The result of Sunday's MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 was literally a no-win situation for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
In the waning moments of the race, a caution flew for moisture on the track and, as the Indy cars counted down the laps behind the pace car, INDYCAR faced a tough decision: let down the fans with a caution under finish (no green-white-checkered in this series, or throw the green flag and hope the tires held their ground on the slick track.
The ultimate decision and ensuing mayhem has stirred up plenty of controversy.
The one thing in which I should be clear, and even maligned second and third-place finishers Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon concurred, was that Ryan Hunter-Reay was running away with the race before the caution and his spot at the top of the podium was earned based on the race he ran.
That's the only clear element of an otherwise murky pool of issues.
On lap 214, INDYCAR prepared to throw the green flag for 215, but as the slight rain (if you could even call it that) picked up just noticeably, they called that off and waited another time around the track before deciding to go green. Most drivers objected to the decision and radioed the track wasn't ready to go.
It didn't matter. The flag flew.
The only thing green after that was Danica Patrick's No. 7 car as it spun on the slick surface like she was out of control on a sheet of black ice.
Patrick's car darted from the outside lane sideways across the inside one and, in the process, collected four cars. Somehow, she managed to keep the car on the track, but fifth-place Will Power and seventh-place Takuma Sato weren't so lucky. Power's car 180'd and was knocked by Ana Beatriz to sent it careening backwards into the wall, totaling the rear wing.
At the time, Power was sitting second in the point standings and looking to make up some much-needed ground on Dario Franchitti. Franchitti brought the best car to the track this past weekend, but he suffered a disappointing crash in similar fashion when Sato cut across into his lane on a mid-race restart. The wreck meant Power wouldn't take any advantage of the rare opportunity to close ground.
He knew that and he snapped.
Angered by what he viewed as the horrible decision to go green and seeing his shot at a title dashed, Power jumped out of his car, scurried across pit road and looked for the nearest INDYCAR official. He soon found several and confronted them on the decision before finally being corralled back toward the paddock area. His final parting shot will go down as the most memorable action.
Power turned in the infield area and flipped a quick, enraged double-bird at the race control booth before moving on. In and of itself, the gesture wasn't in a prominent area of the track, but it's 2011 and cameras roll everywhere, so both the TV broadcast and monitors at NHMS picked up Power's two-fingered salute. It quickly spread around the internet and even prompted some much needed face time for the series on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."
"I was just very frustrated," Power explained after. "I thought it was ridiculous to restart under the dangerous conditions that existed on the race track."
What Power, obviously, didn't know at the time was that INDYCAR decided since it made such a bad decision to go green, it would revert the race to lap 215 before the restart. In other words, Power was shown as finishing the race in fifth as opposed to what might have amounted to 14th, a swing of about 15 points for Power, who closed within 47 of Franchitti thanks to the ruling.
INDYCAR had red flagged the race on lap 220 in the hopes of giving fans the final 5 laps under green. However, when the drizzle wouldn't clear up, they decided to drop the checkered in front of a crowd disappointed not to see the ending.
"You want to make the effort that you can for the fans on television and the ones that are in the grandstands here, but you can't do that at the expense of safety," said Brian Barnhart, President of Competition and Racing Operations.
Barnhart went on to admit that he made ta mistake in restarting the race in the first place. "As soon as you had the guys stand on the gas out there, you saw right away it was the wrong decision to make. It was an error from the race control standpoint and clearly my fault."
Obviously, the decision to revert to lap 215 in final results didn't sit well with some of the drivers either. Servia and Dixon both claimed to have passed Ryan Hunter-Reay before the caution that immediately followed the green. Hunter-Reay contended that the rule states you can't pass the leader before the start/finish line (something Servia did), nor can you fall out of your row before the line (something Dixon did).
in the end, however, it all worked out in a fair, albeit unsatisfying, fashion.
Barring a horrible mistake, Hunter-Reay was clearly set to take the checkered flag if it hadn't been for the moisture. Most of the rest of the field had separated out enough to the point that the finishing order determined by INDYCAR's ruling was very similar to what it would have been had there not been a late caution.
"There's a lot of rules stuff going on in there," Hunter-Reay reflected. "All I know is we won, and I'm happy about it."
Servia had been trying to fend off Dixon. Patrick and Power had been battling for fifth. However, with the speed at which the top Indy cars circle the track (laps of about 170 mph), many of the slower cars had fallen off the pace at one point or another and only the top seven were still on the lead lap late in the race.
Ultimately, the result can be compared to ordering an 8 oz. filet mignon. It was very good; you couldn't complain about the temperature or the texture. However, when you were done with it, you were left wishing you had a little more than just those 8 oz. to eat.
Sunday's race tasted like that. It ended how it should have, it just left everyone a little unsatisfied and looking for one more bite.
Hopefully that satisfaction will come next year. The powers of NHMS will have to go through an extensive evaluation on the weekend's successes and shortcomings. Fans have been overwhelmingly supportive of the experience and hopefully we can provide them with another helping next year.