Brain Dump: Texas 2017

In 1997 Texas Motor Speedway garnered national attention when AJ Foyt took to slapping and shoving Arie Luyendyk after the race. Twenty years later, countless highlight reels will show Texas again, but this time for on-track car-on-car violence.

It’s not often that a race is best finished under yellow, and yet a case could be made that was probably for the better on Saturday night. With a level of crash damage not seen since the horror of Las Vegas race in 2011, many fans were glad to see the merciful end of the race at Texas Motor Speedway. Your humble host can’t speak for everyone, but I know late Saturday my twitter feed was filled with multiple gifs of Maximus imploring “Are you not entertained?”.

It was the polar opposite to the snoozefests in Detroit, for sure. It was the best of races, but it was also the worst of races. And thankfully everyone made it out without serious injury to anything other than team owner’s checkbooks. (At least I think that’s the case, although after complaining after his single-car crash that he felt like he was drunk it’s possible Helio Castroneves might be put in a concussion protocol.)

Which isn’t to say the entire race was a disaster. It was mostly exciting, to be sure. But as someone who very much enjoyed the Indy Racing League era of racing, there was still something about this race that left a taste in my mouth, and I’m not talking about that $3.99 bottle of cheap wine from Trader Joe’s. Hey, we all make more poor choices, including Tony Kanaan, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

(“Good thing you don’t make yours at 220 miles per hour.” – The Spotter)

It all comes down “pack racing”, a much maligned term which was thrown around a lot during the race. But does “pack racing” mean several cars racing closely together, or does it mean cars stuck racing together? There’s a huge difference; the former favors intensely focused driving skills, the latter requires patience and cooperation.

Perhaps this was what going through Tony Kanaan’s mind when he was moving aggressively to his right on Lap 152, presumably trying to avoid a pass by James Hinchcliffe in a move that resulted in an 8-car (to borrow a phrase from pressdog) “Festival of Carbon Fiber”. Oh yes, there was much passing in the race, but there was also a whole lot of “draft, pull outside, and wait a lap to see if you can get around” maneuvers. And like a Philippe Petit performance, that’s neither safe nor particularly entertaining to watch.

Blame aero kits, blame the new track surface, or blame Kanaan for going to far to the right. You could probably blame Mikhail Aleshin as well for going three-wide with his teammate (Hinch) in the middle. This was one of those classic blunders, like starting a land war in Asia or going against a Sicilian when death is on the line. And by Sicilian of course we mean Tony Kanaan.

The only upside of this carnage was that it led to the quote of the night, possibly the year. During a televised interview Chip Ganassi incredulously blamed Hinch for wreck, which was relayed later to Hinch when he was on camera. His understated response of “That’s adorable” will live on long past the memory of the wreck.

And one more point about all of this. Kanaan may have been driving like he was playing Crazy Taxi, but it wouldn’t be fair to say this race was emblematic of a decline in his skills. Truly, quite the opposite: he served a late stop and hold penalty for his transgressions and then proceeded to work his way back into a second place finish. (OK, maybe that’s overstating it. It would have been a fourth place finish had Takuma Sato not run out of patience and pavement and taken out probable race winner Scott Dixon, who was appeared to be besting Will Power at the finish line in each of the late laps.)

Anyhow – Will Power won the race after holding the lead for a huge chunk of it. Mostly like this. Because it’s Texas.

Honorable mentions include:

Ed Carpenter, the series preeminent oval-racing specialist, who can now add “saving the car on an oval racing specialist” to his resume.

Ed Carpenter Racing, who managed to keep both Ed and JR Hildebrand on track despite being involved in crashes, allowing them to finish 11th and 12th respectively.

Simon Pagenaud, who predicted before the race there would be “pack racing” and drove accordingly as Power’s cautious wingman throughout much of the race. He was his brother’s keeper.

Gabby Chaves, who took upstart Harding Racing to a fifth place finish. Racing steady and clean, and with a little luck to not get caught up in the mayhem.

Tristan Vautier, who like James Davison (and really, Sebastien Bourdais) at the Indianpolis 500, had a car that could contend and was up front much of the race for Dale Coyne Racing until he was unfortunately caught in the Kanaan/Hinch/everyone pileup.

Final Lap: Here’s what some of the drivers had to say about the festivities.

 

One thought on “Brain Dump: Texas 2017

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    billytheskink

    June 13, 2017 at 3:54pm

    One can assign some level of blame for the wrecks to anyone who tried to make it 3 wide through turns 3 and 4 (Kanaan, Dixon, Aleshin, and Newgarden most notably), as there was a wreck each of the 3 times that it happened. It is possible that 10 more cars would have been running at the finish if no one had tried such foolishness. Of course, it is also possible that failing, blistering tires or other foolish driving would have put just as many cars in the wall… such is racing sometimes.

    Thank you for examining both the good and the bad about the race.

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