INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard is desperate to convince the world that the IZOD IndyCar Series' drivers are some of the best in the world.
He's gone so far as to pledge $5 million US to the interloper who can wrest a race victory from series regulars at the IndyCar finale in Las Vegas this season.
If I were one of those interlopers, I might be a bit more heartened about my chances this morning after what went on at St. Petersburg on Sunday.
Let me state for the record before I go any further that I respect and admire drivers who speak their minds. I appreciate honest opinion and the willingness to put one's hide out on the line to express it. I ask only two things in return - first, don't expect us to equate honesty with ironclad truth at all times, and second, apply the same courage used to speak your mind to admitting you were wrong if necessary.
I also understand the heat of battle, speaking "in the moment," and the emotions in play when one is taken out of a race early by incident, particularly if one doesn't feel at fault for said incident. That tends to have a warping effect on one's perspective that is not shared by people watching from afar.
Disclaimers out of the way, we can safely discuss the topic of double-file restarts and why IndyCar drivers are fools if they continue to bitch and moan about them.
The word "fools" may sound strong, but that's what they looked like - both on the track and in front of a microphone - when they complained about the new double-file restart rule. This group of drivers who are supposed to be on par with the best in the world stepped on their collective privates at the start of the race, but instead of ‘fessing up to it they decided to deflect blame to the series.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure this isn't going to work," fumed Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was knocked out of the race while running in fourth position. "It's different in NASCAR when they are going into a corner that move slowly, accelerate slowly and brake slowly... I think this decision has to be revisited."
Runner-up finisher Will Power chimed in as well. "The problem is they have so many cars bunched in such a tight place," he said. "It's like zero room for error and we can't bump like NASCAR. I think this is just going to continue every race and then it's going to be people getting knocked out every single restart."
Notice a trend here? A certain N-word being mentioned, perhaps? It seems to me that the folks complaining about double-file restarts are concerned that they might look bad compared to NASCAR drivers, who have been doing that sort of thing for decades.
Want to know something? They may have a point there.
The irony here is that the major carnage at St. Petersburg happened on the rolling start - something that is not, in fact, a new development to the series at all. The only difference between this rolling start and rolling starts past is that the acceleration zone out of the final corner was moved closer to the start-finish line.
The IndyCar drivers, so used to accelerating early (and, apparently, at their own whim instead of at the starter's), clustered into a jumbled mess as drivers in the back of the pack apparently forgot that pacing rules still applied until the green flag actually flew. The jumbled, jostling mess still got the green, however - apparently Race Control had no appetite for another pacing lap.
The chaos of the formation attempt spilled over to the restart, with cars going five- and six-wide into the tight turn one braking zone. This represented a driver choice on these hotshoes' part, not a reflection of the rule.
Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves in particular deserve a Golden Raspberry for their poor judgment - both drivers skirted close to the grass on the right side of the extremely wide frontstretch in a greedy attempt to get cheap track position. It came back to bite not only them, but a half-dozen other cars, when Castroneves locked his rear brakes in the marble-covered, slick area outside the racing line, collecting Andretti and sending the young driver tumbling upside-down.
Now, you don't have to be a genius - you don't even have to be a race driver - to know two very simple but critical things. First, funneling 25 cars six-wide into turn one at 150mph is probably not going to result in rainbows and puppies and happy songbirds. And second, even if there were no other cars careening pell-mell into the same corner, the choice of the extreme right lane - where there was debris, no rubber buildup, and grass - as a racing line into a hairpin right-hander is pretty dumb by nature, and even stupider if you attempt a late-braking maneuver to gain position.
Carnage ensued, as it has many, many times in IndyCar's past when drivers' appetites for cheap track position on race starts overwhelmed their good judgment and racecraft. But, since these are race car drivers, any semi-valid excuse is preferable to admitting personal fault - and thus, the campaign against the double-file restart rule began before there was even a restart using the new rule.
Lost in the post-race complaining, of course, was the fact that every successive restart after the initial clown show improved, with drivers figuring out better pacing speeds prior to the restart line, giving more space between cars, and somehow tempering their overwhelming desire to divebomb other drivers to get a position in favor of playing a better strategic and tactical game going into the first turn.
Now, I have enough faith in these drivers that they will figure all this out on their own in the next couple of days (I'm damn sure that very few of them read my blogs or, if they do, mine them for advice). The "fog of war" takes a while to dissipate, but for the most part these are not dumb human beings. They've been at this racing gig for enough years in enough series that they will understand what happened and - depending on their role in the carnage - what they need to do differently or that, sadly, bad stuff happens sometimes. More critically, they should be able to move beyond it and plan for a better weekend at the next race.
I dearly hope they validate that faith. I also hope that certain drivers qualify their "heat of the moment" comments in the light of hindsight and calmer attitudes. I think everyone realizes that IndyCar is not NASCAR and that there are different challenges with regards to double-file restarts between the series. But what I hope people don't conclude is that NASCAR drivers are better at adapting than IndyCar drivers.
If that turns out to be true, then Randy Bernard had better get his check-writing pen ready for Vegas.