JENNA FRYER,AP Auto Racing Writer
There’s a lot of attention on IndyCar right now, some of it for the right reasons — the competition, the stars and the story lines — and some it for the same old problems that seem to plague the series.
Last week was a perfect mix of the good and bad for IndyCar, which sailed out of a successful Indianapolis 500 hoping to capitalize on a nice television rating and strong buzz around the series. Then the excitement was snuffed out two days after the race by roughly 140 characters on Twitter.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard tweeted last Tuesday that a team owner was trying to get him fired, proving that some things never change for a series that’s constantly held back by internal bickering and personal agendas. So just like that, the talk shifted from Dario Franchitti’s third Indy 500 victory to the poisonous politics of open-wheel racing.
Even worse, when the opportunity arrived for the attention to shift back to the race track, things literally fell apart.
Curious fans who tuned in Sunday to see IndyCar return to Detroit for the first time since 2008 were subjected instead to a 2-hour delay because portions of the Belle Isle street course began to crumble. The surface came apart in chunks, and the severity wasn’t realized until James Hinchcliffe drove over a pot hole that sent his car sailing into a tire barrier.
The sold-out crowd headed for the gates as crews furiously worked to fill the gaps in the track with expoxy. When the race finally resumed, it was shortened 30 laps to create a 15-lap shootout to the finish.
It may have made the best out of a bad situation, but reaction to the move was decidedly mixed. There was praise for track officials for the work they did in getting the track ready to race again, and winner Scott Dixon wanted only to “focus on the positives.”
“I’d like to give a lot of credit to everyone at IndyCar and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race,” Dixon said. “The final 15 lap shootout was exciting for me.”
But there also were complaints. It was unclear, even to the broadcasting team as the race prepared to go green, whether IndyCar was indeed going to cut it from 90 laps to 60. On pit road, teams and drivers seemed unsure who was allowed to make what changes to their tires.
And there was disappointment the race didn’t go the distance.
“I don’t know how the decision was made to run to lap 60. It made no sense to me,” said driver Ed Carpenter. “It got a little embarrassing with the officials not knowing who could change tires and other equipment. It was a mess. We are professionals here in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It was just really confusing.”
The whole week was confusing, though, and almost all of it was self-inflicted.
The delay in Detroit was certainly not the follow IndyCar needed after Indianapolis. But sometimes things happen despite all the best efforts to put on a first-class show, and all anyone can do is try to roll with it.
Sadly, some people won’t see it that way. They’ll throw their hands up in disgust and use the shoddy track conditions as yet another example of IndyCar screwing up everything it touches. Some may even personally blame Bernard, who seems to be the whipping boy of late for every issue that ails IndyCar.
Hired in early 2010 to replace ousted IndyCar founder Tony George, Bernard inherited a mess from top to bottom. The series was saddled with an antiquated car, a crummy television package, a bottom line that was bleeding Hulman-George family money and overall fan apathy.
There’s no overnight fix for IndyCar, and it’s terribly unfair to think Bernard should have turned it all around in his 27 months on the job.
Yes, he’s made mistakes, and because he’s a promoter at heart and lacks any racing background, team owners have legitimate gripes about some of Bernard’s decisions. But, more important, he’s brought an energy back into IndyCar that didn’t exist for years.
People are paying attention again — maybe not in the numbers that IndyCar needs, but enough people that the series is creeping back on to the radar.
That he chose to air his dirty laundry on Twitter was petty, and it very much spoiled the high from the Indy 500. But it also may have worked in calling off the dogs, at least temporarily. There was — probably still is — a very real uprising in the paddock for Bernard to be sent packing, and it’s a terrible shame that a racing series continues to operate with such a blatant lack of respect toward the head of the sanctioning body.
Bernard doesn’t regret bringing the alleged coup attempt to the attention of the public. Everyone inside IndyCar has known what’s been brewing the last month, and now the fans do, too. Now that it’s out, maybe everyone can move on and, to borrow from Dixon, focus on the positives.
The racing is very good, the competition as close as ever. After four races won by Roger Penske’s drivers, the Chip Ganassi gang is back in the mix with consecutive wins at Indy and Detroit. Chevrolet-powered teams ran away with the first month, then Honda swept the podium Sunday at Belle Isle. In Saturday qualifying, six drivers from six different teams advanced to the fastest round, proving there’s parity in the field.
Somebody somewhere will always find something to complain about, and that was justifiable on Sunday because of the track conditions. But in the big picture, things are moving along rather nicely for IndyCar, which finally has a chance for some real growth.
It won’t, though, so long as blaming Bernard continues to be a regular exercise for every little ailment. After the week that was, maybe people finally see that now and will re-evaluate their priorities.
That high after the Indy 500 was only a week ago — not so far removed that, if everyone could just learn to get along, IndyCar can’t back there again.
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