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kensRoush Fenway Racing confirmed NASCAR's hottest rumor Wednesday by bringing Matt Kenseth back into the fold.

The pairing is a familiar one as Kenseth found success early in his NASCAR career with team owner Jack Roush. However, the two split up after 2012 and Kenseth was left without a ride at Joe Gibbs Racing last year with the addition of Erik Jones.

By bringing Kenseth back to RFR, the hope is his experience can help turn the organization around. But to help clear up any remaining questions about the news, here's a breakdown of some of the thoughts from the parties involved:

Why is Matt Kenseth back?

The simple answer is he never wanted to leave in the first place, and he called this opportunity the right deal at the right time. But for Roush Fenway, it's also about leaning on experience. Said team president Steve Newmark, "Our focus right now is bringing Matt back into the fold and seeing how he can help us become a better organization."

Asked if this was a sponsor or performance based decision, Newmark said it was an "overall company-performance issue."

How will the races be split between Kenseth and Trevor Bayne?

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That is still to be determined and worked through with the addition of new sponsor Wyndham Rewards and the already existing sponsors of AdvoCare and Performance Plus. What we do know is that Bayne will be in the No. 6 this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway and next weekend at Dover International Speedway. Kenseth will return the week after at Kansas Speedway and with his eligibility, will run the All-Star Race at Charlotte on May 19.

"Our goal is to have Trevor continue to grow and mature on the track," said Newmark. "We're proud of having him as part of our family."

How long is this deal with Kenseth?

All parties said that also is being worked on. But Roush noted, "We see a potential for Matt being involved with the company and race team past his driving. We haven't talked much about that, but we certainly feel like he's come home to us."

Have Kenseth and Bayne talked about this?

Not yet. Kenseth expressed hope of speaking with Bayne in the coming weeks when things settle down.

"My hope is we can get together face-to-face, sooner than later – hopefully next week – and sit and have a long talk, because I really feel like there are a lot of things I could probably help him with," said Kenseth.

Kenseth said he did speak with RFR's other driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., yesterday.

1015116075 LAT 20180420 18RIC1rl 021326How did Bayne (pictured above) take the news?

Per Newmark, "I think he reacted just the way any of us would. He's a fierce competitor. He wants to be in the car every week – Cup, Xfinity, he'll drive anything. We continue to have a dialogue and I think he'll see this as an opportunity to continue to excel. But there's no doubt that when we had the dialogue about it, that his first reaction was, 'I want to be in the car every week.' In fact, we wouldn't want it any other way. If we had a driver who just kind of acquiesced, that would be an inherent problem in itself."

Is this all about getting back behind the wheel for Kenseth?

The 2003 Cup champion did not want to leave his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota last year but had no choice with the team's addition of Jones. Wednesday, Kenseth admitted if he just wanted to drive he could have taken other opportunities and shown up earlier this year at Daytona. But with Roush Fenway it's about driving, helping and setting himself up for the future.

DbpP3wvUwAA2y7 s"I would say this opportunity is probably as much about the rest of it – the rest of my role and possible future role – than it is just driving," Kenseth (pictured at left, above, with Jack Roush and former team driver Mark Martin at today's announcement) said. "It's more about coming here and trying to help and coming to see what the farther-out future looks like for me three, four, five years down the road. I feel like I can be a real asset in a lot of different ways besides just driving.

"I hope that turns out to be true, so it's as much about that as it is driving the race cars. I'm really competitive, obviously, with whatever I do and if I'm not in the car, there's nothing I want more than Ricky or Trevor to be out there running up front and improving and doing better and working hard at it and hopefully being successful."

1015123999 LAT 20180423 abbott barber 0418 98966Gabby Chaves and Simon Pagenaud have found one piece of common ground since their testy encounter following Monday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

The Harding Racing and Team Penske drivers haven't spoken and aren't sure if or when they'll revisit the intense argument over correct etiquette for lapped cars, but the two would like to move on from the embarrassing moment captured on video.

Reached by RACER on Tuesday, Pagenaud declined to revisit the topic in public. For Chaves, offering his view on whether he was two laps down when they met on track – as the Frenchman asserted while driving home his belief the Colombian-American should have moved over and let him pass – was an important point to address before turning the page.

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"In our pre-race meeting we discussed how we were going to deal with traffic. What we all agreed on was if we're going to hold someone up, we gotta to let them by. But if we're not holding anyone up, we gotta try and get our lap back," Chaves said in "The Week in IndyCar" podcast.

"At the point that this whole thing with Simon started, we were only a lap down from the leader, we had him in sight – he was a straightaway in front of us; if a yellow falls right that lap, we get our lap back and we're back on the lead lap. I have huge respect for the guy – he's a champion, he's a veteran, he's a great guy off and on the track – but I think he had his facts a little backwards.

"He thought I was two laps down, which I was not. I wasn't even a lap down to him at that point. I understand his frustration, but sometimes people gotta chill out a little bit and do their research before they start assuming things."

A foggy visor forced Chaves to stop early in Sunday's rain-filled race, causing the No. 88 Chevy to lose a lap to the leaders. After a review of the Barber timing and scoring information, once the race resumed on Monday, Chaves had been lapped by the top five cars in the field and restarted behind them. At that point, Chaves had yet to be lapped by the drivers behind him.

Pagenaud was listed in 12th at the time and was on the same lap as Chaves when the green flag waved. Despite being one lap down to others, Chaves stayed on the same lap with Pagenaud until he was called into the pits by the Harding team on Lap 44.

Returning one-lap down to Pagenaud's No. 22 Chevy, Chaves circulated with that deficit until the Penske team brought Pagenaud in on Lap 50. While sitting in the pits during his stop, Chaves passed Pagenaud and regained his lap, but the Penske driver wasn't far behind.

Although the No. 88 was still down a lap to the leaders, IndyCar's timing and scoring data does corroborate Chaves' claim of being on the same lap as Pagenaud when the No. 22 was attempting to make a pass.

By Lap 55, Pagenaud crossed the start/finish line 0.6s behind Chaves, and through Lap 63, the No. 88 fended off the No. 22's advances. Pagenaud was finally successful on Lap 64 and put Chaves down a lap. On Lap 69, Chaves was lapped for the second time by the race leader, Josef Newgarden.

Turning back to the post-race confrontation, Chaves – who's listed at 5 feet 6 inches – lacks size and height to almost every IndyCar driver, including Pagenaud who's listed at five-foot-10. Although he's one of the smallest drivers in the field, the sight of Chaves holding his ground was one of the more remarkable aspects in the encounter.
Backing down, as he explained in a somewhat lighthearted manner, wasn't a consideration.

"I tell you what, if 10 years of jiu-jitsu say anything here, I'd put my money on myself," he said. "I wouldn't bet against me.

