Saturday, April 19, 2014

Newgarden Off and Running in 2014

Is this the year of the Newgarden?

Third year Indycar driver and 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden has gotten off to a great start this season. After qualifying dead last for the first round, I thought, "here we go again." Last year, Newgarden struggled with qualifying, often starting most of the races in the last couple rows. Despite this, he showed great pace at several races, including Sao Paulo and Baltimore. If only he could qualify better...

Fast forward to the race in St. Petersburg. Many drivers are being highlighted in the race, especially Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, and Tony Kanaan. While the big guns were fighting up front, Newgarden was quietly sneaking up the field, finishing the race in P9. It was a great start to the season for the driver of one car team Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Now, let's move to Long Beach. Newgarden has some memorable moments there, especially in 2012. He got moved to the front row for the start of the race after every Chevrolet car replaced their engine. Newgarden started outside of Dario Franchitti. Heading into turn one after the green flag, Newgarden saw a chance to take the lead. He dove in on the outside of Dario and looked to have the move complete, but Dario made slight contact with Josef, sending Josef into the wall, ending his race after one turn. No real fault can be put on either driver, as it was a racing incident. This showed not only Josef's will to win, but also his guts to go for the pass.

Back to 2014. Newgarden had been having a strong weekend at the Beach, qualifying P4 for the race. After being quick all race, Newgarden cycled into the lead of the race with just over two-thirds of the race being complete. On cold tires, Newgarden was holding off an impatient Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay attempted a bold move on the inside of a turn which you don't see too many passes. Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and several others had their races come to an end.

Josef Newgarden - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Josef Newgarden this past weekend at Long Beach (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

Despite the wreck, which was in now way Newgarden's fualt, everyone is starting to see what Josef is capable of. Despite some flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons, Josef has not shown the consistency that many would like to see in order to move up hierarchy of drivers in Indycar. Make no mistake about it, Josef is a great driver. The results might not be there, but man is he quick. And at only 23 years of age, he will be around fora long time.

You have to think that Josef is also motivated to perform well in the final year of his three year deal with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. While I can definitely see him returning to the Indianapolis based outfit, I also see a chance for him to move on. Where and when is beyond me. Team Penske would be a opportune option for him, as well as other teams.

Watch out for some more speed from Newgarden this year.

Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Power Rankings: Post-Long Beach

Based on my opinions as well as statistics, here are the updated top-ten Power Rankings for the 2014 Verizon Indycar Season following round one (number next to driver represents how far they fell from the previous power rankings, with N indicating that they are new to the list):

1) Will Power (0)
Will Power leads the Indycar by a wide margin at the moment, having won the first race of the season and finishing second at Long Beach. If Will Power combines his speed with consistency that his teammate (Helio) exemplifies, look out. The field could be in trouble.

Will Power of Australia driver of the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet during qualifying for the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 12, 2014 on the streets of Long Beach, California.
Power is ruling Indycar at the moment (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)
2) Simon Pagenaud (3)
Simon Pagenaud has been a straight beast this season, finishing fifth in both races so far on his way to P2 in the championship. He finished fifth even after being taken out by Will Power early on in the race. Simon Pagenaud is a championship caliber driver.


3) Scott Dixon (0)
Scott Dixon was a couple laps short of winning his first race at Long Beach. Despite the hit he took in the championship, make no mistake, Dixon has been his usual self so far this season.


4) Ryan Hunter-Reay (-2)
Hunter-Reay was one inept move away from being in the top of the championship leader board. Instead, he thought it was wise to make a daft move on Newgarden. RHR is a marked man from now. Despite the crash, you cannot take away the fact that Hunter-Reay has been quick all season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Pole at Long Beach is an indication of the pace RHR has so far
(Photo: Jonathan Moore / Getty Images North America)
5) Helio Castroneves (-1)
Helio Castroneves had a a really good race going on before the lap 55 incident. Helio had a minor brush in that incident, but he would continue. He later got penalized, which led to the infamous post race Twitter moment where Helio tweeted a photo denouncing Indycar officiating. He would later go on to blame his sister. Helio has been bringing some of the speed he had in 2013 over to this season.


