I’ve been battling some fatigue lately so I wasn’t sure how I would stay away for Saturday nights IndyCar race at Phoenix. It’s proved to be a dull race in the past and sometimes the roar of the cars is just the right sound to lull me into a good nap. Since this race was also later in the evening I was concerned about staying awake. Fortunately, a quick trip to Starbucks with Randy in the afternoon along with a surprisingly entertaining end to the race helped keep me awake.
I was already excited to begin with because this race was covered in NBCSN. That meant rather than a few quick minutes of preshow we had a qualifying show, a half hour pre show and a post show. Within the first few minutes we had seen more of Robert Wickens face than we did the entire race at St. Pete. Plenty of interviews before and after and lots of insight. The NBCSN team does a great job. That helps keep your attention and give you things to watch for during the race.
Qualifying was so fun to watch. I’m not sold on having the qualifying order be according to points. I feel it takes away a chance from those going first to get on the pole. I liked the random draw. However, watching Sebastien Bourdais take the pole from the Penske guys was priceless. I like Bourdais and the Coyne/Vasser team. Loved seeing them on the pole. Also great to see Bourdais give it his all after that horrible crash at Indy. We knew he was back but winning a pole on an oval is awesome.
Also super impressed with Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe. The Schmidt Peterson team is very impressive this year.
So after our enjoyable pre race show we went green at ISM Raceway in Phoenix. Bourdais ran into trouble but was able to get his car restarted before green flag and start from the front. Green flag flew and while a couple cars made up some positions it didn’t take long for everyone to fall into line and there was not much action on the track. Lap 41 Pietro Fittipaldi made contact with the wall and the yellow flag came out. Pit stops were interesting as both Bourdais and Alexander Rossi hit crew men during their stop. Both would serve a drive through penalty. Green flag and very similar to the start we saw a couple quick moves for position and then everyone fell in line. There was very little passing. I don’t recall seeing any passing the first 100 laps except for those at the start and restart. Other than Matheus Leist losing a wheel during his pit stop around lap 121 is wasn’t an overly exciting race. Will Power brushed the wall and went into the pits. On lap176, Kyle Kaiser also hit the wall. He also pulled into the pits. I honestly thought they would have thrown the yellow flag there and while many times we complain when they throw the yellow for something insignificant I thought the race was a bit dull and a restart would have made things fun. I wasn’t wrong as we would find out later but race control did not go yellow for Kaiser’s brush with the wall so not restart for us.
On lap 229 Ed Jones hits the wall and brings out the yellow we’ve been waiting for- or at least the one I was waiting for. So with 20 laps left who will take tires? Surely not the leaders, they would have to many spots to make up on a night when passing seems impossible. But actually the opposite happened and most went in for tires. Rossi, Hinchcliffe and Wickens stayed out. I really felt those with the new tires would be sorry they went in but I was proved wrong. The right call was to get new tires. Josef Newgarden quickly went around Rossi and Hinchcliffe. Wickens was able to hold Newgarden off for a couple laps but the new tires were too good and Josef made his way around Wickens and eventually took the twin checkers. Robert Wickens finished second and Alexander Rossi was third. So, as is often the case, the most impressive drive of the night did not go to Josef. Josef did great but was also in the right place at the right time with the right tires to get the win- very familiar scenario for Penske. The most impressive driver had to be Alexander Rossi closely followed by Robert Wickens. Rossi had a drive through penalty and worked his way back up passing 53 cars along the way. I saw a statistic that his passes made up nearly 20% of all the passes that night. Wow! Super impressive! Robert Wickens is an IndyCar rookie on his first oval, second place for him is also quite impressive. We knew it after St. Pete but he is one to watch. I was also impressed with AJ’s team. They still have a long way to go and need significant work on pit stops but we are seeing some glimpses of what could be. Still keeping my fingers crossed that this is a good year for AJ Foyt Racing. Tony Kanaan finished 8th and Matheus Leist finished 19th, several laps down due to the tire incident.
So was it a snoozer or entertaining? Honestly a bit of both but more entertaining than last years so that was enough for me to put it in the entertaining category.
Next up is Long Beach which always proves to be an exciting race and a fan favorite. Best part is we don’t need to wait we are racing again next week!