"All joking aside, I have huge respect for a lot of the guys in the paddock, including Simon Pagenaud. I understand the guy's frustrated, and his frustration was just misplaced. Either because he had the wrong facts, or just because things aren't going his way compared to his teammates. He was looking for someone to blame for that and he picked the wrong guy. Being picked on is not the way to do it. And I'm pretty sure everyone on my team felt the same way as no one interrupted."

DbpP3wvUwAA2y7 5Events have been unfolding behind the scenes at Roush Fenway Racing to right the ship long before the announcement Matt Kenseth was getting back behind the wheel.
And ironically, some of it has had to do with another one of its past successful drivers, Mark Martin. The NASCAR Hall of Famer (pictured at right with Kenseth and team founder Jack Roush) has been working with the organization he spent nearly two decades with since late last year.

The reason? Persistence from team president Steve Newmark.

"Steve Newmark's been after me for three years," said Martin on Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame after he did the honors of re-introducing Kenseth as an RFR driver.

"He's accurate, it's been a three-year plan," Newmark smiled. "In all honesty, it all stemmed from when I watched Jack and Mark interact at an event, and just saw how it boosted the energy in both of them and they started telling stories and all that. And I realized, Mark is such a key part of our history that he can still add a lot of value."

Martin was modest while talking about his role, saying he doesn't believe he has a whole lot to give. However, he started assisting the organization before the 2017 playoffs started because he wanted to be an asset to both the company and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had qualified for the post-season.

Since he is not based in Charlotte [living in his native Batesville, Arkansas], Martin participates in competition meetings through phone calls, and he finds ways to reach out to Newmark or the team's many drivers when need be.

"Quite frankly, it is fun to see him and Jack together," said Newmark. "He's kind of everybody's advisor. He'll talk to crew chiefs when they need it, he'll talk to drivers, he'll give me suggestions, but it's an informal role and it is subject to when Arlene [Martin's wife] lets him come talk to us. We'll take as much of his time as he'll give, but there's no structure around it."

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One such time Martin felt he needed to be in North Carolina was earlier this season. Admitting he was concerned after the third race of the year, Martin made a special trip to the team's campus to speak with everyone.

"And remind them, 'Hey man, I've been here, I've done this and keep grinding,'" said Martin. "'Keep your chin up because you can turn it around.'

"There's a lot of really good talent in that building and there are all the tools you need to compete for wins, and the fact that's not happening is just a matter of a little bit of direction and chemistry."

Besides Martin and Kenseth, the company has also shifted personnel around in recent years. Kevin Kidd – who had previously worked at Joe Gibbs Racing – became competition director and Tommy Wheeler the team's operations director.

More recently, the team went from three cars down to two and shuffled its crew chief line-up. Matt Puccia has worked with Trevor Bayne since 2016 and Brian Pattie joined Stenhouse's team last year.

Newmark said "there's no doubt" when asked if all of this shows the dedication and seriousness of Roush Fenway to get back on track.

"We feel like we have been going on the right trajectory," said Newmark. "You look at the performance and even last couple of weeks, Ricky had the chance to win Texas, running third on the last restart, had a chance to win Bristol beating and banging with Kyle Larson at the end. But we want to be doing that every week and that's a tall task.

"We feel like we put a lot of things in place with Tommy Wheeler and Kevin Kidd and restructuring the competition side that has elevated our game, but we're still always wanting more and I think that's a big part of bringing Matt in, because we believe he can be a differentiator and help us take that next step."

DboxpkOUQAAkW2o.jpg largeRoush Fenway Racing is turning to a familiar face to help evaluate its program – the driver it won its first championship with, Matt Kenseth.

Wednesday morning at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Kenseth was officially announced as the second driver of the Roush Fenway No. 6 Ford. He will split time with Trevor Bayne, the primary driver since 2015. Wyndham Resorts was also announced as a new team partner.

Kansas Speedway in three weeks will be Kenseth's return to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.

"You kind of know when something feels right, certainly to come back and hopefully help Jack who has done so much in my career," said Kenseth. "Hopefully, get Roush Fenway Racing running better again. I feel like they've definitely been trending in the right direction, Ricky [Stenhouse Jr.] won a couple of races last year at the restrictor-plate tracks.

"I think it's a good challenge for me that I'm really looking forward to, and really not only the driving part but the rest of it to get in there and get my hands dirty and try to evaluate what we can do better.

"The timing was right and it was the right deal. It just all lined up and seemed like the right thing at the right time."

Of course, the press conference did come with a bit of humor. Team owner Jack Roush offered a sly smile when saying he was still getting over Kenseth leaving him five years ago for Joe Gibbs Racing before being able to pick up the phone.

"When I contacted Matt to see if he had interest in getting involved with our limited program with the objectives we had set forth, his question to me was, 'Why did it take you so long to call?'" said Roush.

"I still had a little bit of a rawness over the fact that he left me when he did. We had another championship out there, I thought."

12KAN2rl3746aKenseth drove for RFR from 1999-2012, winning the 2003 championship and 24 races, including two in the Daytona 500.

For the immediate future the hope is that Kenseth – who Roush complimented as being a driver with a keen sense of diagnosing a car and problem – can at least guide Roush Fenway in the direction it needs to be to contend on a weekly basis.

"[This is] a chance to look at our cars and find out if there's something glaring that Matt would see from his experience that would be in line with Mark [Martin's] impression if he was in the cars," said Roush. "But we're also anxious to start building back on the 33 races that Matt's won in Xfinity as well as Cup and add to that. Whether there's another championship in there for Matt with Roush Fenway, that remains to be seen, that's in years two and three – if there is a year two and three for Matt in the car. We'll just have to see how it goes."

Bayne has failed to win a race in a Roush car and has been no higher than 22nd in points in each of his three full seasons. Stenhouse qualified for the playoffs last year after winning his first two career races.

Going into this weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway Stenhouse is 19th in points and Bayne sits 26th. Bayne has not yet scored a top-10 finish this year. Stenhouse has shown improvement in recent weeks but has a lone top-10 result.

On the Xfinity Series side, Roush will look at Kenseth's experience to also guide young drivers such as Ryan Reed, Chase Briscoe, and Ty Majeski.

kensDetails such as how long Kenseth will be behind the wheel and what the schedule will be between he and Bayne is still being worked out, said team president Steve Newmark. The hope expressed from all involved was to continue together long-term.

Said Newmark, "Our focus right now is bringing Matt back into the fold and seeing how he can help us be a better organization."

 

1015108638 LAT 20180414 SNE102447Valtteri Bottas believes Mercedes is capable of improving in "many areas" after failing to win any of the opening three races of the new Formula 1 season.

