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Drama at Detroit and on to Texas

June 5, 2014

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Helio Castroneves returned to the Scene of the Climb some 14 years after his first fence-scale at last weekend’s Dual 2 in Detroit Verizon IndyCar Series race. It appears his joy of winning hasn’t diminished one bit. As it ought to be, what you see is what you get with Helio. He didn’t have a particularly good first Dual race on Saturday, ending up fifth when his strategy didn’t play the same way as the cautions fell; in the second race Castroneves was class of the field and could easily have run away and hid had his compatriots not caused caution periods.

While the Dual in Detroit was a Team Penske benefit, with Will Power winning the first race and hounding his teammate to the finish in the second after pole man Takuma Sato caused the final yellow, it’s worrisome that last year’s two winners, Mike Conway (now driving the road/street events for Ed Carpenter Racing) and Simon Pagenaud, with Schmidt/Peterson Motorsports were non-entities in last weekend’s festivities, with both the first retirements in the initial race and Pagenaud finishing sixth while Conway ended up 11th in the second.

I was impressed with James Hinchcliffe’s pair of top-six results and by the climb of Graham Rahal, whose other results this year have been horrid. That the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team’s season began with a race trailer fire spoke of the miserable luck they’d experience through the first half of INDYCAR’S whirlwind campaign; his second-place result in the initial Dual was a wonderful sign of a turnaround – but not so quick, right? Rahal was the second driver out of competition on Sunday. Some kind of roller-coaster, wasn’t it?

It seemed like last weekend’s races rolled by too quickly and the teams have no breathing room before heading out to Texas this week for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. With this race, the INDYCAR troops have been either racing, practicing, qualifying and racing again continually since the first weekend of May. I can only imagine how exhausted crew members and truckies must be after this thrash, but at least they’ve got a bit of respite following the Texas race?

Just wondering if one of Chip Ganassi’s four-car team will manage to show up in the winner’s circle for this battle on Texas Motor Speedway’s very racy 1.5-mile oval. They’ve pretty much been MIA since the start of the year and it wasn’t until Detroit that first Tony Kanaan and then Charlie Kimball managed a pair of third-place results. With champion crew chief Jim McGee joining Ryan Briscoe’s squad to help elevate that group, perhaps the Aussie will find his stride soon? And what has happened to Scott Dixon? He’s the guy that’s always driven with cool but he’s been a battering ram the past few events – and nowhere in the points, too.

It seems that winning the Indianapolis 500 is a prerequisite for a poor performance a week later. In fact, the only guy I can think of, off the top of my head, who wasn’t affected by that was Juan Pablo Montoya, who took winner’s laurels the week after his 2000 Indy 500 victory by doing the same at The Milwaukee Mile. Of course that tradition is gone now, but Montoya isn’t. Here’s hoping he finds his mettle and gets a win sometime soon.

As such, Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay made many unforced errors during the Detroit weekend and ended up 16th and 19th, respectively in the two races. No matter what RHR did last week, it didn’t work, giving his mechanics a lot more  work to do just to keep him on the track!

But enough of that – time for the Texas battle and I’m sure Eddie Gossage has a few tricks up his sleeve to make even the exhausted INDYCAR paddock intrigued by his antics. Texas is always a fun race for the competitors, racing day into evening and challenging with those lighting changes throughout the evening. As usual, the Indy cars will practice and qualify during the day and race at night. It will be fun. And since Helio Castroneves likes the fences at TMS, having won here last year, will this be another occasion for him to practice rappelling?

By Anne Proffit

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