6) Tony Kanaan (0)
Tony Kanaan was another one of the drivers collected in the lap 55 accident. Kanaan, who had a solid debut at St. Petersburg, was having another consistent, top-ten effort going at Long Beach before the crash. Impressed with his efforts so far.

Tony Kanaan of Brazil driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet during the Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13, 2014 on the streets of Long Beach, California.
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America
7) Justin Wilson (0)
Justin Wilson's race came at the expense of an incident with Scott Dixon. Wilson was also spun by Graham Rahal early on in the race. In true Justin Wilson fashion, he was running towards the top. Love the pace he is showing so far.


8) Josef Newgarden (N)
The biggest surprise this season has been the emergence of Josef Newgarden. A solid run at St. Petersburg and a P1 effort going at Long Beach before being wrecked by Hunter-Reay. Despite this, Newgarden has been pegged as one of the best drivers so far this season.


9) Takuma Sato (-1)
Takuma Sato, like many drivers on this list, had their race ended on lap 55. Sato, who won at Long Beach last season and sat on the pole at St. Petersburg two weeks ago, once again showed quick pace this weekend. Things came to a halt at no fault to his own. But so far, Sato has been a quick driver.


10) Juan Pablo Montoya (N)
THAT'S THE JUAN PABLO MONTOYA WE KNOW AND LOVE! JPM, who had mechanical issues in St. Petersburg hampering him from making a legit effort, had a major bounce back week at Long Beach, making some thrilling passes on his way to a P4 effort. Can JPM keep this momentum up?


New to list: Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya
Off the list: Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Monday, April 14, 2014

Winners and Losers: Long Beach

Here are your winners, losers, and Cone of Shame winner following the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

Winners

Mike Conway
The man who steps in to take the seat from Ed Carpenter on road courses wins in his second race with the team. If that isn't badass than I don't know what is. ECR #20 is a serious contender to finish the end of the season with the most entrant points.


Will Power
Will Power kept a relatively clean nose on his way to a second place finish. His move past the wreck on Lap 55 led him straight to the podium. He has already built a healthy lead in the championship, a solid start for him.


Colombians
It is incredible enough that there are four Colombians in Indycar. What was even more incredible is that they all managed to finish in the top-ten. Rookie Carlos Munoz led the way, finishing P3. Superstar Juan Pablo Montoya finished P4. Sebastian Saavedra gives me the figurative middle finger, crossing the line P9 despite my talking down all weekend. And impressive rookie Carlos Huertas rounded out the top-ten. Great showing for the crop of Colombians/


Mikhail Aleshin
Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin had a very solid showing, weaving his way through the field to cross the line in P6. Now, before you say he just survived and made it out without damage and did nothing to earn his finishing position, Mikhail showed great pace, keeping himself in the top-seven group that was fighting it out for the win in the late stages of the race. He replaced Tristan Vautier in the offseason. Tristan could only manage one top-ten finish in 2013, and that was also in the second race of the season. Hopefully Mikhail can keep up the momentum.



Losers

Everyone On Lap 55 Crash Minus Ryan Hunter-Reay
Josef Newgarden. James Hinchcliffe. Takuma Sato. Tony Kanaan. Jack Hawksworth. What do these drivers all have in common? They were wrecked at the expense of one brain fade. A lot of great results were thrown out the window. A real shame for all involved, especially Newgarden, who was leading at the time.


Chip Ganassi Racing
Chip Ganassi Racing had a pretty miserable weekend. Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe both had internal mechanical issues. Tony Kanaan, as documented, was involved in the lap 55 crash. And Scott Dixon was on his way to ending the woes at Long Beach before being short on fuel by a couple of laps. Despondency at the Death Star.


Helio Castroneves's Sister
Oh Helio... After the race, Helio Castroneves tweeted a photo and a message to Indycar, blasting the officiating. Helio received a penalty in the race, knocking him out of the top-ten. Upon tweeting this, it was instantly deleted. Helio would later go on to tweet that it was his sister who tweeted that. Mhmm, right.... From now on, we will blame Helio's sister for all the wrongdoings.


Jack Hawksworth
This poor guy cannot catch a break. The Hawk, a rookie driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, was taken out on a restart in St. Petersburg after a great run. Then at Long Beach, he was taken out in the lap 55 crash while running in the top-ten. Can this guy catch a break?!