Sebastian Vettel took back-to-back victories in the opening two rounds of the year before Daniel Ricciardo won last time out in China, with the run marking the first time Mercedes has failed to win in three consecutive races since the V6 power units were introduced in 2014. Although Bottas believes the performance level of the top three is relatively evenly matched, he sees areas where Mercedes has clear potential to improve.

"I think the top three teams are extremely close at this point and there's been a little bit of bad luck and a bit of things we could've done better," Bottas said. "That's how it goes for every team, but it is extremely close – Ferrari has been better sometimes, Red Bull has been better [in China] especially at the end of the race.

"In general the main thing is we need to make our car quicker, we need to make our packager stronger, if we want to win lots of races. Otherwise it's going to be difficult. That's how it is, how competitive it is this year in Formula 1.

"We're definitively facing a big challenge but we're up for it – we know we can still improve many areas and it's just a matter of time before we get everything perfect and the win will come. But it's not been ideal in the first three races, not winning."

Having come close to winning each of the last two races – and got the better of teammate Lewis Hamilton on each occasion – Bottas is eager to try and secure his first victory of the year this weekend in Baku.

"I definitely felt like I could get everything out of the car there was to get [in Shanghai. But, unfortunately, the result wasn't what we wanted. I'm looking forward to Baku as another great opportunity. Now it's two in a row where the win has been so close. So I'm really hungry for the win now."

1015110954 LAT 20180415 ONZ54666Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley says he prefers Liberty Media's approach to dealing with the teams over future rule changes compared to Bernie Ecclestone's style of management.

Ecclestone successfully employed a divide and conquer approach to negotiating with the teams, while also using the Strategy Group – then generally comprised of the top six teams in the constructors' championship, plus himself and the FIA – to drive change. Since taking over the sport, Liberty has opened up the Strategy Group to allow all teams to attend as observers, and held discussions with all 10 teams before formulating a blueprint for Formula 1's future that it presented in Bahrain.

Admitting that Force India's desire for a budget cap and more equal revenue distribution matches with Liberty's future ideas, Fernley says he's a fan of the new style of negotiations that have been taking place.

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"Well I think from our point of view the future plan is in the right direction," Fernley told RACER. "So we've just got to keep building it, but I'm hoping it's going to continue to be consensus-based – just bringing everyone in behind it all – all the way through. From our side it's in the right direction.

"I think that direction will continue. It's not diminished yet so hopefully it will continue through and we can start firming some of the things up.

"I quite like [Liberty's approach], it's working well. I like the idea of them doing individual discussions with teams and then them formulating what they think the consensus is, rather than having shouting matches with all the teams trying to get their particular point over!"

While certain aspects of the 2021 regulations were discussed in the Strategy Group last week, Fernley believes the Formula One Group [FOG] will continue to bypass that governance process – which it is keen to change – when dealing with the majority of its future plans.

"The thing is I don't think that will necessarily go through the Strategy Group. I think the way that it has been brought in is on a parallel program, like it was done in Bahrain. It's done as a presentation process and then an individual assessment by each team with FOG and the FIA."

mailbag

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.

Q: If IndyCar doesn't have the balls to run in the rain anymore, why bother having rain tires at all? At this point it's a given that if there's any rain, they won't run. Sad to see that IndyCar and F1 won't run in the rain, while those clowns in NASCAR will. Way to kill all of the good momentum the series had built up from the start of the year.

C.W., Chicago

RM: I think you're being a little tough on the boys. First off, with the small lakes in three different places around the track, the cars were aquaplaning (Oriol Servia was driving the pace car, and said he almost spun out two or three times because it was so treacherous), and nobody could see beyond their nose cone. Drivers that run 230mph into Turn 1 don't lack balls, this was more about conditions. F1 has three sets of rain tires but IndyCar only has one, and it's not designed to handle excessive amounts of water like we saw Sunday. But they performed just fine Monday in a steady rain, and a new rain tire will be ready for Detroit. One race isn't going to kill any momentum and there was enough drama at the end between JoNew and Seabass to make things interesting.

Q: I watched the Barber GP and while I agree with P.T. that they should have run (Senna won in similar conditions in Donington – that was legendary), I was fine with the postponement. The series can't afford the costs of machinery, or worse, had they run. But when I read that they allowed the field to fill up on fuel, it just showed that this series cannot get out of its own way. Who is running this? Bozo the clown? It's a postponement to be resumed the next day – no team should be allowed to touch the cars for any reason! No fuel! This completely screwed Andretti and Pagenaud who would have been in a great position to get in front due to pit strategy. If you want to even things out and be fair then go back to lap one, put everyone back into their qualifying spots, let Power and T.K. fix their cars, and start the race as new in the morning.

Jason

RM: I will say that most of the mechanics I talked to on Monday morning were shocked to show up at the track and learn they could fuel up, change tires and basically start over. But you can read what IndyCar boss Jay Frye told RACER.com here

Q: First off, the drivers were showing some great driving skills to keep the cars on track for the beginning of the race. If the race had stayed green throughout (that's a big if), I bet the race would have started and finished on Sunday. Now, I wonder why doesn't IndyCar have an intermediate rain tire and a full wet rain tire? I feel like a deeper tread tire that would be more efficient in throwing water off the racing surface would have allowed for the race to continue under yellow until the cars removed enough standing water to resume. I assume this has to do with costs – or does Firestone just find it more practical to make a wet tire that can cope with semi-dry conditions that a intermediate tire with less tread would be better suited in? Also, are you glad you were not the one interviewing Hinch when he got out of the car, or do you see it as having missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity?

Stephen, Florida

RM: Good observation, they did a very good job considering the elements and it was very treacherous on Sunday. Not sure a better rain tire would have helped with that much water, but Firestone has a new one that will be ready by Detroit. Rain just isn't much of a factor most of the time for IndyCar, so it's not paramount to build a super-duper F1-type tire. After all the publicity he got on ESPN, Hinch declared his bladder relief: "The piss heard round the world." Of course the sad thing is that ESPN ran his sound byte non-stop, but nary a word on the race.

Q: If IndyCar is gonna pull a stunt like this every time it rains, why do they even bother with rain tires? Everyone knows where the standing water is – drive around it! What a disservice to the fans and the sport in caving to the whining drivers.

Kevin in Greenville, SC

RM: You can't drive around it if it's pooling and running across the track. Drivers enjoy racing the rain, but not when they can't see and when they're riding on top of the water.

Q: What happened to parc ferme? I thought it was really unfair that many teams got a free stop before resuming while others were penalized for pitting before the red. Hard to call it a "continuation" of the race when you allow that sort of thing. What do you think?

Justin in Indy

RM: I think the rain and subsequent five laps of yellow on Sunday prior to the red flag hosed those early stoppers, and refueling all the cars and changing tires had little effect on their strategy.

