Yes, technically there is a non-points race at Surfer's in late October, but lets call it what it is, 2009 Pre-season-exhibition; for all intents and purposes the 2008 season is over, and I can say that if this season is a sign of the IndyCar Series future, a HUGE thumbs up from me; but lets break it down to 13 very important notes...
13. Bump-day is Back! The Indy 500 done with field-fillers.
I can't tell you how heartbroken Mrs. Wedge and I were when it looked like Mario Dominguez and PCM had pulled out all their tricks all the stops and had Roth beat, only to end up in the wall. But the simple fact of the matter is that bump day featured 4 drivers fighting for the final spot in the field...no one this year or in future years will be allowed to just show up anymore.
12. Hillary Clinton and Cindy McCain make appearances.
It doesn't matter what your political views are; as an IndyCar fan you've got to be excited that prominent politicos are going to IndyCar races to be seen. No matter what you think about Dancing with the Stars, the fact is two very popular women who were on a show watched by 18 million then went to sing the anthem and wave the flag at the Indy 500.
11. Attendance and TV viewership is up across the board.
Pessimists would like to tell you that the numbers aren't amazing or they aren't 1992 numbers, but thats not what is important. Attendance and viewership was up across the board this year, and gradual increases are still increases; be a pessimist when the numbers are down across the board. Products don't get big by envying others, they do it by building on what they have.
10. With Car counts massivly up, Dallara is spent for parts.
Obviously in the forefront this is bad for teams, but the notion of it existing is great. Last week there were 8 cars out of the race and we still had 20 on the track. Its not only good for fan viewing, but this kind of car count plays to another aspect of fan viewership. The ability for teams to try out strategies. For the last few years its been heavy on the follow the leader strategy but in just the second week this year at mid race we got treated to a Top 5 completely void of the 'Big Three'. E.J. Viso, Enrique Bernoldi, Vitor Meira, Darren Manning & Jay Howard stood their ground at mid-race in St. Pete as no fluke, these guys were there for a good 15-20 laps until a caution and shortened race-time boggled up strategy again.
9. The Series can afford to ask Marty Roth to step aside for 2009.
As it has been rumored in the past few days, Marty Roth has been asked by the league to step out of the cockpit and he should have been, he was simply detrimental on road courses, and while he qualified well on ovals his race manner has been nothing short of always dropping like a rock. Marty aside, the fact that the IRL has such a good talent pool now and can afford to ask Marty to step out is a great thing. Dario was so intrigued that he's returning and there are news/rumors that Anthony Davidson & Sebastien Bordais are interested. Obviously the series is doing something right when drivers are interested in racing in it... The Free agent pool has never been better; and John Andretti, in turning the Roth machines into Top 5 running material, proved it more than ever before that the drivers matter just as much as the cars, on ovals too.
8. Iowa got rubbered in!
Pay no attention to the name on the wall and look at that picture. Imagine I showed that to you a year ago and told you that Iowa would have multiple passes and multiple moments of three-wide racing. You'd never have believed me, but I sure think we've got a new race to highly anticipate watching each year. Now if we could just get some of the road courses to be widened we honestly wouldn't have a guaranteed bad spot on the schedule.
7. Brian Barnhart called blocking!?
Not since Dixon in 2006 can I actually remember blocking being called and we got it twice at Detroit. Not only called but called in regards to a leader. Whether or not you want people to give up positions or a black flag, having blocking called is great for the league and SHOULD have been done 4 different time at Nashville when Helio kept chopping Danica. Now that we finally got to see BB have the balls to call it, lets see if he can make it consistent enough that drivers actually stop blocking.
6. Danica got her first win.
A fan of hers or not, unless you are stupid enough to think you can dispute how she won; the fact is she won, and this couldn't be better for the league. No longer can Danica (who finished 6th in the championship btw) be called a PR stunt by the league. She can now be called an IndyCar Series winner. Now we can just hope at least one of two things happen next season, she wins again and/or contends for the season title.
5. Coca-Cola, DirecTV, Frank's, IZOD, Subway, Natonal Guard, Nintendo, LucasFilms, William Rast, Menards, etc. all try out sponsorship.
Some will stay, some won't, some may upgrade, we may have a title-sponsor on our hands, who knows? The fact is you defnitely havn't seen this kind of sponsor-openness in at least 7-8 years. It not only bodes well for the series and teams financially, but it shows that sponsors, 1 of the 3 most important pieces of a racing for financial and PR reasons, are looking at IndyCars as a very viable option to try out.
4. The IRL is being forced to pick tracks for the IndyCar Series.
Toronto and Edmonton have been added this year instead of trying random experiments like Detroit (which really needs to go). Sure they turned down Cleveland, Las Vegas and New Hampshire; all races fans really want to see, but it shows major health in the series to have that option. How it affects KV Racing aside, seeing the IRL stand its ground with Surfer's Paradise is monumental. In the past 7-8 years we really hadn't seen either the IRL or CART/Champ stand their ground and do what was best for the series in any decision that may have adversly affected a specific shareholder or team. Losing Aussie Vineyards would surely be unfortunate, but holding Surfer's at the end of October is just foolish for schedule cohesion as well as monetarily, especially after we watched scheduling that killed ChampCar each year they took 3-5 week breaks between races.
The only quick fix I think the schedule needs is to make sure the first 2 weeks of racing feature the most important aspect of IndyCar Racing: diversity. We need to start with a Road Course and an Oval in consecutive weeks, those two weeks need to serve as an introduction to the Series' season.
3. IZOD on board AND activating!
Nothing else really needs to be said here, just go read that post... Fans and non-fans (the 2nd part of the 3 most important parts to a racing series) get much needed fashionable apparel and IZOD is activating like no other sponsor has in recent history.
2. Versus plans to give IndyCar and its fans the much needed exposure.
A lot of pepole will gripe about the Versus avilability issue, which I completely understand and is viable, but Versus needed to happen; and happening as a split with ABC/ESPN starting next year is actually the best option, I think. We hear Versus is giving us qualifying, pre-race, post-race, mid-week, and race replays that most likely won't be at the unviewable 7am Monday morning slot on ESPN Classic.
With getting the information and more of it that fans want, ESPN/ABC will inevitably finally be forced to care about their race coverage for their 5 races. The LAST thing ESPN is going to allow, is for Versus to outdo their coverage of anything so publicly, because at the heart of all this remember that Versus is ESPN's competition. Just look at their NASCAR coverage vs. TNT or Fox's. Whether its better or worse in your opinion, its still relatively on par.
1. Some Parity at Last!
(The 3rd piece of the 3 most important parts to a race series):
The best thing we saw this season, There were 10 different winners this year!
That's 10 different driver-specific fan bases that got to see their driver win this season. And for us who just like the racing we'll never complain about parity. But breaking in for a win is one thing for some complainers as they call them flukes but this is even more telling:
22 different drivers garnerd Top 5 finishes. Subtract the "Big Three's" eight and that would be 14 non-"Big Three" drivers that got their way into contention and most did so on multiple occasions. Thats what is importan to fans and viewers, unpredictability, and the hope that your driver can win at any given race. Parity is the biggest key to any racing series and right now IndyCar has it and is building further upon it.
I don't know about you, but as an IndyCar Series fan, I'm happy, anxious and excited!
All photo's from indycar.com except the one of Ryan Hunter-Reay from IZOD.