It’s still June, but the IZOD IndyCar Series championship may have already been decided – by a stroke of luck, no less.
Normally, race winners are supposed to be happy about their success. Instead, Dario Franchitti was furious on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. After claiming the first of two 114-lap races on the agenda, the three-time series champion (as well as the other 29 drivers on the grid) were subjected to a blind draw that determined the starting grid for the second race.
His title rival Will Power’s draw? Third.
Franchitti’s draw? 28th.
Try as Franchitti might, he couldn’t make up the distance and had to settle for seventh place while Will Power followed up his third-place finish in Race One with his long-awaited first oval victory. And with that, Power’s lead in the championship over Franchitti increased a little bit to 21 points.
But as we all know, a little bit goes a hell of a long way in this form of motorsport.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position to start with,” Franchitti said. “To have a championship round of the [IZOD] IndyCar Series and drawing the grid from a hat is a joke. Through no fault of our own, we started 25 places behind Will. He took advantage of it and he did a great job, but through no fault of myself and the Target [Chip Ganassi Racing] team, we had a massive handicap.
“We had great pit stops. I drove as hard as I could all night and made up 21 places, and still lost – again, through no fault of our own – a lot of championship points…I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Okay, I won the first race,’ but at the same point, my emotion right now has just been pissed off about the hand we were dealt tonight.”
In stark contrast to Franchitti’s agitation after the race was Power’s exuberance at finally winning on a speedway. However, the Team Penske pilot also sympathized with Franchitti’s plight, agreeing that the blind draw was not fair.
“I thought coming into this race that you don’t control your own destiny basically – it’s just a draw,” Power said. “It was going to be very unfair to someone and it happened to be Dario.
“In a tightly fought championship, you just can’t have that because if it comes down to five points at the end of the year, Dario will look back at this race and say, ‘Well, if I started where I should’ve, I would’ve had those five points.’”
Considering how tight their title duel in 2010 ended up, as well as how they’ve seamlessly continued the nip-and-tuck rivalry in 2011, Texas may well be the turning point of this year’s championship for all the wrong reasons.
For fans that have watched a series produce one battle to the finish after another on its own merit – i.e. without the assistance of a contrived “playoff” system – it must be tough to fathom that a gimmicky blind draw may wind up as the difference when the dust settles in Las Vegas.
INDYCAR and Texas Motor Speedway certainly had their hearts in the right place and wanted to drum up excitement for the fans. That’s admirable and necessary. But with the potential effects of Saturday’s events on the championship, perhaps some changes need to be made to the Texas twin format if it is to survive as a points-paying entity.
Full inversion comes to mind automatically of course, and Franchitti said himself that he would have been cool with that since he would’ve started just two spots further back and everyone else “would’ve been in the same boat.”
Franchitti also relayed an interesting idea from teammate Scott Dixon, who lost to Franchitti in Race One by .05 of a second – give points for each pass a driver makes.
“Not bad for a daft Kiwi, huh?,” Franchitti jokingly said of Dixon with a grin that, up to that point, had been elusive since the end of Race Two.
Rest assured, though, if he loses the championship on account of what happened deep in the heart of Texas, the Scotsman will not be smiling.