Q: WTF? They allow teams to change tires from wets to dry before restart? They all should have had to start the race in the manner it was stopped. Then Kanaan gets penalized for pitting before the green, but Chilton loses a lap? Power can work on his car before the green, but T.K. couldn't? And Frye's explanation is BS! All teams that attempted strategic pit stops were dumped on! Also, no charge to get in on Monday? Seems nice, but a slap to those who actually paid for weekend tickets!

Skip Ranfone, Summerfield FL

RM: Whoa. Chilton's car stopped on the track prior to the green, and he sat in the pits for 15 laps. T.K. evidently violated some kind of pit rule, but Power's team couldn't work on the car during red, only when the cars restarted under caution. Pit strategy went away with the rain. I don't have a problem with allowing free admission on a Monday, and I didn't hear any complaints from the paying customers I talked to in the paddock.


JGS 2018 BARBER 63118 1

Q: Michael Andretti pulled quite a coup when he signed Alexander Rossi while he was still a reserve driver for Manor. Alex has become much more confident, and a leader at Andretti Autosport. I know that such swaggering self-confidence can irritate some people, but this young driver is fun to watch.

Also, the Long Beach race proved to me once again why Bourdais has been one of my favorite drivers over the last 14 years. After watching the race and reading his post-race comments, it seems to me that the fire that used to burn so brightly in him has been rekindled. I admire his tenacity and the emotion he shows. Some may say that calling fellow drivers "idiots" is not a good move, but I admire how he has been uncompromisingly forthright in interviews. Lastly, I wanted to commend you on the job you did in putting together the Dan Gurney tribute before the race. It was done tastefully, respectfully, and wasn't over the top as some tributes can be. Well done, Robin

James Jackson, Livonia, MI

RM: Yes, I think it was Bryan Herta and Michael that snagged Rossi, and I know the first time they tested him that Andretti was very impressed. But it's a great example of how much you don't know about drivers in F1 that are strapped with cars that are hopelessly behind by six seconds. How would Rossi have done in a Mercedes or Ferrari instead of a Manor? Bourdais' passion is impressive and I like him because he always says what's on his mind. He's a racer. Thanks for your kind words abut Dan, no tribute could really do him justice but NBCSN's Taylor Rollins did a great job of capturing his impact in two minutes.

Q: I was at Barber for Saturday/Sunday and couldn't extend for another day. We noticed that the LED panels didn't appear to be on Saturday, but thought it might just bhave been too bright. Sunday it was clear they weren't on, and from watching on TV, they are not on. I really thought that added a lot to the viewing the past couple years, and they made a big deal about how they were improved for this year. Is there a reason they were not using them at Barber?

Andrew Greider

RM: Yes they had issues on Friday and Saturday, so IndyCar opted to shut them down Sunday until the problem could be fixed.

Q: I'm watching the Barber race and have a couple of issues with the coverage. First, after five whole laps we have to sit through a lengthy commercial? The cars and drivers suits are literally billboards, advertising permeates the track and other sponsors are mentioned throughout the broadcast. If ESPN can run F1 commercial-free, if soccer can be shown commercial-free, then why can't commercials be at least reserved for yellow and red flag situations? The second issue is the cameras. If NBC can't spring for the cost of a canopy to shield the cameras from rain, I think the least they can do is give the cameraman a cloth to wipe the lens periodically. It's ridiculous trying to see what is happening on-track looking through a water-covered lens! That said, NBC is light years ahead of ABC in race coverage, they just need to continue to look for areas to improve. They should never settle for "good enough."

Bob, Hendersonville, NC

RM: Commercials are a necessary evil in broadcasting, unless F1 gives you the rights for free like it did ESPN and handles all the production. It was raining sideways Sunday, so I'm sure they tried to keep the lens dry but it was a challenge.

Q: During the telecast, Paul Tracy said, "I think Sebastien Bourdais is one of the three best road course drivers in the world." Considering P.T. and SeaBass fought like cats and dogs against each other on the track, that's high praise indeed. And shortly after that, SeaBass makes The Pass That Wasn't a Pass of The Century. Kudos to P.T. for complimenting his former adversary!

Curt

RM: It is refreshing to see the last real rivals of IndyCar racing become friends. I think they always respected each other, but their on-track clashes and off-track press conferences were what made people watch. And I think P.T. is spot on – Bourdais is one of the best road racers of the past 25 years.

Q: With Ferrari being quite open with their dismay with the new F1 rules, is there anything to read into Scuderia Corsa talking about making the leap full-time to IndyCar, and possibly Ferrari being the third engine manufacturer?

Michael D. DeVine, Dublin, Ohio

RM: I think Stefan Johansson gets credit for getting Scuderia Corsa interested, and I was talking to Oriol Servia about it over the weekend and he's fired up to drive for them at Indianapolis. But I don't believe there's any formal connection to Ferrari.

Q: I'm excited about what IndyCar is producing. You have two kings of American open-wheel racing in four-time champions Dixon and Bourdais racing for wins. The only names ahead of either of them on the all time wins list are Foyt, Andretti and Unser. You have two young Americans on powerhouse teams that are starting to look like the next kings of American open-wheel racing in defending champ Newgarden/Penske and Rossi/Andretti. Then sprinkle in past champions Power, Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and Kanaan.

We are left with a great crop of drivers with championship backgrounds in F1, ALMS, Le Mans and IndyCar to showcase the new car that leaves me wanting more every time I watch. I know there are aspects of the series that still need to advance to reach the heights of where IndyCar has been. But I am very excited about the current drivers and the cars they are racing. Strictly from a talent and machine perspective, how would you compare IndyCar 2018's potential historically?

Jordan Glenn

RM: I think because of the spec cars and depth of teams/drivers, IndyCar has become as competitive as anytime in recent memory. Two-tenths of a second is the difference between sixth and 16th on the grid many weekends. And the mix of veterans and rookies is pretty damn impressive. If you have a good driver, engineer and pit stops, you can win races, and I like the fact we can't pick the winner before the races.


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Q: With Will Power out of the race already, did his team pack up and head home on Sunday, or did they stay for the rest of the race on Monday? I know how the transporters are parked and interconnected, just don't know which one is the No.12. If it is with the awning or in the middle, that would make leaving early very hard. Do all transporters have the same equipment/spares, or do they put all shocks in one, suspension pieces in another, etc.?

Ben, Knoxville, TN

RM: They stuck around, repaired his car and treated the race as a test session. Most teams carry enough spares to rebuild a car.

Q: Why didn't the time stop during Kanaan's crash? If you have a red flag during a race the laps don't keep counting, but in qualifying the time keeps going? That seems super unfair, and less than logical.

