guarantee that you can go fast (ammiright, Kyle Petty? You're welcome NASCAR fans).
Carpenter triumphed in the gimmicky, but entertaining, Fast 9 format on Saturday...so he will lead rookie Carlos Munoz, of the Andretti stable, and Marco Andretti in the front row. Andretti landing on the front row wasn't surprising...Michael's son not being P1 was. Munoz handling the pressure and changing conditions was also a little surprising...but Chevy power plus talented engineers and crews leads to success this year at the brickyard.
It's pretty obvious that Chevy power has a bit of an unfair advantage this year...you have to go all the way to Taglian, starting in 11th position, to find the first Honda powerplant in the field. Maybe Hondas will better better in traffic a week from now; at this point we don't know. What we do know is that the best-prepared, best-trained Hondas in the field, those of Ganassi's team, will do everything possible to be in contention around lap 200...and I'd be pretty shocked if Dixon's fuel management or Franchitti's savvy style don't land either or both of them in the top-5. But my darkhorse is Ryan Briscoe. Hey- a true darkhorse shouldn't have high expectations (check), shouldn't be a media darling (check) and should be generally quiet and steady during the practices leading up to the race (check).
Briscoe has seemed like a guy who's lost his confidence, at least from an outsiders view, for a while now. But he has a ton of ability...he's finished in the top-5 at Indy multiple times and is on a Ganassi team; they know how to win here.
Buddy Lazier made the field...kinda by default. The only good thing about him being in this field is that he's a pretty steady guy behind the wheel who doesn't make many mistakes. I think he'll struggle on race day since he no longer races regularly and doesn't have a full-time team behind him. The good news is that he's at the back of the field, so he won't get in the way as some of the low-qualified madmen make moves early to get up front. Look for Sato, Rahal and Saavedra to all make a mad dash forward...at the same time, Bell, Briscoe and Pagenaud will patiently pick their spots and move up. Both groups, of course, will need to have a bit of luck on their side.
The guy that makes the most-nervous at the top of the field is Munoz because of something he did yesterday in practice- he attempted to pass Tony Kanaan down low...a similar move put Sato into the wall late in last year's race; but Sato had the good sense to wait until late in the race to try something like that. Viso and Allmendinger also make me a bit nervous up in the top two rows; not because they can't drive fast, but because patience isn't either of their strengths...and they'll be surrounded by some stone-cold assassins.
The field is deep with talent- former NASCAR, CART, IndyCar, F3 and F1 winners and contenders are sprinkled throughout the field. A few IndyLights up-and-comers, a few guys that seem to just look and feel like future greats and a handful of hall-of-famers make up the majority of the field. There was no bumping on Sunday; only 34 car/driver combos were even available...but Jourdain's car was a dog and neither he nor Graham Rahal could squeeze enough speed out of it as it dragged on the ground (literally) with suspension problems during Sunday afternoon practice laps.
I would have loved to see Busch or Tony Stewart cross over into the series and try to enter a DW12 chassis into the field...I'd love to see someone like Hamilton or Massa take a crack at this circuit. But as we all know, the money in the league isn't like it was in the late 80s early 90s, so those types of crossovers aren't likely. But on the other end of the spectrum, a gun-shy Mike Conway or Dr. Jack Miller-type of entry didn't bump anybody out either...and mercifully, there are no Lotus entries.
Sure, I miss the days in which Bump Day was furious with activity as 40 cars scrambled for 33 spots...I also miss having hair on the top of my head; times change.
The field has been more star-studded than 2013's, and has been much weaker as well; but right now, IndyCar is a good product. Races are competitive, talent level is high and the product is entertaining. Sorry NASCAR fans- I know there isn't enough rubbing, blocking, competitions yellows or teaming up for your liking, but that's why there are multiple leagues. There's something out there for everybody, I guess.
I'm looking forward to next Sunday as Indianapolis does what it does best- Entertaining hundreds of thousands of guests from out of town, as the world watches.