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Sunday, August 14, 2011
Indy Car management takes a hit in N.H.

By Eddie Gossage

Being an insider in this sport and having to work with people I write about in this blog, this is one of the toughest things I've had to write. Particularly for a sport -- Indy Car racing -- and people that I really like.

But it was a bad day Sunday -- a very bad day -- for Indy Car management in New Hampshire on two fronts.

First, the fiasco of a finish. The race's second rain delay hit with about 10 laps to go, causing an important handful of laps at a critical point so late in the race to be run under caution as officials hoped the cars would help dry the track and the showers would leave the area. It was a laudable notion.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay won Sunday in New Hampshire after Indy Car officials announced the race's official finish would be based on the running order and lap 215, 10 laps before the scheduled finish.
But officials, claiming their observers around the track said the course was suitable for race conditions, threw the green flag. From the on-board cameras on the cars you could see it was still raining. Drivers and crew chiefs were pleading with officials not to start the race due to slick conditions. But officials dropped the green flag on lap 217.

That's when all hell broke loose.

A few rows back in the field, Danica Patrick accelerated on the wet surface and the car leaped sideways. Blocking a major part of the track, four other cars spun on the wet track. On ABC's broadcast, you could see water spraying up from the track.

One driver included was Will Power, who was running second in the point standings to Dario Franchitti. Franchitti had fallen out of the race earlier in an accident with other cars. Power saw an opportunity to gain valuable points on the leader.

Power was so incensed he hopped out of the car and, with both hands, flashed an obscene gesture at the Indy Car control tower in full view of the fans on hand, unexpectedly captured by the big screens on hand and ABC's live cameras. Power later apologized but called for the firing of Indy Car chief steward Brian Barnhart.

After a red flag to sort out the mess, Indy Car officials announced the race's official finish would be based on the running order and lap 215, 10 laps before the scheduled finish.

"It will be an aborted restart," said Barnhart. "It was a mistake on race control's part and the only right thing to do and the fair thing to do is to go to the running order before the restart."

I give Barnhart credit for manning-up.

So Ryan Hunter-Reay is the winner, Oriol Servia was second and Scott Dixon scored third. And Power moved up in the finishing order and in the point standings.

But Indy Car looks amateurish. Can you imagine the outrage of some similar bumbling call by the NFL? Or the uproar of the already questionable officiating in the NBA?

Indy Car fans often like to claim NASCAR officiating is somehow biased. But they can no longer point fingers after this mess.

So the second -- but maybe even more important -- bumble of the day, Indy Car officials officially ceded control of the sport back to the car owners when they announced the delay of introducing aero-kits announced last summer until 2013. The kits were supposed to be introduced with the all-new Dallara chassis and engines from Honda, Chevy and Lotus in 2012.

Team owners were in charge of the sport since they broke away from USAC to form CART in 1979. The sport enjoyed great success in the '80s and early '90s but various policies drove a wedge between the all-important Indy 500 and CART. As a result, Indy started the Indy Racing League (now Indy Car) and the two organizations fought for the spotlight and sponsors, losing fans along the way. In the meantime NASCAR grew by leaps and bounds.

NASCAR is run as a self-described dictatorship. There are no driver committees as there are in Indy Car. There never will be. Drivers are listened to by NASCAR, as are the team owners, television and radio network partners, track owners and most importantly, the fans. But decisions are made by the dictator and, while I disagree with NASCAR's decisions often, everybody understands how it works. But Indy Car, with it's decision today, has once again yielded it's authority to team owners. How did that work out last time? Crash and burn.

The fans clearly wanted the aero kits, as evidenced by one motorsports web poll that 80 percent of the voters wanted the aero kits in 2012. Instead Indy Car chose to go down a different road and ignore the fans. Again.

It's hard to understand this latest move. History is a great teacher and in this case the result is incredibly predictable.

It was a bad day -- a very bad day -- for Indy Car management.