Jon Willoughby OH

RM: Don't disagree. The first two sessions aren't guaranteed any amount of time, while the Fast Six is guaranteed five minutes, but there should be at least five minutes of guaranteed time for the first two sessions like there was a few years ago.

Q: I know that you've been asked lots about the bumping at Indy this year, but I hope you'll stomach one more long one. I'm 18 and got into IndyCar just a few years ago, so I really don't have any knowledge of or reference for how bumping works, but I understand that it was a big part of the racing in the past. I am thinking a little bit more practically and about the show and image of the race for this question.

The big pro I see for bumping is that it adds a new level of excitement for qualifying, and could well draw more people to watch qualifying and get people more invested in it. Overall, I think that for fans bumping is a definite plus if you have more than 33 cars. However, I'm concerned for the teams and sponsors, especially this year. With the new aero kit, obviously lots of teams feel like this is a good opportunity to get their feet wet and try out one-offs or full seasons with the new car. What if a team like Carlin getting bumped at Indy, where it has very little to no experience, damages its brand or its view of racing in IndyCar? I know that Carlin is here to stay, but I worry that smaller teams or Indy one-offs may become less likely to want to have an attempt at Indy if they know it could end up being a huge investment for nothing, and they could end up getting sent home after qualifying.

Furthermore, if a sponsor's car gets bumped, wouldn't they see that as a big problem since they won't get exposure on race day? They will have made a big investment for nothing, and then, like a one off-team that didn't make it, be less likely to want to return to sponsor a car again due to not getting to be in the main event. (I guess the other possibility is that those sponsors will want to fight to get on the cars likely to make it on bump day, but I don't know if that's realistic).

Finally, I'm very slightly concerned this year because of the Danica Double. Ed Carpenter sets up damn good cars at Indy, and Danica always ran well there from what I've read (I never saw her race in IndyCar), but what if, God forbid, she doesn't qualify for the 500? It would be a huge issue for IndyCar, and its promotion of the 500 centered around Danica after all the media hype of her making her final start at Indy. Do you think any of these are legitimate concerns?

Max Camposano, Los Altos, CA

RM: It used to be Pole Day, Bump Day and Race Day – all big crowds and lots of drama. But qualifying, other than the Fast 9 shootout, hasn't been much more than scrambling to get 33 cars the past few Mays, and if you showed up and made four laps at any speed, you were in the show. I get both sides of this and I said a few months ago to start all 35 cars because the purse is a joke, and it's tough enough to find funding, and 35 cars isn't anything new.

But I also agreed with Marshall's argument that you shouldn't get a spot just because you show up.  I do think if a sponsor misses the race that someone else will run it (that used to happen all the time), but as far as provisions for Danica or former winners or champions that run into trouble on Saturday, there is always the special session on Sunday morning. But I think she'll be just fine with ECU's track record at IMS.

Q: I agree that cars beyond 33 should not just be automatically given entry in the race. But for financial reasons I also think they should have a chance. Make all them work for it – has a pole speed percentage been suggested for making the field? Maybe it's already a rule? But maybe it can be tightened, since the cars and engines are pretty even. I guess I don't know the right number to suggest, but I'd think 105% of pole speed might work as a way to bump anyone that might be a hazard in the race? I like it that you're getting more camera time.

Mark V, Indpls

RM: I've seen that suggestion – run a certain speed and be allowed to start – but financially it's such a small payoff to just make the race ($200,000 for non-Leader's Circle teams for the most part) that it's hardly worth it by the time you pay all your tire and engine bills.


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Q: So with the new car, new crop of talent and new TV package, what will IndyCar need to do to get top line title sponsor? With demise of GRC due unpaid bills and the move to get rid of manufacturers in the top class in favor of spec formula, I think it's time for Jay to contact his old friends at Red Bull and see if he can facilitate a meeting. The series needs a big player to be title sponsor akin to Verizon, yet Red Bull has a better chance of helping IndyCar reach the millennials through it's advertising and the Red Bull TV app. It would be major victory for IndyCar if they can get them for 2019 onwards.

Kevin, NJ

RM: Better television ratings would be the No.1 way to attract a big corporation and I think NBC will deliver them, but not overnight (except for Indy). As for Red Bull, they got a taste of Indy with Eddie Cheever's team [above] but they've moved on to other sports, and I doubt Jay would have much luck in bringing them back. (I'm sure he tried when he was in IndyCar marketing).

Q: With Verizon being in the last year of sponsoring the IndyCar Series, is there any word on a potential new series sponsor? How much did Verizon spend annually sponsoring the series, and where does that money go? I don't recall ever seeing Verizon use IndyCar in any of its television ads, and it seems to me it would be easy and relatively inexpensive to promote their brand and the series in some kind of ad campaign. Honda is currently running a great ad with Hinch, so why didn't Verizon do the same – and how important is it to IndyCar to have a series sponsor?

Steve Sporer, Chicago

RM: Nobody on the horizon, to my knowledge. I've always heard $10 million for Verizon (half in money and half in activation) but that's just a rumor, no official confirmation. When Verizon changed CEOs a couple years ago, the new boss was not an IndyCar fan and reportedly gave the order not to spend a penny more than had been budgeted until the contract expired. Verizon did some advertising early on, but nothing the past two years. Yes, a good title sponsor that wants to be IndyCar's partner is imperative. But Izod, FedEx, Pep Boys and Northern Lights all failed to deliver the national exposure that IndyCar needed.

Q: I'm really disappointed with Mark Miles's performance. He doesn't pay the right attention to marketing, specifically product development. Randy Bernard did great on this area, taking risks and finding creative ways to change the product, like double sided restarts, the return of the Triple Crown, aero kits, etc. Instead of Bernard, Miles works as if he were on ATP, focusing on well-organized, cost-effective series and on advertising. I remember when he was ATP's chief, he did nothing, or almost nothing, to change the product. He could have done things to make tennis more attractive to the fans, like one service instead of two, and change the racquet and ball technology to make the player's technical ability become even more important.

Marlon R.

RM: Mark really doesn't have much say in rules or cars, he's left that to Jay Frye (who has done a good job) and I think Miles did a good job with the new TV contract, and he tried to breathe some life into May with the road race – although it's still better than all the pole days since 1996, it's not much a draw. His job is to run Hulman & Company and make as much money as possible, while also keeping IndyCar afloat. I think Randy could have been really successful had he been surrounded with a couple of good racing people, but he had no chance to thrive against the owners or the politics.

Q: Seb's Long Beach penalty is a perfect example of why all of the three main racing groups have trouble drawing crowds. Too many rules! It takes until Tuesday or Wednesday for NASCAR to get all its penalties sorted out but they can still miss an obvious loose tire on pit lane, F1 has a penalty for almost every situation except when it really needs one, and now IndyCar ruins the best pass I have seen in its series in at least a dozen years. Wonder what would have happened if they had called that penalty back in the day on Foyt, Mario or any other the other frontrunners? My guess is the person who called it would have gone home with a black eye, or worse. Oh well, I'll just go back to my seat at Knoxville Raceway and ignore the big boys and all their rules!

