Short ovals must stay on the IndyCar schedule

We saw a thrilling race and an even more riveting finish at Iowa Speedway Saturday night, and hopefully we'll be able to see more of the same in 2015.

Short ovals must stay on the IndyCar schedule
Tony Kanaan, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet leads the field to the start
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Mikhail Aleshin and Takuma Sato involved in a crash
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Charlie Kimball, Norvo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Jack Hawksworth, Bryan Herta Autosport Honda
Carlos Huertas, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet

The Verizon IndyCar Series is, hopefully, firming up its dates for the 2015 season, one that will include the introduction of engine builder Chevrolet and Honda’s aero kits for the Dallara chassis used by all entrants.

No doubt Mark Miles and his team are taking long, hard looks at every venue on the current schedule and making decisions based on the usual parameters: ability to pay the sanction fee, number of butts in seats and number of eyeballs watching at home. Hopefully they’ll also consider what fans term “traditional dates” as they firm up the 2015 dates ­ and I hope they make this a longer campaign, one that doesn’t kill momentum and/or crew members with its brevity. 

It is for the reason of tradition that I hope the activities at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night are taken into account ­ and that the eyeball numbers from NBC Sports Network are good. Why? That was one heck of a race in which the word strategy became even more important than track position and certainly more important than grid position.

After all, winner Ryan Hunter­-Reay began this 300 ­lap Iowa Corn Indy 300 in 13th place and runner­up Josef Newgarden started 21st. Both used the strategy of pitting for Firestone tires with less than 20 laps remaining during the seventh and final caution period of the night. The sole aberration in that podium is Tony Kanaan who started second, led two­thirds of the race yet didn’t pit and faded from his front­running perch in the final going.

There’s not an IndyCar fan who’s not gutted for TK, one of the most popular drivers on the circuit and a racer whose tenacity can’t be denied. Since his arrival on American shores with Tasman Motorsports’ Indy Lights team in 1996, he’s shown the skills to win races and championships. But not Saturday night under the Iowa lights when, on the second straight occasion the wrong strategy foiled what should have been a slam­dunk visit to Victory Lane.

Instead, surprise visits to pit road during that last caution by RHR and JoNew ­ as well as Ed Carpenter ­ helped those drivers maraud through the field to claim first, second and fifth places, respectively. 

Rather than wax exotic on what happened to various drivers on the track, I want to pose this ideology: Indy cars racing on short tracks like Iowa, Richmond, Milwaukee and yes, Robin Miller’s holy grail of Phoenix International Raceway can be absolute magic. What it takes it not too much tinkering with chassis baselines and the basic laws of racing nature find a way to make it work.

With the small fields of today’s Verizon IndyCar Series, short tracks can be heaven for spectators, viewers and racers alike. This series once put on magical races at Richmond, then messed with the chassis setups (true, it was the older car they were messing with...) and the events became snore­fests or, even worse, past tenses like Richmond. Those Saturday night brawls were great fun to watch until the series messed with them.

The same even goes for Texas, which was a great place to race with the previous generation Indy cars. Granted the drivers had to hold their collective breaths and pray nothing happened to them at speed, but isn’t that what they’re supposed to be doing anyway?

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