Top takeaways leaving Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif — won the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion on Sunday from a n abnormal cloudy day in Long Beach. It was one of the busiest weekends we’ve seen here.

While we crowned a champions and rookie of the year, we had other takeaways you may have missed from this past weekend.



Silly Season Ramps Up

The current season may have been ending, but silly season is just getting started. Three more full time rides were filled for 2022 with Callom Ilott staying put in the No. 77 Chevrolet for Juncos Hollinger Racing as well as Romain Grosjean being announced as the replacement driver for Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport being announced on Friday. Before the race on Sunday, Rinus VeeKay was confirmed to be back with Ed Carpenter Racing while Sebastien Bourdais admitted he won’t be full time next season too.

There’s still plenty of rides left, but most of them are taken or far down the line of being so. The only real full time entries left are with Dale Coyne Racing (No. 18, No. 51 Honda’s), AJ Foyt Racing (No. 4, No. 14 Chevrolet’s), Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (No. 30 Honda) and Carlin (No. 59 Chevrolet).


Should Championship Race Get Moved Around Each Year? Why Long Beach Makes Sense To Keep It Too

For the first time ever, Long Beach will serve as the championship deciding race for the NTT IndyCar Series. This is actually the fourth straight year that a different track has hosted the season finale and brings up a legitimate question, should the last race of the season get moved around each year?

In 2018 we ended the year in Sonoma. A year later, Sonoma was replaced by Laguna Seca. Last year, since we couldn’t go west due to COVID, the last race was held on the streets of St. Pete. This time, COVID moved Long Beach back to now which serves as this year’s final race. Next year will be a fifth as we go back to Laguna on Sept. 11, 2022.

Now that we’ve moved it around in each of the last four years and a soon to be fifth, should INDYCAR start allowing tracks to bid on the final race? Could that be an extra stream of revenue coming in?

I mean NASCAR has discussed this the last few years but haven’t ever actually done it. They ended the year in the playoff format from 2004 through 2019 in Homestead. In 2020 they moved it to Phoenix as they’ll end the year out west for this year and next too. Which brought the question up as why aren’t they moving it around like they initially discussed?

INDYCAR due to some unforeseen circumstances has. I mean, look at the Super Bowl. It’s moved around each year. So is the NCAA Tournament. Big championship deciding events are shuffled around each year. INDYCAR has indirectly done that the last four years and makes you wonder if that should stay.

Some current drivers are open to it. They even have a perfect track in mind to go to soon.

“Like an oval I think is a perfect scenario, if it’s a great racing oval,” six-time champion Scott Dixon said. “Like an Iowa would be insane. Maybe it doesn’t work for the time of year.”

Josef Newgarden agreed on Iowa too.

“I would also agree, an oval is fun, too. Iowa would be super crazy, but probably not the right place to end the year.”

It wouldn’t be terrible. Iowa in September isn’t bad and the weather may actually be more favorable.


Part of the argument though would be that it makes it an even bigger event. It’s not just another race on the schedule that so happens to crown a champion. The track and the series would build it up. Plus, it doesn’t give a distinct advantage to any one driver each year if a certain track remains as the last race and that driver may or may not be good there.

With being a bigger event too, I feel like a case can also be made to keep Long Beach in this spot. I get that the April date is tradition, but this being the season finale just feels right.

April’s race to me gets overshadowed a month later by Indy. This separates the two.

Plus, I can make a case that this weekend in Long Beach feels bigger. It’s not just another race that happens to be a crown jewel. It sets a championship. I feels right to be honest.

Being able to finish a race in a major market like Los Angeles and to do so in a race that has favorable weather and you get what I feel a perfect scenario.

“It’s great to be back. I don’t know, now that you’re here in the space, it feels like normal Long Beach in a lot of ways,” Josef Newgarden said. “Definitely missed this track, missed the crowd, missed the energy. Feels like it hasn’t really dipped, to be quite honest, coming back two years later, which is really great to see.

“Excited to be here. Excited that hopefully we’ll be back in April, no problems as well next year. It’s just a classic. You can’t not go to Long Beach on the year. It’s something you’d miss if we weren’t here. It’s nice to be here.

“Also just being in L.A., it’s a great market to end the year. I think that adds an element to it that should probably be talked about.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, right? There’s so many other logistics, other variables to consider. Yeah, if you’re looking at it from a pure excitement standpoint, it’s interesting. It adds an element of chaos sometimes which can be very exhilarating.”

Dixon says that if you do a street course race as the finale, this is the place to do so.

“I think if you’re going to have a street course, this is the one,” Dixon said. “Look at last year, we were just talking about points, Pato and the points fight this year, how it’s kind of similar, their starting positions are kind of similar. Josef won the race last year. I got on the podium as well. It was chaotic, man. There was a lot of passing, a lot of close moments.

“I think St. Pete played really well. I think Long Beach will play really well as well. Yeah, I don’t know.”



No Double Points Again, Is That A Good Thing?

Without double points for a second consecutive year, it does narrow down the list of drivers who can realistically win this year’s championship on Sunday in Long Beach. Is that a good or bad thing? While I get one notion says that you can make it more viable to see more drivers contending for a title, I also get the side that says that it’s a gimmick.

But, NASCAR does it. They take four drivers and place them on equal footing for the Championship round. INDYCAR last year and now this will award the champion on a seasons worth of points and not add double the value of the finale in hopes of someone catching the leader even easier.

So, do we just hand the title to Alex Palou then?

I don’t necessarily think so, but I also think this is more of a pure way to crown a champion as other than the Indy 500, every race is equal. In saying that, there’s a lot of drivers that say they need to do away with double points for Indy too.