Andy Clark

RM: You are preaching to the choir, Andy. A situation like Seb's is easy to judge. He was forced to make a move at 175 mph because Scott Dixon was making a move, and Bourdais wasn't sure Scott saw him. It was a racing reaction at high speed, and Seb was forced over the line (which is really for the pit exit anyway). The 1960s and 1970s never had penalties and judgment calls because the drivers policed themselves.

Q: I read your article, but respectfully I have to disagree here. I seriously don't think Bourdais would of attempted that pass had there been a concrete wall where the blue line is. He attempted it because his drivers' mind saw "space" there for him to put his car when there really wasn't any. Maybe IndyCar needs to put concrete barriers the whole way down the pit exit lane. That would solve the problem.

Doug, Stafford, VA

RM: With the run he had on Dixon I think he would have always gone for it with or without a wall and, as I wrote and said after watching he replay 100 times, Scott's move was enough to make Seb react. Neither did anything wrong, it was hard racing and a pass for the ages on a street course that offers very little opportunity for something that spectacular.


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Q: "When the rulebook collides with sanity"? Really? Name me an IndyCar race where the rulebook doesn't collide with sanity! I've been telling people for years, "Be careful what rules you make, because you may need to break them at some point." This was a perfect example. The rule is a reasonable rule meant to protect drivers coming out of the pits and those on the course. The rule is there for a good reason. Just like we have rules to prevent blatant blocking. Helio getting penalized at Edmonton a few years back [2010, above] was brought about by the blocking rule being followed to the letter. The fact that the rule was poorly-written and interpreted by someone with no common sense ruined the race. The same thing almost happened this time with Bourdais. I say "almost" because he got the position back with another great pass. Hey! The rule created a second great pass that we wouldn't have seen if he hadn't been penalized. I bet no one thought of that. Bourdais wasn't going to get by Rossi anyway, so it's all moot.

Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, BC, Canada

RM: His second pass was pretty damn good, but not as awesome as the first one. A line drawn to govern pit exits shouldn't affect the race, but it did. As for Helio, all he did was protect his line, and he had every right to go berserk.

 

Q: Today was a prime example of how out of touch race control is with reality. There is no consistency, and what they allow versus what they penalize borders on stupidity. Let me see if I can follow the logic. Rossi, while attempting a pass for the lead, takes out the race leader – putting him into the wall while he continues on to a podium finish. No penalty. (I am fine with this no-call). Bourdais, while making a pass for second place, touches some magic line painted in fairy dust that is really intended to keep cars exiting the pits off the racing line, makes no contact with anyone else while executing a pass that is at Alex Zanardi passing Herta in the Corkscrew level in the "big balls" category, and he is penalized.

The officials are having too much of an impact on the racing. I can't take it anymore. I played nice at the merger. I shut down my website to try and encourage people to get along and give the merged series a chance. Ten years later, and the cars finally look like proper race cars. The racing is awesome. Little teams are able to take it to the likes of Penske, and the one thing that still screams Earl (IRL) is the damn officiating. Fire everyone in race control. Get a chief steward, who has the final and only say in regards to penalties and a small crew the way Wally Dallenbach ran CART. I am not going to take it anymore. I'm done being nice. I am done giving them the benefit of the doubt. This series is missing hate. It's time to bring the hate!

Paul in Bradenton

RM: I truly don't think Arie or Max play favorites, but I do think they've been inconsistent with "unavoidable contact." Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal did the same thing at St. Pete, one got a penalty and one didn't. Rossi went for it and punted the leader into the wall. He didn't get penalized, but he was responsible for either making the pass or clouting Wickens. We all loved that he went for it, but the bottom line is that he made a mistake and got away scot-free. Ed Jones knocked Charlie Kimball into the guardrail at Barber and got no penalty. Why? Because the stewards knew he didn't mean to? I know it's a tough job, and thankless as well, but consistency is a stewards' best friend.

Q: I've taken a day to cool off after watching race control rip a chance to win away from SeaBass, Granted I'm little biased as I had $20 on Bourdais at 20/1 odds, but Rossi is also one of my favorite drivers and deserved to win, obviously. But what was the deal with the call of passing on the pit lane? Dixon drove him over there. Would they rather have a wreck? And to wait six laps before calling the penalty? I thought SeaBass must have made a mistake when Dixon got ahead of him again. So, if no penalty is given, he's into the pits before the yellow flag, and back out ahead of Rossi for the restart, and now we have a great race to the finish. Just woulda been nice to see that play out.

Rick Krahenbuhl, San Diego, CA

RM: What would you say if I told you an IndyCar official called Bourdais a few days after Long Beach and admitted they should have penalized Dixon for blocking? I don't think he blocked, I think he simply moved and that forced Seb to move, and that's the kind of no harm, no foul call I would expect the ex-drivers to make. But when I interviewed Bourdais afterwards he made it clear he wasn't going to catch Rossi, he just thought he deserved second, and I agree. But by letting Dixon get back by him, he lost just enough time to screw him on the caution flag that caught him out.


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Q: I've noticed many times that when commentators are providing background on drivers in the series a frequent narrative is, and I'm paraphrasing, "He really wanted to be in Formula 1, but that didn't work out, so he settled for IndyCar." I guess that's true of many drivers in the series, but it makes IndyCar sound second -ate. There must be a way commentators can mention a driver's European racing background without referring to IndyCar as a silver medal. Do you have an opinion on this? It just seems counterproductive to make it sound like drivers are in this series because they couldn't be in a "better" series.

Brendan from Milwaukee

RM: I think it's natural for good road racers like Robert Wickens [above, testing Virgin's F1 car in 2011], Alexander Rossi, or Jordan King to aspire to F1, and Rossi made it despite having no funding to speak of, but IndyCar is such a better option in terms of being a race driver because he's been able to show his skills. Conor Daly had some success in Europe and a decent connection with his father, but it was going to cost millions to ever get an F1 seat so he came back to the States. Even JoNew spent time across the Pond, but saw the reality and high-tailed back to the USA. F1 is regarded as the pinnacle of road racing but I don't think anyone (ask Fernando Alonso) looks down on IndyCar.

Q: Just bought our tickets for the Portland Grand Prix, Paddock Passes, Pit Passes, Champions Club – the whole shebang. In the receding past, there was a service called "Kangaroo" that offered rather clunky but useful LCD video/race radio sets for a fee at CART races. It transformed my race day experience, as the signage at PIR was not so very wonderful. By 2007, the scoring pylon itself had many banks of lights missing. I would guess Kangaroo is long gone. I am not a Verizon customer. Might there be a trackside service or some other way to get these functions for someone who owns an iPhone or other smart phone, or is willing to rent a device?

