Controversial draw spoils IndyCar's thrilling twin races at Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas -- So the IndyCar Series went back to the future by holding its first "Twin Race" since 1981 and it created an electrifying atmosphere at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday. There was high-speed racing, fireworks and fast-paced sprints to the finish in each of the 114-lap contests which saw Dario Franchitti drive to victory in the first race and Will Power score his first career oval win in the second.
But it also included a patently unfair format which could ultimately cost Franchitti the 2011 IndyCar Series championship.
Here's the rub:
• The lineup for the first race was determined by Friday's qualifications. But the second race's starting lineup was determined by a blind draw as a stage was brought out to the start/finish line and the drivers drew for position in inverse order of the their finish. That meant 30th place driver Charlie Kimball was the first to draw and race winner Franchitti was the last to draw his starting position.
• Will Power, who finished third in the first race, was the third to last driver to draw for position and he drew the No. 3 starting spot.
• Franchitti, who won the first race, was the last to draw and when second-place finisher Scott Dixon drew the No. 18 starting position that left Franchitti with the 28th spot in the field.
Essentially, Power won the race on the pre-race stage, not on the racetrack itself.
So the two drivers battling for the championship started at opposite ends of the lineup for the second race. Franchitti did his best by racing to a seventh-place finish. But combined with Power's victory, he now trails Power by 21 points in the battle for the season championship. At the conclusion of the first race, Franchitti trailed by just seven.
Even the race winner saw the unfairness in the way the lineup was determined.
"It was definitely unfair for Dario," Power said. "For him to start 28th and me third is unfair. It's as simple as that. Otherwise it would be a fierce battle for the whole race. But to me it was unfair. Splitting the race in half was fine and the draw was fun for the fans but it makes it that much tougher for a guy like Scott Dixon to come from 18th to second, that's a heck of a drive. But for Dario, it's really unfair."
Franchitti did not hold back on his thoughts about how he was placed at a disadvantage.
"We should have never been in that position to start with," Franchitti said. "To have a championship round and draw it out of the hat is a joke. We drew 25 spots behind Will. It's no fault to Will but that is a massive handicap. Through no fault of our own we gained 21 places but lost a massive amount of points. That made me mad. I'm sitting there thinking I won the first race but my emotion right now is pissed off at the hand we were dealt tonight.
"This was Las Vegas--not a championship race. We might as well rolled the dice to see who won tonight."
Franchitti believes if the field was inverted to the order of finish of the first race then he would have only been separated by two positions from Power. And he believes inverting the field would have made it a better race for the fans.
"It's a sport," Franchitti said. "It's entertainment too, but they have to balance that aspect. Trust me; it would have been entertaining if we had inverted the field. It's just a frustrating situation. The best thing would be to have this as a stand-alone without championship implications. Then, we could have at it. But this race tonight was a championship round. To win here at Texas for the first time in front of a great crowd I should be celebrating right now."
But instead, Franchitti looked as if his dog, Shug, had run away again.
Even before the start of the second race, Franchitti talked to me on pit lane as he stalked down to his race car, furious at what happened in the draw. He revealed to me that while the entertainment aspect is something that IndyCar badly needs, it should not be done at the expense of a championship battle.
Of course the talented Scotsman is a racing purist who idolized the drives of his fellow countrymen Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart. Races should be won on the racetrack -- not during a pre-race gimmick draw.
"With this bloody lottery it was the worst-case scenario for me," Franchitti said. "It was exactly the worst-case scenario for me. Will starts up front and wins the race and I have to start 28th. There wasn't any skill involved--it was just bloody luck. All we want is fair. You have to balance the sporting aspect and the entertainment aspect. By the time I got there there was no choice -- all that was left was 28th starting position.
"This is a sport about who does the best job not picks the best number. That is what happened tonight. This was not an All-Star Race it is a championship race and for no fault of our own we got screwed."
Danica Patrick, who finished eighth, had a simple solution to what should have happened on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
"If you want to have a 30-car field you can't really call it an `All-Star Race' so it's simple -- call it a $1 Million Shootout race," Patrick said. "I know that there needed to be a `show' in the middle but that will probably help ratings a little. But I think we should just invert the field and make it apples to apples. There was a great crowd tonight and I hope they enjoyed it. Hopefully the ratings will show that. At least the series is willing to try something."
Power, who finished third in the first race, was able to draw the third starting position in the second. He celebrated as if he had already won the race because essentially, he knew that he had.
"There were only 18 and 28 left so I knew at that point the Ganassi boys were screwed," Power said. "That was lucky. That was the race-winning pass right there on the stage. It's a championship and a sport and it shouldn't have come down to a draw."
The impact of Power's first oval victory is huge. Had he won a race on the ovals last year he would have probably won the season's championship. But his inability to get to victory by running around in circles was costly. That is why if he should win the title this season what happened on Saturday night could be the biggest thing that happens to him this season.
"We lost all of our points on the ovals," Power said. "It was an experience thing. We just needed one of those ovals to go right to get enough points to win the championship. But Dario did a better job and he won it."
As for Patrick, she drove from 20th starting position in the second race to finish eighth.
"Both races were a lot of work," Patrick said. "My car was more inconsistent in the first race but in the second one once we cranked enough wing in it it was OK. I'm not super-duper excited about eighth but we pitted early and came out and picked up some positions and that worked for us. These shorter races are a handful. Everybody seems to be running fast all the time which makes it tougher."
While Patrick understood how unfair the night turned out for Franchitti, she also sees reason for trying something different for the IndyCar Series.
"I'm a fan of anything that gets people to watch our races because we really need that for the series," Patrick said. "That's really important. I do see the side of it that it's unfair for going for championship points on a random qualifying.
"We're in a tough spot right now as a series. We need fans but we also need the integrity of the race."
And on Saturday night, the integrity of the IndyCar Series points race suffered a bit because of the "luck of the draw."