In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of MoreFrontWing.com face off on topics related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither reviews the other's argument until after the article is compiled for posting. It's up to you to decide who's made the better case!
This week: was Dario right to complain about the random draw for starting positions for race two at Texas?
Following Saturday night’s Firestone Twin 275 races at Texas Motor Speedway, Target Chip Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti was quite vocal about his disdain for the IZOD IndyCar Series setting the starting lineup in the second race by a random draw, a race which he rightly points out could have a significant impact on the final championship standings. No sooner did Dario take to any and every microphone he could find to voice his displeasure about the procedure than did fans of INDYCAR take to their keyboards in near universal condemnation of his attitudes and “whining” (their words, not mine). Sadly, whatever good points Dario made about the questionable procedure ended up being lost as a result of the way he conducted himself in the post-race media availabilities.
Dario’s main point of contention is that in a race that pays championship points, the starting order (which obviously has a great effect on how the race is run) should not be decided by something as whimsical as a random draw. While it’s not difficult to defend that position, aren’t procedures of chance often used in competitions of all sorts as a way to set starting orders, whether pick-a-number or rock-paper-scissors? There is obviously more at stake here than playground bragging rights, but does that change the theory? It doesn’t seem so in the eyes of INDYCAR fans.
One issue that fans have taken with Dario’s stance is that the qualifying procedures for the duel races had been publicized for months in advance. Since the announcement that the lineup for the second race would be set by a halftime draw, little was discussed in public about how unfair the procedure would be, only that it should make a great show for the fans. It wasn’t until the Target boys were relegated to 18th and 28th positions did it suddenly become a point of contention. Had Will Power drawn either of the two lower positions still available rather than third, would Franchitti still talk about how unfair the procedure is? He might have mentioned it in passing (as Power did) but certainly not harped upon it as he did Saturday night.
What really rubs me the wrong way is the implied suggestion that all of racing is fair and the failure to acknowledge that sometimes breaks just don’t go your way. Success in racing always has and always will be largely dependent on luck. By and large, good luck usually falls upon Dario Franchitti and has helped him be very successful over the past couple seasons. For instance, was it fair or was it just good luck that yellow flags happened to come out at Indianapolis, not once but twice, while Dario was pitting? Ask Danica Patrick or Pippa Mann how fair it was when the yellow flag came out one lap too late for them. What about when Dario had Scott Dixon playing wingman and essentially blocked Will Power from being able to close on him? Fans understand that racing is a team sport, but many call it unfair that one teammate is blocking for another. There are many other instances where the circumstances aren’t necessarily fair -- when a driver gets stuck behind slower cars racing for position, when a driver gets taken out of the race in an accident that was completely another driver’s fault, when a tire goes flat, when an engine blows, etc. Those are just the breaks of the game. Sure, the draw for starting positions was gimmicky, but it was just another chance happening that brought luck into the game.
While Franchitti is miffed about having to start so far back in the field, most fans will not be particularly sympathetic to him at the end of the year if he loses the championship by a few points and blames it on this occasion. I doubt I will be the only person to point out that Franchitti and his team left a handful of points on the table at Indianapolis last month when pair of fuel gaffes left Dario just short of the checkered flag and losing ground in the championship when he should have walked away with the points lead. In qualifying, Dario earned a scant six points to Power’s ten because his team ran him out of fuel on the final lap of his qualification run, which by all indications would have been good enough to put Dario on the front row. Likewise, in the race, a failed fuel strategy dropped Franchitti to a 12th-place finishing position good for only 18 points, while Will Power was able to overcome an early pit road incident to salvage a 14th-place finish worth 16 points, totaling enough points to actually extend his lead by two after the Month of May. Such miscues on factors that teams do control need to be addressed and considered before blaming the potential loss of a championship solely on factors that are outside of their control.
Racing is a sport that often separates its winners from its losers simply by luck. Dario has had luck on his side more times than not recently. This particular night, however, the draw went against him. He will no doubt receive good fortune again this year, yet we fans will likely not be subjected to interview after interview bemoaning the part luck will play in the championship. That’s why a championship isn’t decided in a single race as these types of occurrences tend to even themselves out of the course of the year. By the time the IZOD IndyCar Series reaches Las Vegas in October, all the front runners will look back at their luck and realize they’ve been on both sides several times.