Gary from Portland, OR

RM: I will ask Kevin Savoree and Kim Green (the promoters) but I imagine something can be worked out.

Q: Just thought I would let Mailbag Nation know that tickets for the Portland race are now on sale!! Go to Portlandgp.com to get your tickets. I bought 10 tickets for all three days for $95 a piece! Portland was the first IndyCar race I went to way back in 1984, and watched little Al win his first race. I cannot wait for Labor Day weekend, hope to see you there Robin.

Brad Heuer, Coeurdalene, Idaho

RM: That's good news, and a good price. I'm hearing tickets sales are going well so that's encouraging since it's been such a long time between races.

Q: You mentioned that you think IndyCar could quite easily go down to just one oval a year, thus leaving the series to eventually find replacements for Phoenix, Texas, Iowa, Gateway and Pocono. Apart from Mexico City, where there is a lot of speculation about a return, what road or street course events do you think are most likely to join the fold?

Peter Williams, Kent, UK

RM: Good question. IndyCar has looked hard at Mexico City, and if 18-year-old Pato O'Ward continues to impress as he climbs the ladder, he could be the draw IndyCar needs to return. I hope Carlos Slim is paying attention to this kid. He is a gasser. Calgary might still have a chance and I'd love to see Mosport or Montreal (we need another Canadian race).

Q: Wasn't it Justin Wilson who penned a story on RACER.com about oval tracks moving the grandstands to the infield on oval tracks? I know it would cost too much, but isn't Phoenix in the middle of a whole rebuild? We all agree something needs to be done to ovals so IndyCars can race on them. So why didn't Phoenix look into this? Answer, they don't care. Goodbye, IndyCar and ovals!

Lenny M. Fairview, Pk, OH

RM: Phoenix is all about NASCAR and something like infield seating would require a total makeover or the track would have to be built to those specs and not sure oval-track racing has anyone that committed at the moment. [ED: And it was indeed Justin Wilson who made that suggestion – you can read his column from July, 2015 here.]

Q: IndyCar needs ovals on its schedule. Ovals are in IndyCar's DNA. The series is going to have to help the promoters out or they will become extinct. If ovals do disappear off the schedule, it will hurt the Indy 500. How can IndyCar expect drivers who never see ovals to put on a professional show at the 500? Or, open-wheel fans that never see ovals to get excited about the 500? It scares me that you are viewing Gateway as the oval savior in IndyCar. They made a mess of last year's event for the paying customers. I bet you lunch at Mug'n'Bun that attendance will be at least down 15,000 from last year. I hope I am wrong. I hate being negative when there is so much to be positive about in 2018.

Jeff Loveland

RM: The problem right now is that ovals are losers for the promoters, and that's why IndyCar had to lease Phoenix and basically pay for the race. It may come down to that at Texas and Iowa sooner rather than later. Gateway's management listened to the complaints about the traffic and concessions, and they've already got new roads leading in and out of the track. I think with John Bommarito as the title sponsor, Gateway may continue to grow – not go the other way.


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Q: Watching NASCAR highlights, I think Brian France deserves some credit. The job he has done driving away an ardent fan base at Bristol would make Tony George blush. Was that a solid 2,000 people? In years past, wasn't there a waiting list for Bristol tickets? Goes to show what can be accomplished when you continuously and relentlessly treat your fans like idiots. On a more serious note, I'm honestly shocked at what's happened to that place, and it makes me really thankful that Jay Frye and crew came along for IndyCar. The contrast couldn't be any greater.

John in Dayton

RM: I know the weather was rotten, but it was shocking to see all those empty seats. I remember when my pal Wayne Estes was running Bristol and I needed to buy two tickets and he didn't have any. He put my friend on a waiting list for season tickets, and three years later a couple opened up. But there was a decent crowd at Richmond and Phoenix, and we have to remember that a bad NASCAR crowd at most places would be more than welcome at any IndyCar oval. But the telltale sign to me is that Phoenix is only building 42,000 seats with its new look, and that says a lot about oval racing's future.

Q: I was a bit dismayed with your perspective on ovals in IndyCar. You seem to have thrown up your hands and appear ready to give up. But being our sport's only journalist with a connection to its roots, we need you now more than ever. Simply put, ovals are necessary. The IndyCar schedule is vaunted for requiring a wide range of skills from its drivers. Lose ovals, and IndyCar loses some of its luster. The truth is, the current oval races are dropping off in viewership because the racing competition has declined. Nobody wants pack racing at Texas, nobody wants single-file parades at Phoenix. The fans want action.

In my view, it's the tires. Phoenix is being hampered because of off-line marbles even after the track was "tire dragooned." Texas drew great crowds for years, even when it became pack racing. But circa 1999-2000 there were no packs, there WAS great racing. Tire wear happened, but not as silly as the "engineered" fall off of the Firestones recently. I get it that you are not a tech guy, but you used to race USAC short ovals. You know that tires can be made to wear progressively, but to not marble the track. Getting rid of marbles will not only help ovals, but it will help at every track. A harder compound at Texas will create less grip, slower speeds and more wear of the tire just because the cars will slip around a bit more. Ask your Firestone contacts, ask Frye, ask team owners. Ask fans. Less marbles on track, harder tires that wear progressively – better racing, and will save oval racing.

Dave Kulish, Sylvania, OH

RM: IndyCar is the most diverse series in the world because it has ovals, road and street courses, and of course ovals are IndyCar's heritage. But the problem isn't the tires or the cars or the marbles, the problem is that people just aren't going to ovals anymore – in IndyCar as well as NASCAR. Texas has featured some kick-ass racing the past couple years (Rahal, Hinch & T.K. in 2016), and last year had good racing in between crashes but attendance is dropping yearly. Iowa certainly has its moments, but it's half-full. And Pocono isn't bad considering there are only 22-23 cars for 500 miles. But Gateway led them all in attendance last year because it knows how to promote and it had a great title sponsor, and fans responded. I don't want ovals to go away Dave, but unless IndyCar promotes them, we may be down to a couple sooner than later.

Q: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has to be one of the best races in its history. And when I say "race", I mean the following: A dominant car and driver. Hard racing through the entire field. Rookies racing like they were veterans. Cars hitting the wall as they were slipping and sliding with the new aero kits. Cars that broke. And real yellow flags that affected the strategy of the race. Back in the day we called that "racing", something that NASCAR with its gimmicks and sports cars with Balance of Performance have forgotten. Hats off to IndyCar for remembering the past, and allowing the teams and the drivers to decide who wins and loses. Finally, the TV coverage is the best I have ever seen. The camera work was outstanding, and the director always had the cameras following the most important action on the track – especially Sebastien Bourdais pulling off the greatest pass in Long Beach history.

