There was plenty of hot air blowing Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, and it wasn't all atmospheric pressure.
Most of it was coming from the direction of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. After winning the first of the night's twin 275-kilometer races, Dario Franchitti, who is rarely known for making controversial public statements, was not shy about expressing his displeasure over the bad luck of drawing the 28th (out of 30) starting position for the nightcap.
Scott Dixon wasn't much happier after pulling the 18th grid spot, and you have to wonder whether the Ganassi drivers would have sung a different tune had their chief IndyCar Series championship rival Will Power not chosen the No. 3 starting spot.
Team boss Ganassi's grapes weren't any less sour as he called any driver who had the nerve to have drawn a starting spot ahead of Franchitti a "backmarker."
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesWill Power was elated after drawing the third starting position for Race No. 2 of the Firestone Twins 275s at Texas Motor Speedway.
After Power ran strongly on the way to third place in Race 1, the second sprint was clearly his race to lose. And he didn't, claiming a relatively easy victory over Dixon -- who charged from 18th to second after he got done complaining about his draw.
Franchitti drove a masterful race, too, passing 21 "backmarkers" on the way to seventh place and minimizing the damage to his championship hopes. When the Texas twins were over and done with, Dario lost only five points to Power in the championship chase, probably far fewer than the Ganassi team's mismanagement of the final 40 laps of the Indianapolis 500 cost him.
But his image took a hit by what many fans perceived as excessive moaning. The blind draw for the second race may not have created a level playing field, but the rules were the same for everyone. And the estimated 50,000 fans present at TMS seemed to enjoy the halftime spectacle every bit as much as they did the 550 kilometers of clean, fast Indy car action.
On Monday, while at a joint appearance in Boston that named MoveThatBlock.com as the title sponsor for the upcoming IndyCar Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Franchitti and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had a chance to discuss the controversial Texas format. Bernard indicated that changes are already being considered.
"I took a lot of heat for my comments, but people don't understand, in my opinion, the big picture," Franchitti said. "Had they inverted [the Race 1 finishing order] I would have started worse, but it would have been fair for everyone. I would have started last, Scott would have started second-last and Will [Power] would have started 28th. It would have been some performance parameter, and that's all I was asking for."
"We have to evaluate everything we do this year and make sure that we are providing the best competition, entertainment and value to give that great fan experience," Bernard responded. "It was a little bit gimmicky, and I take the blame for it. I think it's important to make sure we sustain credibility, and I'm not convinced that what we did Saturday night does that. A draw takes away from that, especially if somebody loses the championship by five points to a draw."
It's fair to say that the Texas twin races created every bit as much controversy as TMS president Eddie Gossage could have hoped for. With that in mind, here's who emerged as winners and losers after the smoke cleared ...
• Winner -- Will Power. Not only did the Team Penske driver claim his first oval track victory and increase his championship lead to 21 points over Franchitti, he gained positive PR points for basically agreeing that the Ganassi drivers got screwed by the gimmick format. He also was extremely lucky to get away with bumping his left front wing endplate on Takuma Sato's rear tire without damage to either car.
• Winner/sore loser -- Dario Franchitti. The Scotsman dominated Race 1 for an easy victory but could uncharacteristically barely contain his anger after being left with the 28th starting spot in the reverse order blind draw for Race 2. He was right to say that simply inverting the field for Race 2 would have been much more fair -- as well as potentially more exciting for the fans. But he probably could have expressed his feelings more diplomatically.
• Winner -- Scott Dixon. Dixon drove beautifully all night and finished second in both races. He also came up with perhaps the best solution to the Race 2 starting order quandary: award bonus points for the number of cars passed. Maybe next year?
• Winners -- Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Power's Team Penske colleagues both kept their cool and notched solid finishes at Texas -- sixth and third for Briscoe, 10th and fourth for Castroneves. Helio in particular needed a decent result to stabilize his season and put himself back in the frame of mind needed to again challenge for race wins after a horrible start to his 2011 campaign.
• Winner -- Marco Andretti. By finishing sixth in the second race, Andretti matched Franchitti as the biggest position gainer of the night with 21 cars passed. He was Andretti Autosport's top finisher in both races, albeit a lowly 13th place in Race 1.
• Winner -- KV Racing Technology. Before the races, almost no one would have guessed that KVRT would pack up after the Texas twin bill with three intact race cars. But not only did the cars emerge unscathed, Takuma Sato matched a career best with a fifth-place finish in Race 1 and improved 13 places to 12th in Race 2, making him seventh on aggregate for the night. Crash-prone EJ Viso notched a pair of top-10s, and team leader Tony Kanaan claimed finishes of 11th and fifth, helping him maintain fifth place in the IndyCar Series standings.
• Loser -- Oriol Servia. Servia dropped from third to fourth in the points chase after a best finish of 15th place on Saturday night. Servia and Newman/Haas Racing weren't terribly confident about their Texas setup, and the Spaniard was called out by Franchitti for dangerous driving during the first race.
• Loser -- Danica Patrick. On a track where she normally runs well, Danica was not remotely competitive on Saturday night, and eighth place in the second race was a result that flattered to deceive. She also got into a war of words with rookie Jay Howard. Wonder how she'll like TMS in a stock car next year?
• Loser -- Justin Wilson. One of the best road racers in the IndyCar Series had a bad night on the Texas oval, as he was lapped in both races on the way to 17th and 21st places.
• Loser -- Graham Rahal. He suffered the only mechanical gremlin of the night when his Service Central/Ganassi entry had fuel feed problems. Given what happened in qualifying and the race at Indianapolis, did the Ganassi guys simply fail to put enough fuel in the car?
• Winners -- IndyCar Series fans. Whether they were at the track or home watching on TV, they got a heck of a show. A pair of them, in fact.