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Barnhart ouster treats symptom, but illness remains

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Randy Bernard (L) confirmed on Wednesday that Brian Barnhart (R) will no longer be in charge of INDYCAR Race Control in 2012. (Photo: IndyCar/Ron McQueeney)
Randy Bernard (L) confirmed on Wednesday that Brian Barnhart (R) will no longer be in charge of INDYCAR Race Control in 2012. (Photo: IndyCar/Ron McQueeney)

It's not like this wasn't coming for months.

Still, that didn't keep Robin Miller from virtually tripping over his moustache and "paddock paunch" to be first out the door with the news. The Daily Prophet could hardly have been more enthusiastic about Lord Voldemort's demise than Miller was to make his pronouncement.

Brian Barnhart is out of Race Control.

At this point, if you picture the start/finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway painted gold and Miller doing the Macarena on it with a horde of Munchkins, you're probably pretty close to the atmosphere that accompanied the scoop.

Miller went public with the news late on Tuesday night, most likely because, like a child who tears into his Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, he just couldn't wait any longer. Why? Because Ann Coulter and Barack Obama could not be worse enemies than Miller was - and is - with Barnhart.

The grudge and its resolution certainly make for entertaining fodder ex post facto. What they don't do is give us an idea about how Race Control will change with Barnhart no longer in charge.

Two-thirds of the INDYCAR official triumvirate that staffed Race Control during the 2011 racing season are now gone - Barnhart, who has moved over into the nebulous niche of President of Operations, and Al Unser, Jr., whose personal demons got him the boot earlier in the season. The remaining member of the three-headed heavy-handed Hydra, Tony Cotman, is far too engrossed trying to shepherd the suddenly-balky Dallara DW12 through its teething period to respond to this latest development.

The fact that Barnhart is no longer calling the shots on race day has his detractors jubilant, and the initial reaction overnight was celebration and not a small amount of schadenfreude. What nobody really acknowledged was that, while Barnhart's execution of race day policy certainly had significant shortcomings, the policy itself remains unchanged.

It is still early in the off-season, so it is likely that the INDYCAR rulebook will get the rewrite it so desperately needs, but it must be remembered that Barnhart is not the locus of all Race Control evils. Yes, he is a glaring example of the Peter Principle - the dictum that claims that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. But that could be said of many, many other people, and no matter how Robin Miller might disagree, Brian Barnhart is not a fundamentally evil man.

He is, rather, someone who made poor choices about how to respond to a set of rules and regulations that were questionable to begin with. That he did not make those choices alone in many instances tends to escape the critics' notice.

The point here is that it is likely a positive thing that Barnhart is moving to other occupations. In hockey parlance, Barnhart had long ago "lost the room" - he no longer had the confidence of not just the media and fans, but the drivers and team owners over whom he had jurisdiction. But his reassignment is not the magic elixir that will immediately fix all of INDYCAR's Race Control's outstanding issues - of which there are many.

That fact is something that would be wise for the joyful throngs to remember as they are burning their Barnhart effigies (hopefully only figuratively or symbolically - if someone actually burns a photo of Barnhart, that's going a bit far). Much work still remains in INDYCAR's ongoing overhaul that has nothing to do with the removal of a figurehead from his office.

For the sake of the sport, I hope the right people recognize this and take the coming months to address it properly.