- Rusty Wallace, NASCAR
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Polesitter Dario Franchitti was out doing his normal Sunday morning warmup session when he came around a real blind corner. Kosuke Matsuura's car was sitting there parked and while Franchitti did a great job avoiding it, driving it into the tire barrier, it came back to affect him during the race.
Franchitti was the class of the field Sunday. He was, far and away, the best driver before he broke an upright bearing. His team, Andretti Green Racing, didn't think it had anything to do with the crash, although they replaced the bearing after the crash and somewhere it failed during the race. The crash didn't help them at all because they messed with that area of the car after the crash and that's the area that failed.
I said this last week, but Sunday morning practices need to go away. The practice session two weeks ago at Homestead had nothing to do with Paul Dana's death. His accident could have happened on a Saturday just as easily. I just don't see any reason at all for it because it jeopardizes the starting lineup of the race. These cars are qualified and ready to go, then they go out there Sunday morning and you have three or four incidents like we had in St. Petersburg.
Tim Cindric, the race strategist for Helio Castroneves, came up to me and wanted to know what I have seen from the IRL, having come over from NASCAR. One of the first things that I said was that there wasn't a need for Sunday morning practice sessions. He said he would rather do away with the practice, and Roger Penske and Chip Gannasi said the same thing. It seems like a majority of the people think they don't need it because the drivers all have the same engines.
What I also noticed, was the IRL doesn't make it mandatory for spotters, like NASCAR does, at road courses. Teams should have spotters down in those blind corners so this problem that Franchitti had could have been avoided.
Still, what happened in practice shouldn't overshadow what was a great race. Drivers were passing each other left and right, rough-housing each other, hitting each other in the rear end, knocking each other sideways. It was a real physical and tough race.
This is the second race in a row that the IRL race has been so exciting. I have had all my stock car buddies call up because they know I'm commentating. My crew chief from last year, Larry Carter, called me up to tell me he didn't think there would be a race more exciting than Homestead. St. Petersburg had drama from beginning to end. He now finds himself watching every IRL race now.
The functions of a stock car and IRL car are pretty similar on a road course. The brakes are important on a road course, the chassis setup is similar. Instead of running positive camber in the left front wheel and negative camber in the right front, you run negative camber in both wheels. Both sets of wheels are layed in on the top. The weight distribution is the same. Strategy and fuel is critical because it's so hard to pass on a road course. I have seen a lot of the same things, if not identical, happen with stock cars and IRL cars.
Castroneves is really prepared and so is his teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. They came from a program last year where the Toyota was a great engine, but it wasn't making as much horsepower as Honda. Target Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing, because of the horsepower deficit, really worked hard in all these other arenas to pick the speed back up.
So this year, when they knew everyone was going to be driving with a Honda engine, that immediately gave Ganassi and Penske more speed than they had last year. It was obvious they were running at a deficit last year. This year, with more horsepower from Honda, those two teams are shining.
Castroneves won, although the race finished under caution, something that no longer happens in NASCAR. As a driver, I never did liked Green-White-Checkered finishes because everybody is driving beyond their capabilities to try and get to the front. As a fan, I love it. Let's face it, we're doing this for the fans, but there always seems like there is a crash or something haywired when we have green-white-checkered racing. I especially hated it at a Daytona or Talladega because you always had crashes.
I wish NASCAR and IRL were the same so we could build some continuity. In simple terms, drivers don't like it, and fans love it.
The series has almost three weeks off before the next race in Japan on April 22. Teams are going to be in Indianapolis testing this week, but after that they will be working to get all their parts put together to ship over to Japan and make sure they have enough spare parts put together to run that race.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races.