Dario Franchitti caught a lot of flack from fans on Saturday night for complaining about the random draw for starting positions for the second race. However, Dario's concerns in this case are completely justified.
It's interesting that I would take this position since I've already argued the shut-up-and-drive angle once this season with regard to the driver complaints about double-wide restarts (a campaign also led, interestingly enough, by Dario Franchitti). Shut-up-and-drive is appropriate in some situations, but it isn't a catch-all, and these are clearly very different problems.
Based on the way fans have reacted to each of the changes proposed for INDYCAR over the past few months, there are two simple criteria that can be used to determine which ideas will be successful: 1) whether the change improves the show, and 2) whether the integrity of the final outcome is maintained upon applying the change.
The application of double-file restarts most certainly improves the show, particularly now that the drivers appear to have them more or less figured out. They can affect the outcome of a race in a sense, but they do so in a way that affects every racer equally, and so their application doesn't call the final results of an event into question. According to the criteria above, double-file restarts pass with flying colors, and they've clearly been a success.
On the other hand, a green-white-checkered rule may improve the show (though even this is questionable depending on who is asked), but it most certainly affects the outcome. A race should be run to its advertised distance. If the driver leading at the 300-mile point of a 300-mile race is not the driver who wins, something is very wrong. With a green-white-checkered finish, the integrity of the final result is sacrificed in the name of entertainment. With the majority of INDYCAR fans, this simply wouldn't fly.
Similarly, a Lucky Dog rule may temporarily improve the show for fans of a driver who benefits from it. But if that driver were to pull out a win thanks to a rule that gifted a lap back that wasn't earned, the validity of that win could forever be called into question. Watching a driver make up a lost lap on his or her own and pull off a win makes for far more real and spectacular racing. By the criteria above, this rule flat-out fails point 2 above and should therefore not be applied (and thankfully never was).
Now, let's look at the random draw. It's safe to say that the selection process improved the show. Many of the drivers hammed it up, the crowd got into it, and it was a great way to increase driver and sponsor exposure during the hour break between races. But did change affect the integrity of the outcome of the race? Absolutely. One key contender in the championship started third and went on to his first-ever win on an oval; the other started 28th through no fault of his own -- he didn't even pick the wrong tire because the one he got was the only one that was left -- and only had time in a caution-free sprint race to make his way back up to seventh, which left him 14 points further behind in the championship standings (including the bonus two Will Power gained for laps led). Remember that Dario won last year's championship by only five points. We all marvel on a weekly basis at how competitive the IZOD IndyCar Series is, but the side effect of that competitiveness is that these 14 points, which were earned through an entertainment gimmick and not through any skill whatsoever, could make a massive difference in the outcome of the championship. Now, if Will does go on to win the title, people can point back to this event and question whether he was deserving -- never mind the fact that Will's detractors can point to his first oval win and claim that he wasn't fairly challenged because his closest competitors were relegated to the back. On point 2 above, the random draw fails massively.
Therefore, if fans won't accept green-white-checkered or Lucky Dog rules because of the way that they affect the outcomes of races, they shouldn't accept the random draw, either. This one somehow got by a lot of the people who would typically back this argument until it actually played out. Now that it has played out, however, many fans have realized just how egregious the decision was from the beginning.
The obvious counterargument to this is that racing has always involved a degree of luck that needs to be overcome to secure wins and championships. But there's a difference between the luck that's inherent in racing -- a stuck gearbox, a stiff gust of wind, a yellow just after a pit stop -- and inserting luck-affecting situations artificially. Drawing for starting positions is on par with putting all of the car numbers into a hat, then drawing one out and saying, "Sorry, Briscoe, but we're pulling a cylinder out of your engine. Sure, it's a lottery, but the fans think it's fun!" There's misfortune, and then there's turning a sport into a game show–like farce of itself. Sadly, on Saturday night, Dario was subjected to the latter.
Ultimately, Dario has every right to be peeved off about the way things played out on Saturday night. He's a professional athlete at the top of his game, and he deserves to have his accomplishments and failures viewed with integrity and respect. There have been several suggestions made for how to maintain this format while keeping the championship fight in tact -- one is inverting the field, and another is to make the first race worth full points and run the second as an exhibition with a high purse. These or any number of other solutions would retain the event's overall entertainment value while keeping the championship fight intact. We can only hope that one of these ideas is applied going forward so that 2011 is the only year that will see the points race tainted by this unfortunate controversy.