Cone of Shame


Ryan Hunter-Reay
Sure it is great that a driver like Ryan Hunter-Reay wants to go for it. In fact, I encourage drivers to go for it. I would rather see a guy go for it rather than be super conservative all race. But at the same time, there is a difference between being aggressive and being a half-wit. The move he made on a cold-tired Josef Newgarden in a place where you can't pass made Hunter-Reay look like a rookie. Why on Earth he tried that move is beyond me. Plus I hold RHR in high regards. I think he is the best American in the field, but my goodness, you can't be doing stuff like this. RHR needs to take a step back and evaluate his actions at Long Beach.


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Around the Horn: April 2014

Around the Horn is back for another installment! Around the Horn is a show that airs on ESPN, where a panel of journalists discuss sports related issues. I have assembled a panel to discuss Indycar issues once a month. Your job as the reader is to share your opinions with anyone you agree/disagree with! Please make your voice heard! Here is this month's panel (make sure to give them all a follow on Twitter):
  • Jason Farling, Twitter handle is @JasWendFar, answers listed as JF
  • DJ Jordan, Twitter handle is @djordan3223, answers listed as DJ
  • Mathew Gruenholz, Twitter handle is @IndyCarSTIG, answers listed as STIG
  • Mitch Robinson, Twitter handle is @mitchbr2, answers listed as MR
  • Justin Mann, Twitter handle is @mannbeast, answers listed as JM
  • Michael Tressler, Twitter handle @mtressler13, answers listed as MT
  • Mike Crawford, Twitter handle @7BigMike, answers listed as MC
  • Sam Klein, Twitter handle @sklein31, answers listed as SK

1) The First Word (opening topic)

The Indycar season is finally underway! What were your impressions from the first race at St. Petersburg?


A general view of cars entering the first turn of the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 30, 2014 in St Petersburg, Florida
And they're off! (Photo: Rob Foldy / Getty Images North America)

JF: I can't say that I'm very excited after St. Pete.  The move Will Power pulled on the re-start was for the birds.  He managed to take out some good cars in the process.  He was clearly the class of the field though and deserved the win.

DJ: The race at St Pete was okay. Neither great nor boring. There is always a little bit more excitement for the first race of the season. Just your average street race.

STIG: The St Pete race was pretty good, there were some exciting moments and good racing, especially at the end.  There will be better races this season though.

MR: Deceivingly competitive. There was a fair amount of passing but not as much as we're used to with this era of IndyCar. Obviously the botched restart was an eyesore, and I don't understand why you would remove double file restarts, but it was an overall decent race.

JM: The addition of Allen Bestwick to the ABC TV crew has made a world of difference. I felt like the team of Bestwick, Cheever, & Goodyear worked well together and kept the race entertaining while Sato was stinking up the show. Plus the opening piece on AJ and Takuma was a nice addition.

MT: My biggest impression after the first race is that we should have a good rookie class. They seem strong and raced hard.

MC: The first race in St Pete was pretty damn good. Everyone expects a crash on the 1st lap going into turn 1 and it didnt happen this year, thankfully. A couple of yellows that took longer then they should of is the only thing that took away from the action.

SK: It wasn't the most exciting race. I've seen better and I've seen a lot worse. The race did feature though so interesting battles throughout the field even though there wasn't much in the way of overtaking. Powers pass on Sato was impressive and it was interesting to watch drivers manage their tires. St. Pete is usually a hit or miss on excitement.


2) Buy or Sell (Buy = Agree with statement, Sell = disagree with statement)

Will Power will be leading the Indycar Championship heading into the Indy Double.


Will Power - Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Will Power off to a great start this season (Photo: Rob Foldy / Getty Images North America)

JF: Buy. Power will be leading the Championship coming to Indy barring any mechanical failure.  He is by far and away the best street course racer on the Indy Car circuit and it would be hard to pick anyone better on true road courses.  I look for Hunter-Reay to give him a run for his money though!

DJ: BUY! BUY! BUY! Not only do I see Power leading the points heading into Indy, I think he wins the next 2 races.

STIG: BUY.  I think Will Power can maintain a good first half of the season, there are tracks that he runs well at between now and then.  So unless he had pretty bad luck, he should be P1 by Indy.