I mean one bad Indy 500 can haunt your entire season. One good Indy 500 and mediocre results elsewhere can keep someone who doesn’t belong to be in the title hunt around longer too. But, others say double points for Indy should stay as that race is the biggest one of the season and holds more weight too.

Which bodes the question, should the season finale or any race for that matter award double points?

“I think it’s good we’ve dropped the double points in the finale,” Newgarden said. “I was never a fan of that, and I’m still not quite a fan of the double points at Indy. But like I said, we know the rules, we know the landscape going in, so I don’t think we can fall back on that. It would be an endless discussion of saying if this went different or that went different, I could go down the road and cite a lot of examples, but we always end up where we are, and unfortunately we’re a little bit short this year.”



Drivers Wanting Longer Weekends Back

Part of the COVID cutbacks have been a vastly different race weekend. Most now are just two-day shows. The ones that are all three days over the course of a weekend are just one practice each day.

See, in the past, we’d get two sessions on Friday. One on Saturday. Then you qualify with a warmup on Sunday. Now, there’s significantly less.

With the paddock open again for business, the drivers are asking for more normal race weekend’s for 2022 and beyond.

“I think INDYCAR has to get back to their three-day events,” Scott Dixon said. “These awkward events are a bit bizarre. I don’t think it really does anything. We need to get back to proper three-day events. That would be one I think that would pump up yesterday. Today’s crowd looked pretty good.”

The five drivers in the press conference on Friday all gave a one-word answer when asked if they favored moving back to a more traditional weekend.

“Yes.”

“Here is an example for you. At Portland we had an engine issue, right, and we didn’t get to first practice. We went straight into qualifying. Missed qualifying, and there goes the whole weekend. We’re in the back at Laguna Seca. Your pit stall is assigned from qualifying,” Ryan Hunter-Reay said.

“We go through all this time and effort, right? We travel as much as we do. Give us an hour and a half on the track or more.”

You hear that argument a lot. You don’t get a lot of time to get it right. With the small sessions that we do have, the more time you’re spent sitting idle in the pits going through changes, the less on track time you have to dial in your car. It’s a catch 22. If you spent time trying to fix your car to your liking, you don’t get a lot of time on track after to make sure it worked.

That’s why they’re wanting changes.

Mark Miles said in his state of the sport press conference on Friday that they’re looking at moving back to what used to work in the very near future.

Yeah, well, obviously we’ll look at that,” Miles said. “Everything in life is at least a two-sided coin, maybe some kind of prism. But the flipside of that is for some of our promoters, it’s value for them, net value for them to be a little leaner in terms of the track schedule, for others not at all. I think that’s something that we’ll continue to look at. My guess is that we get a little more normal over time.”

Sounds like the drivers may get their wish. I get the reasoning behind the cutback on track time. It saves fuel. It saves tires. It saves money all around. Can the budgets make it work for more?


RLL/ECR’s Qualifying Woes

I thought at some point Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing would have figured out their qualifying woes this season. Instead, they never did. They started 16-19-28 on Sunday.

Takuma Sato was their top qualifier in 16th but he’s only qualified better than 15th just twice all season and in that race, they didn’t even qualify. Texas was determined by entrant points. Despite that, he still has had seven top 10 finishes.

Graham Rahal was 19th. That’s 10 of 16 starts he’s came outside the top 10. He’s finished in the top 10 in seven of the previous nine and has seven top fives this season alone too. Imagine where he’d be if he started closer to the front.

Oliver Askew was penalized in Round 1 and saw his top two times disallowed. He’d roll off last. That’s been the best car among the trio though with three straight top 10 starts coming into this weekend including two of which in the top five.

That’s one team. Ed Carpenter Racing is another. They’ve dropped hard and I can’t put my finger on why. Rinus VeeKay’s can be attributed to his injury but that’s just half of the story I feel.

Prior to his injury after Belle Isle, he had five top 10’s in qualifying and six in the race in the first eight starts to the season. In the seven races since, he’s qualified in the top 10 just once, five of which have seen him start 20th or worse and hasn’t finished better than 16th.

For Conor Daly, he’s not been much better. He’s had four top 10 starting spots all season with six of the last nine being 16th or worse.

Since Mid-Ohio, ECR has started 11th, 24th (Mid-Ohio), 22nd, 24th (Nashville), 8th, 9th (Indy road course), 21st, 23rd (Gateway), 16th, 26th (Portland), 18th, 24th (Laguna Seca) and 23rd, 24th (Long Beach. Daly, has outqualified VeeKay in six of those seven including all consecutively.

For the races?

15th, 16th (Mid-Ohio), 12th, 24th (Nashville), 11th, 24th (Indy road course), 11th, 21st (Gateway), 16th, 17th (Portland), 16th, 18th (Laguna Seca) and 21st, 25th (Long Beach). Daly has topped him in all seven races.

As you can see, Daly is outpacing VeeKay but neither are getting top 10’s.


Winless Streaks Extended

Graham Rahal (73 races), Sebastien Bourdais (52 races), Ryan Hunter-Reay (47 races), James Hinchcliffe (45 races), Alexander Rossi (37 races), Simon Pagenaud (25 races) and Takuma Sato (23 races) are all winless this past season. Can any of them end these droughts in 2022?


Youth On Full Display

Colton Herta turned 21 on March 30. Alex Palou turned 24 on May 1. Herta, won the season finale in Long Beach while Palou was crowned the champion. It was a great day for the youth movement.

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