Kentucky, how I will miss you. Finally, I got to witness a big league race at a facility outside of Indianapolis, and what a weekend to do it. Chilly temperatures punctuated an action filled weekend. Qualifying was moved up fifteen minutes because of a real concern that the session would not be able to run to completion due to the ambient and track temperatures. Everyone got a run in and the stage was set for an absolutely stellar race on Sunday. The oval championship was on the line, and the overall championship battle was looking to be fought side by side on the banking of Kentucky Speedway. Everything was in place for a great looks-like-it-could-be final race weekend in Kentucky.
Ed Carpenter – Honestly, how could any race recap not start out with Ed? Sarah Fisher Racing unloaded strong and backed it up in qualifying, putting down a lap good enough for P4 on the grid. Battling in the lead pack all day long, Carpenter did not put a wheel wrong and drove an absolutely stellar race. I was listening in to Ed’s radio the last 20 laps or so and the communication between him and his engineer was very interesting. They practiced the last lap, so to say, for five or so laps before the white flag, looking for the perfect place to use his final push to pass. The reward for a supremely gelled team who worked through adversity all day long, and fought tooth and nail on a limited schedule and budget this season? One duct taped helmet and the P1 trophy, the first of Ed’s career at the site of his other two best finishes, P2 the previous two years.
AJ Foyt Oval Championship – I honestly had no idea this was the last race for the championship. I had a feeling that it was, so I headed over to indycar.com to check out the oval points standings in preparation for my preview article. You can actually view the points standings for each championship, and on the oval page, Vegas was included and massive confusion ensued. If I can’t find a solid answer for which race ends the championship, I doubt a casual viewer would be able to as well. Dan Wheldon and Ed Carpener proved that with even a limited schedule, being competitive on the ovals is attainable. Scott Dixon sealed the title this weekend at Kentucky, giving us two champions so far this year. With a little more cash and press, I could see teams making an honest run at a single championship instead of a patchwork of one off weekends. The championships have to be promoted and the prize money at season’s end has to be there to draw those kinds of programs thought. Right now it isn’t and a wonderful aspect of our series has been lost the past two years.
Overall Championship – From the drop of the green flag, Will Power was on an absolute mission. He was the only car that could pull away from the pack. During qualifying, in true Will Power fashion, he ran almost a whole mile an hour faster than the rest of the field. It would ultimately be a typical pit road gaffe that would unravel his race. The ill advised release of Ana Beatriz into oncoming Power resulted in damage to both cars. Hope for a good finish was gone and all Power could do was survive the race and assume a damage control role. Franchitti was not so unlucky and was able to fight for a P2 finish, pulling away by 18 points in the championship with only the 1.5 mile oval of Las Vegas to go. Once again, it’s not looking good for Will Power and Team Penske’s championship hopes.
Oval Ringers – We always hear the term Road Course Ringer in NASCAR, I think we have our own ringers. Townsend Bell, Buddy Rice, Ed Carpenter, Dan Wheldon and yes even Wade Cunningham are all oval specialists in their own right. This weekend at Kentucky, the part timers really took it to the full time field. Common knowledge says a part time team with a part time driver will have no chance to accomplish much against the full time contingent. Wheldon, with Bryan Herta Autosport and Carpenter, with Sarah Fisher Racing, have proven that given the right set of circumstances, a part time team can actually find victory lane on the ovals. Maybe these oval specialists still may have a place in the series for at least a few more years.
Scanners – I purchased a TrackScan scanner this weekend to replace my standard manual scanner. If you are in the market for a race scanner I would recommend the Pocket Edge. The scanner can be picked up at the track for 160 dollars and come pre programmed with all the weekends drivers, officials, and announcer broadcasts. The unit can be reprogrammed each weekend at the TrackScan truck with the new channels and labeling information. I had all but given up with attempting to program a weekends worth of driver data into my old scanner as channels would change all the time, and provided information was often dated and incorrect. This unit gave me an instant, easy and user friendly way to keep up with radio traffic all weekend. Best track purchase yet, hands down.
Officials – I would stop on the officials channel during the cautions and there was a very mission control type communication system being used. The main channel was used very well when communicating with the pace car, clean up and safety equipment. I was very impressed with the professionalism I heard over the radios during the weekend. All equipment was accounted for at all times, and coordination with the track was very well handled. Expecting to hear a cluster all weekend, it was refreshing to know that, even if for one weekend only, race control can run a really tight ship. We all would like to see more of that.
It was a great weekend, capped off in the most unimaginable way when the bright yellow Dollar General machine found its way to victory lane. The fans in my section knew exactly who Ed was and knew him as the favorite driver. There was absolutely more emotion running through the stands after the checkers than even at Indianapolis this year. The loss of this facility would be a truly huge hit for the series and area oval fans. I am just upset I could not make it to the facility years ago to witness the amazing racing the track produces. The series heads to Vegas in two weeks to finish out the season. From the looks of it we will have the biggest field ever in the series to take the green flag. There will be many things to look for; the five million challenge, the overall championship, and of course the final race for the venerable IR03 chassis. It will be a weekend to remember and we don’t even have all the details hammered out. Let’s hope the series can continue the fantastic racing, devoid of race control flubs for the final round of an era.