MR: BUY. His momentum from the end of 2013 has continued into 2014, and he would not be denied victory in St. Pete. Considering the next two races are both races he's won, I fully expect at least one more podium for number 12 before we head to 16th & Georgetown.

JM: Buy - I would be willing to bet the farm on Willy P. leading the Championship heading in to May. He may not win at Long Beach but, at Barber he is a lock. You would be crazy to bet against him.

MT: Buy. Power was strong at St. Pete and looked good. Aside from that boneheaded move on the restart of course.

MC: Buy. Will Power WILL be leding the Championship going into Indy. With 4 road and street courses before Indy, which everyone knows he pretty much owns, its almost a sure bet on this one. I see him on top at the end of the season.

SK: Buy. Will has won twice at both Long Beach and Barber and he'll be tough to beat at both races. I'll be surprised if hes not in the points lead heading into the Month of May.


3) Out of Bounds (Something impacting Indycar that is off the track)

What do you make of the lack of TV Ratings for St. Petersburg?


Photo courtesy of Indycar Media

JF: Let's be honest!  It's the Stars and not the Cars.  If you pull an average race fan off the street and ask him/her to name 5 2014 IndyCar drivers, do you think they could do it?  In my opinion, that is still the problem at hand.  Not enough fans know even a few of the drivers.  Back in the day, everyone knew Foyt, Mears, Andretti, Unser, and more!

DJ: As it is said everywhere these days, it is what it is. There is nothing that I can do about the TV ratings, so I tend not to spend too much time worrying about it. That being said, there needs to be a marketing/promotional plan between the series, the TV networks & the sponsors.

STIG: The ratings weren't a surprise, the way the race was advertised (which wasn't too often) it's not shocking to see a 0.6 rating.  I'm not saying we're DOOOOMED or not growing, growth takes time and there is a solid plan laid out for that growth. Chill out people.

MR: Not terribly surprised, really. You can reason that they went against NASCAR, March Madness, etc., but the fact is when other top racing series are nearly two months into their seasons by now, people can forget you exist. This is why IndyCar needs to move the season start forward, in my opinion.

JM: Toothless hillbillies not knowing the difference between real racing (IndyCar) and the crap the have been brainwashed in to believing is racing (NASCAR). Actually this ratings deal has me scratching my head, there is no easy fix and I am glad it's not up to me to figure out. I know this much IndyCar is crazy to try to compete against college basketball and NASCAR at the same time as was the case with St. Pete.

MT: I think it comes down to not enough promotion of the races. If you're not a fan you dont even know when the races are on.

MC: If, with Verizen jumping onboard, with their pull, can help get the word out there, it would grow.I did not see one bit of advertising anywhere on TV for the St Pete race and none so far for Long Beach. I hope someone will step up and ADVERTISE.

SK: It didn't help with NASCAR and the NCAA Tournament being on the other network channels. I don't try to lose sleep over ratings. I honestly don't think the Nielson ratings are accurate sometimes honestly. If they can include Tweets, I think the number can be upped a bit. Nevertheless, IndyCar needs to find a way to improve the ratings and the Verizon signing will help.


4) Showdown (Concluding topic)

Who do you have winning in the April races at Long Beach and Barber as well as darkhorses to watch?


Will Power - Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Watch out for the usual suspects (Power, Dixon), but also keep an
eye on Munoz (Photo: Rob Foldy / Getty Images North America)

JF: I have Ryan Hunter Reay winning Long Beach and Will Power winning at Barber.  RHR has a special place inside for Long Beach and he was strong at St Pete.  As far as dark horses, I look for the Rookie, Jack Hawksworth to challenge and Mike Conway to bounce back from a disappointing race at St. Pete.  Cheers!

DJ: As I said before, Will Power will win both Long Beach & Barber. He looked extremely focused & untouchable at St. Pete. My darkhorses for Long Beach are Jack Hawksworth & Charlie Kimball (if you consider CK a darkhorse). For Barber I really look for Bourdais to run well there with a podium finish. I also think Carlos Munoz will have a top five finish at Barber.

STIG: Long Beach will see Power have a back to back victory, with Justin Wilson as the dark horse.  Barber we'll probably see Ryan Hunter Reay with the win and Pagenaud as the dark horse with a French accent.

