Street Sweeping- Rahal Dominates Belle Isle Weekend

There were track records broken, there were accomplishments not seen in several years, and they all took place in two very typical, ordinary races. The weekend was totally dominated by Graham Rahal. The only drama in either race was whether  Rahal would have an issue on a pit stop. He led Race One from the pole on Saturday, only losing the lead during pit cycles. In Sunday’s race he had to get to the lead from his third starting position, but after taking the lead on lap 23 , he controlled the race. The only potential problem was the restart after the red flag with four laps to go. It turned out no one wanted to fight him for the lead when the race resumed.

Takuma Sato set a new track record with a time of 1:13.6732, to win Sunday’s pole. The record was barely twenty-four hours old, as Rahal lowered the standard on Saturday in winning the top starting spot. More on Saturday’s qualifying in a bit. Sato finished eighth Saturday and fourth Sunday, one of the strongest performances in a while by the winner of the 500 the week following the race.

Rahal is the first driver to sweep a double header weekend since Scott Dixon took both races in Toronto in 2013. He is also the first American born winner at Detroit in 21 years, when Michael Andretti won the Detroit race. Oddly,  Rahal is 2017’s first repeat winner, breaking his 24 hour drought.

I noted in my preview that I thought there would be a seventh different winner on Saturday and the streak would end Sunday. The same winner was not what I had in mind, but Indycar racing is a strange beast sometimes.

Penske teams had a difficult day Saturday, but rebounded Sunday with a second place for Josef Newgarden and a third for Will Power.  Had the race stayed green, Newgarden could have possibly challenged for the lead on the last lap. He was gaining almost a second a lap on Rahal.

Points Battle

Scott Dixon leads by eight over Helio Castroneves. Neither has won a race this season, but both have put together consistent top 5 and top 10 finishes. The variety of winners has helped them stay in front. Graham Rahal jumped to sixth place with his  two wins. This is the best season long title fight in a long time.

Saturday Qualifying

Helio Castroneves appeared to have set a track record and won the pole for Saturday’s race. The Verizon P1 presentation was in full swing when it halted abruptly, and Rahal was awarded the pole. Castroneves was assessed a penalty for not slowing for a local yellow. He lost his record lap and the pole.  If Indycar was investigating, the presentation should have waited until a ruling was made. It made the organization look bad. No, it was downright embarrassing.

Red Flag?

I am not necessarily against a late red flag if track conditions warrant- damage to a barrier, a hole in the track, a huge debris field. I am against a late red flag just to have a green flag finish. Yesterday’s red flag had the appearance of being more for the second reason.  Yes, there probably was oil on the track from Spencer Pigot”s car. If the field is circling under yellow, the cars can be directed away from it. The oil wasn’t covering the entire track at that section.

Fact of racing- sometimes races end under yellow. I am fine with that. Fans are not entitled to a green flag finish every race.  The other major American series has a rule to ensure ending under green, but yesterday  that backfired and their race finished under yellow.

Bottom line, if there are fewer than five laps left and there is no danger to the drivers, do not throw the red flag. A one or two lap shootout that could cost someone who dominated  the race all day is not good for the series. It manipulates the finish.

Some Stats

Rahal led a combined 96 of the 140 laps run.

There were only 8 laps of yellow all weekend.

Josef Newgarden made a 3 stop strategy work, while all the other top finishers were on a 2 stop schedule.

On to Texas

There is one race left in this marathon stretch of racing, next Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Graham Rahal is the defending champion. Can he win three in a row?  I’ll discuss his chances later this week.

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