The difference between winning and finishing third is a millimeter. Winning requires perfection, and finishing second or third is just a fraction away from perfection. The situations and circumstances that separate winning from not winning are an eyelash. That's how close the IZOD IndyCar Series is right now. We were close Sunday – very close – but not close enough to win.
Still, third place is not bad at all, nor are three straight podium finishes to start the season, but winning requires perfection, and Mike Conway had that at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We were about a millimeter off.
The best example of that fraction came from our radio transmissions throughout the race. I could only occasionally hear Barry Wanser, my race strategist, on the radio during the race, so we had a bit of triangulation going on. Scott Harner, my spotter, would relay messages. I couldn't radio in, so I couldn't help them make changes on the car.
Normally that would be a major issue during a race, but Target Chip Ganassi Racing has so much experience. There wasn't any panic in anybody's voice or in the way we went about our business. We just kept going, and it ended with a third-place finish.
That's what I mean when I say everything has to be perfect in order to win races. It takes the radios working, the driver working, the team working – everything has to mesh perfectly in order to win. The strategy has to be spot-on. For that to happen, the engineers have to have the right information, which means the driver has to give the right feedback to the engineers. It all has to click.
If just one part of it doesn't click, you finish third. In our case, the radios, the trouble we had getting out of the hairpin turn, and our inability to get the tires up to temperature quickly were our millimeter between winning and finishing third. We didn't quite mesh, but we weren't really that far off.
Engineer Chris Simmons and I talked about the cars after qualifying. Teammate Scott Dixon and I weren't unhappy with our cars, but there was something just slightly off. Chris made a great decision about the car, and then Barry and Chip Ganassi and Travis Jacobson all combined to call the right strategy for the race. Along with crew chief Kevin O'Donnell and the crew's great pit stops, we were right there chasing down the leaders as the race reached its peak.
So many things go into racing that people don't always see. It's not just a driver in a race car. It's a collection of very smart and talented people who each perform a job that's part of a team production. If one small detail of that production goes wrong – like the radios – your chances of winning are diminished.
The car was really good all day. The only problems we had were that we struggled to get up to speed out of the hairpin turn, and we struggled to get our tire temps up quickly during the final stint. The car was good on cold tires during the first two stints, but for whatever reason it took a long time to get heat in the tires early in the third stint.
That explains how Conway got by after the last restart. We're not sure what to make of that, because normally the Firestones are really consistent. Once they came up to temperature, they were fantastic. I was turning laps faster than Conway at the end of the race – I even had the fastest lap of the race just two laps from the end. But before that, my tires were still cold and Conway's were up to temp, and he got past me and Ryan Briscoe and into the lead
That's what I mean by what a game of millimeters this sport is. Scott experienced it first-hand, too. He was good throughout the race, but he came into the first turn on that last restart and got wiped out by Helio Castroneves' mistake. Had he been two inches to one side or the other, he would have missed it completely. Sometimes it's just a fraction between winning and not winning.
If everything works perfectly, you win. If it works reasonably well, a top-five finish is on. But with the way the series is now, it is very easy to finish outside the top 10 on any given day. The difference between a good finish and a bad one is razor thin. It's that competitive.
But it was good to get another podium for the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew, so it did turn out to be a successful weekend. We had about 150 Target guests at Long Beach, and we think of them very much as team members, so it was good to get a result for them and an enthusiastic response. That helps everyone keep pushing forward.
It wasn't perfection, but it wasn't bad at all. It was just a millimeter off.