MR: Power is so strong I don't see anyone touching him at Long Beach, and I think Scotty Dixon will finally break through at Barber and climb to the top step for the first time in Bama. TK will be strong, and I'd like to see Bourdais have better results, but a dark horse I'd look to is Jack Hawksworth. I don't think Hawk will contend for wins this early, but he's fast and Bryan Herta clearly believes in him.

JM: At Long Beach I have to go with RHR with my driver to watch being Mike Conway. At Barber, Will Power is my favorite with Charlie Kimball being my dark horse. I am also interested to see more from Mikhail Aleshin.

MT: Winners will be Power at LB and Barber. I think Rahal would be my dark horse at LB and Bourdais at Barber.

MC: For Long Beach and Barber, its hard to predict who will win, with the field being deep.  Ones to watch for, Newgarden and Munoz. Two of the young guns that are hungry and could suprise you.

SK: I think Power wins at Long Beach and Dixon ends his bridesmaid status at Barber (second in every race run there) and wins the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Mike Conway and Josef Newgarden will be my darkhorse picks.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fantasy Indycar Picks: Long Beach

Here are the picks of the field for the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (current points leader's name highlighted in red):

Name Twitter Handle                                       Long Beach
Alan Stewart _alanstewart Kanaan Wilson Sato Conway JPM
Alana Jolly alanajolly Rahal Pagenaud Helio Sato Kanaan
Amy Woedl OpenWheelMom JPM RHR Bourdais Conway Sato
Andy Nagel Gabbahey75 Sato Wilson Andretti Pagenaud Power
Chris Blackburn  chblackburn23 Power Kanaan Pagenaud Conway Servia
Chris Mienaltowski CPMski Sato Conway Power RHR Josef
Conor Daly conordaly22 Rahal Power Hinch Kanaan Sato
David Leiting Jr. Dlite_47 Power Wilson RHR Josef Briscoe
David Redner IndyCART Conway Sato Kimball Munoz Wilson
DJ Jordan djordan3223 Rahal Conway Servia JPM Josef
Emily Mugan emyrmalee RHR Hinch Power Pagenaud Dixon
Eric Hall Erock_in_Indy Conway Helio RHR Pagenaud Servia
Gina Navarra  gmnavarra Power Wilson Helio Josef Munoz
Jake Neely indycarfan25 Conway Wilson Power Bourdais Pagenaud
James Alban TheKing0fSwing Servia Wilson Aleshin Sato Briscoe
James Sedlmayr dfd827 Power Rahal RHR Josef Pagenaud
Jason McVeigh jasekm Power Sato Conway Hinch Servia
Jerry Cruz Indycar_Raider Sato Wilson Briscoe RHR Power
Jessica Baker bakerjm13 Sato Power Dixon Andretti Aleshin
Justin Mann mannbeast Dixon RHR Wilson Sato Conway
Kieran Brughelli  kieranbrughelli Power RHR Conway Servia Kanaan
Kirstyn Brokken kcb618 Dixon Power Kanaan Helio Sato
Kyle Lewis kylelewis1 Rahal Sato Power RHR Pagenaud
Lynn Weinberg lynnweinberg Power Wilson Rahal Sato Servia
Mathew Gruenholz IndycarSTIG RHR Power Hinch Josef Pagenaud
Matthew Hickey Indycar_MN Munoz RHR Josef Pagenaud Briscoe
Michael Tressler mtressler13 Sato Wilson Hinch Rahal Power
Mike Crawford 7BigMike Dixon Conway Sato RHR Helio
Rick Snodie  rickfromwi Power Sato Conway Dixon JPM
Ross Fujibayashi fujis123 Sato Helio Conway JPM Power
Sam Klein sklein31 Pagenaud Servia Conway Bourdais Sato
Sophie Hanson Sophie_Hanson3 Sato RHR Power Kanaan Helio
Steven Jenkins ukindyfan Conway Servia Power Dixon RHR


Top 3 most picked: 1) Will Power (22) 2) Takuma Sato (21) 3) Mike Conway (16)
Not picked: Sebastian Saavedra, Carlos Huertas, and Jack Hawksworth

Let's see who comes out of the beach in P1!

-Matthew Hickey