IndyCar’s close finishes can return to TMS, but it’ll take an exact balance

Posted Sunday, Jun. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

When Helio Castroneves wins a race at Texas Motor Speedway, he makes it fun to watch.

He climbs the fence, gives out massive hugs, yells into microphones and invites everybody to join him on the podium for some gun-shootin’.

Now to get some of that fun into watching the race.

Castroneves’ 4.7-second victory Saturday night in the Firestone 550 took the air out of the national prime-time telecast, touted by IndyCar and TMS as a chance for the country to catch one of the tight finishes the series and track are known for producing.

Two of the eight closest finishes in series history have come in Fort Worth — Sam Hornish Jr.’s .0096-second victory over Castroneves in September 2002 and Jeff Ward’s .0111-second victory over Al Unser Jr. in June 2002.

But three of the last five IndyCar Series races at TMS have been decided by more than a second. Last year, the margin was 3.9 seconds.

So while Saturday night was a showcase for Castroneves, now a four-time winner at TMS, runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay and third-place finisher Tony Kanaan thought about how to make the racing tighter.

They have ideas. But it won’t be easy to find exactly the right one for TMS and the other high-speed ovals on the series.

The right idea requires a balance between how quickly everyone wants the tires to “fall off,” or wear out, and how much speed to put in the cars.

It is all related.

The more the tires fall off, the more often pit strategy and fuel come into play. The less the tires fall off, the faster the cars go.

The faster the cars go, the more “downforce,” or grip, they require. More grip means more of a chance to go “flat-out,” or at maximum speed. But the more drivers are going flat-out, the more they race side-by-side, creating the pack racing they hate and yet the sense of excitement fans want.

“It’s so difficult to get the package exactly right with the downforce and the degradation of the tires, and as a series we’re working toward that,” Hunter-Reay said.

It was a crash in a pack of cars that resulted in the death of Dan Wheldon on the Las Vegas oval two years ago. It had drivers rethinking the place of ovals in the series.

But they do not want to leave TMS. The track and the series know they benefit from each other.

“Firestone could easily make a tire that we could run around here,” Hunter-Reay said postrace.

“But we don’t want that,” said Kanaan, sitting beside him, presenting the counterpoint.

“It needs to be the right combination,” Hunter-Reay said.

“You need to remember. We do not want a pack race,” Kanaan said. “That is what we don’t want to have — going overboard a little bit.”

TMS’s close finishes came when pack racing was more common in IndyCar. But rule changes, new body styles and the changing attitudes of the drivers have changed the kind of finishes TMS is used to producing.

The close finishes can certainly return. But only if IndyCar, the track and the drivers pin down a new competitive balance that returns the old style of racing and yet keeps it safe.

“I think we’ve nailed it perfectly in the past,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ll get it right, for sure.”

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?

Friday, November 28Full Scoreboard
No games today
Full Scoreboard
Friday, November 28Full Scoreboard
Chicago «109Final | Box
Golden State493rd Qtr | Box
Charlotte55TV: CSN-BA, SPSO
New Orleans262nd Qtr 6:07 | Box
Atlanta31TV: FSN-NO, SPSO
Milwaukee372nd Qtr 5:43 | Box
Detroit37TV: FSN-WI, FSN-DET
Dallas302nd Qtr 9:41 | Box
Toronto26TV: FSN-SW, TSN2
LA Clippers31st Qtr 7:53 | Box
Orlando71st Qtr 8:02 | Box
Indiana11TV: FSN-FL, FSN-IN
New York51st Qtr 8:17 | Box
Oklahoma City11TV: MSG, FSN-OK
Sacramento 11/28 8:30 PM ET
San Antonio TV: CSN-CA, FSN-SW
Phoenix 11/28 9:00 PM ET
Denver TV: FSN-AZ, Altitude
Memphis 11/28 10:00 PM ET
Portland TV: SPSO, CSN-NW
Minnesota 11/28 10:30 PM ET
Week 13Full Scoreboard
Chicago17Final | Box
Detroit «34Gridiron Replay
Philadelphia «33Final | Box
Dallas10Gridiron Replay
Seattle «19Final | Box
San Francisco3Gridiron Replay
San Diego 1:00 PM ET
Baltimore TV: CBS
Cleveland 1:00 PM ET
Buffalo TV: CBS
Tennessee 1:00 PM ET
Houston TV: CBS
Washington 1:00 PM ET
Indianapolis TV: FOX
NY Giants 1:00 PM ET
Jacksonville TV: FOX
Carolina 1:00 PM ET
Minnesota TV: FOX
New Orleans 1:00 PM ET
Pittsburgh TV: FOX
Oakland 1:00 PM ET
St. Louis TV: CBS
Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET
Tampa Bay TV: CBS
Arizona 4:05 PM ET
Atlanta TV: FOX
New England 4:25 PM ET
Green Bay TV: CBS
Denver 8:30 PM ET
Kansas City TV: NBC
Miami 8:30 PM ET
Full Scoreboard
Friday, November 28Full Scoreboard
NY Rangers «3Final | Box
Chicago «4Final | Box
NY Islanders2Final | Box
Washington «5
Winnipeg12nd Prd 11:47 | Box
Boston0TV: TVA Sports 2, TSN3, NESN
Montreal02nd Prd 11:58 | Box
Buffalo1TV: RDS, MSG-BUF
Detroit22nd Prd 15:18 | Box
New Jersey4TV: FSN-DET, MSG+
Carolina22nd Prd 9:22 | Box
Vancouver02nd Prd 9:24 | Box
Columbus0TV: SN-PAC, FSN-OH
Ottawa12nd Prd | Box
Florida1TV: RDS2, TSN5, FSN-FL
Edmonton01st Prd 14:13 | Box
St. Louis0TV: SN-W, FSN-MW
Minnesota 11/28 8:30 PM ET
Dallas TV: FSN-N+, FSN-SW+
Full Scoreboard<