INDIANAPOLIS — There’s an old adage in sports. The 24 hour rule. Don’t get too high on wins or too low on disappointments. See, competing at a high level in whatever your sport is takes a ton of mental strength and stamina. If you get too high on the highs, it’s able to unfortunately infect your brain in a negative aspect by making you feel largely overconfident. One typically gets humbled pretty quickly by being overconfident.
On the flipside, if you lack confidence, it also affects your performance too. Hence the 24 hour rule. Give yourself a day to celebrate or to sulk then within the next 24 hours after, focus on what’s ahead next.
That’s exactly what Rinus VeeKay is dealing with right now. The third year Dutch driver is coming off of a high that turned into a low and turning it into what could be another high this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The last time out, VeeKay was 1 pit stop and 29 laps away from his second career NTT INDYCAR Series victory from a sun filled race at the Barber Motorsports Park. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver was quickest in practice on Saturday morning of that race weekend in April, turned that into his second career pole a few hours later and had dominated the race up until his Lap 61 final pit stop.
However, that’s where it all changed.
Jimmie Johnson, mirror driving and past experiences led him to finishing third at the drop of the checkered flag, 12.4819-seconds arrears.
VeeKay, crossed the line 2.0875-seconds up on Pato O’Ward on Lap 60 of that race. Both would hit pit lane when they came back around. VeeKay, closed up to Johnson on track and O’Ward was driving hard to close that gap as well.
When they hit the pit limiter button, O’Ward closed that 2-second gap to being on VeeKay’s rear wing.
“Unfortunately I got held up a little bit before getting into my second pit stop, so Pato was on me, really on me,” VeeKay said then.
While VeeKay still had beaten O’Ward off pit road, he was driving carefully where O’Ward was driving for the win. That was the other factor to cost him.
O’Ward, passed VeeKay in Turn 5 and set his sails.
“I did beat him out of pit lane,” VeeKay continued. “Coming into turn five, I just took it a little bit too conservative, and he got around me. Yeah, he drove away basically. Lacked a little bit of pace on the last set of tires. Pato and Alex were a little bit too fast for me to hang with.
“Yeah, I think third place is pretty good still.
“Yeah, unfortunately I didn’t push enough on that out lap. Another lesson learned. Unfortunately the hard way.”
As far as why he was so conservative?
“Well, I have screwed myself a few times in the past braking a little too deep, locking a tire, yeah, basically destroying my whole last stint,” he said.
“I did not know Pato was going that deep. Yeah, I was looking in my mirrors a lot. Maybe that distracted me a little bit. Yeah, I don’t know. If I could go back, I would go way deeper and stay ahead of him.”
Then, Alex Palou pit 2 laps later for the overcut. Palou, was .635-seconds quicker than VeeKay on his pit in lap. He was .363-seconds faster for his time on pit lane and .801-seconds faster on hit out lap. While VeeKay had a .200-second advantage in the pit box, add it all up and you get a 1.599-second difference between Palou and VeeKay which put Palou ahead of VeeKay when he exited pit lane.
“Yeah, you feel bummed at that moment,” said VeeKay when settling into 3rd. “There’s still so many laps left in the race, you never give up and you kind of reset and try to make the best out of it still.
“Definitely still surprised by how Alex got between us. Yeah, I think I could have made a run for him. I came out of turn five fully sideways, that’s kind of where I lost touch with him.
“Yeah, I did not really expect that to happen. It’s INDYCAR. Anything can happen. Level is extremely high. You weaken a little bit for one second and you’re being passed from the lead.”
That’s why VeeKay had to settle for his 4th career podium and 6th top five.
It was heartbreaking still for him. Now that we’re a few days ahead of Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network), how long did he allow himself to sulk in the Barber defeat?
“For me it was about two nights of bad sleep, and then I kind of — I realized how good Barber actually was with the pole position and basically leading and dictating the pace all race until of course that last pit stop,” he told me on Wednesday morning. “I think we should be very proud as a team, and also I’m proud of myself. But still, there’s still to improve, but I’d prefer to learn in Barber and win in Indy.
“Yeah, hopefully we can learn from the mistakes and go on to have even a more successful future.”
Did it make it any easier that Indy was up next? I mean this is a place to where he won at last year and a few weeks later qualified on the front row. Then, a week after that, he finished runner-up in Belle Isle.
This stretch has him confident.
“Well, last year was definitely — my first ever win, doing that in Indianapolis is very special,” he continued. “Also the way it went. Everything went right in the race, and it was a dominant win, which I will never forget, and actually this might be the a good opportunity to show, but I got the date here tattooed on my arm in the off-season.
“That’s a date that will be printed on me for the rest of my life and something I will never, never forget.”
Does this feel differently to him now that he’s returning to a track to where the last time out he was a winner?
“It feels a little different, yes,” he told me. “It’s cool to come to the track and see your own photo on the tickets, which is pretty cool. Of course you’ve got the confidence of already having won there and knowing that you can do it and the team can do it.
“It’s I think a little bit of peace you get from having won there already.”
In saying that, if you add up last year’s win and the last races’ defeat, how much time does VeeKay devote to film study each week? Is there anything he can learn to apply to the upcoming weekend?
“I watch the race I think once just to refresh a memory a little, and then I often get a full pre-race review from my driver coach with all notes that we have to improve or our weak points and strong points, things we have to work on for the weekend,” he says.
“For me it’s always little points on one corner, trying to carry a little bit more entry speed, for example, and then during the weekend we switch from qualifying mode to race mode.”
VeeKay says that for Indy specifically, his comfort and success here really comes down to having a great setup on the track and that he’s driven here more than anywhere else if you factor in his Road to Indy days.
“I’ve done many laps here. Many races I’ve done here. It feels very natural to push very hard on this track very soon, so I think we can really push hard and be on the limit very early in the weekend, which gives us a lot more time to try more changes on the car.”