Rick, Charlotte

RM: It was definitely one of the most entertaining LBGPs in recent memory, and the best turnout in a long time. I think IMSA should run with IndyCar every chance it gets because it's the same fan base and makes the weekends even better.

Q: The fundamentally flawed ICONIC committee gave us a car that took six years of changes to receive superlatives both on AND off the track (at least on streets, obviously it gets an INCOMPLETE on road courses and superspeedways). This time, what's the real structure for who is driving the next-gen car project? Mark Miles has been on the trail of potential OEMs for years, so let's assume his input is necessary as a proxy for new partners. Jay Frye has done a more-than-commendable job getting the car to where it is, and possibly getting more power out of the current engine formula in a couple years. But outside of those two and Bill Pappas, who else is going to have a big say in this thing? Have they learned the lesson of Randy Bernard's successful failure and will they eliminate undue outside influence?

Dan W., Ft. Worth, TX

RM: I think between Tino Belli, Pappas and Jay talking to engineers, Honda, Chevy and Dallara, it will be more of a community project. I think we've all been impressed with Jay's desire to hear from the major players and then make a decision.


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Q: When I was first getting into IndyCar in the early 90s I remember the buzz around Robby Gordon. It seemed he was destined for greatness, he was fast, aggressive, drove for A.J., young American, etc. I watched an old race of him at Phoenix (I think) and he was impressive. Why did he never make it to the upper echelon? I know he ticked off Ford with some comments, but it seems with all that potential, someone else would have scooped him up. Too bad he didn't stick in IndyCar – the battles between he and Tracy could have been epic.

Steve

RM: Good question. He won races with A.J. and Derrick Walker but then opted to start his own team, and that was a mistake. As you mentioned, Robby had everything to be a star in IndyCar, and I loved his aggressiveness and frankness in answering any question. He truly was perfect for Foyt's team. But he wanted to try NASCAR, and now his Stadium Super Truck series is doing quite well, and I think we're all happy for him. And keep your eye on his 9-year-old son.

Q: I read in the local newspaper that the IndyCar draw at Long Beach was the largest in 18 years. I think the new chassis is a big part of it - old dudes like me think it looks like a Champ Car. Given the uptick in IndyCar viewership, can you imagine how popular a race at Laguna Seca would be? I've read that noise is an issue, but my gut tells me it involves long-term contracts, sponsorship, spreading the wealth, etc. I watched some CART videos from the 90s at Laguna Seca and it was packed. So, why don't we race there?

Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA

RM: I think as long as Sonoma is on the schedule, one road race in northern Californian will be enough. If Sonoma went away, Laguna could possibly step in but in the last few years of Champ Car the attendance plummeted. And the racing wasn't very good. However, with this new aero kit, the road and street course racing has been excellent.

Q: You have seen a lot of Indy 500s. Can you name your top five and briefly state why?

Kevin in Cincinnati

RM: Johncock edging Mears in 1982, Herk leading the first lap in 1963 in the Novi and Parnelli winning, Rathmann and Ward dueling back and forth in 1960, Emmo and Little Al going for it in 1989 and Hunter-Reay driving through the grass to beat Helio in 2014.

Q: Only eight cars started last weekend's Indy Lights Race. Will it increase its numbers to at least 12 more cars, or is the series on its death bed?

Alistair Fannell

RM: Might have 10-12 for Freedom 100 next month at IMS, but full-timers not likely to grow until 2019 is what I'm told.

Q: I'm a long time IndyCar fan and I finally got the opportunity to take my whole family (four college aged sons and my wife) to an IndyCar race – the Long Beach GP. A great time was had by all, and I think I just may have added some more IndyCar fans to the fan base. My crew might not really know much about racing yet, but they know a good party when they see one. Long Beach was going off! Everywhere we went on Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night, there was something going on. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, and everywhere in and around the circuit was packed.

My point: I keep reading the various perspectives of the Phoenix race and what's needed to make the racing better, etc.. That's all well and good, but I think the Phoenix race promoters need to do a little bit of a rethink on how the race is presented to the general public, and promote it more like the Phoenix Open golf tournament. That is a giant party that masquerades as a golf tournament. Safe to say those promoters know what they're doing when they can get hundreds of thousands of people to show up to watch something as boring as golf.

It looks like the same deal at the Monaco Grand Prix. That race is decided in qualifying, but it's still packed every year. Why? Because it's a giant party! After all the fun this year, everyone in my family wants to go to the Long Beach GP again next year, as well as a bunch of our friends that saw all the fun from my son's posts on social media. The older, true race like myself are important, but the younger fans are the future of the sport. Throw them a great party at an affordable price, and they'll be back with their friends the following year.

Spike, Santa Barbara, Ca.

RM: Thanks for sharing your story and recruiting new IndyCar fans. You have illustrated why it's easier to get crowds at a street race than an oval – it's the continuous action, and people gravitate towards other people if the perception is that's it's a good time. Long Beach is non-stop action from 8 a.m. until dark, and then there's the concert. I don't see how Phoenix could pull off anything approaching the golf tourney there – just not logistically possible. And golf is a different animal, where people can wander around from hole-to-hole instead of sitting in a seat for hours.

Q: Alright, Robin, here is my million dollar idea. I wish Humpy Wheeler was able to work on it. I need a maverick promoter to take a chance on this. NASCAR has gotten stale. Here's what it needs. Take out the windshields. Weld a piece of sheet metal over where the windshield was. Thru a tiny hole in the sheet metal "windshield" there will be a tiny camera, like an iPhone camera, and a nine-inch tablet screen. The race will be like usual, only drivers will see the track through the tablet. Virtual reality racing on a real track, with other cars. This will be the future. You want to start a Kickstarter or GoFundMe program with me?

Shawn E.

RM: Intriguing, but I think I'd rather see this: when NASCAR has a green-white-checker all the drivers have to unbuckle their seat belts. I stole that from Gary Bettenhausen, but I like it.

1015084211 20180324 54I9642deeRenault managing director Cyril Abiteboul believes his team deserves to be ahead of McLaren in the constructors' championship based on the performance of its car.

McLaren cited Red Bull as its benchmark having switched to Renault power units this year, despite the works team showing impressive progress throughout 2017. Renault has proven one of the more consistent midfield performers, reaching Q3 with both cars at every race so far but sits three points behind McLaren  which has yet to reach Q3  despite Nico Hulkenberg finishing sixth twice and seventh once in the opening three rounds.

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"I think it's very clear that we have a better car than they have at the start of this season," Abiteboul told RACER of Renault's performance compared to McLaren. "But you know we are not taking things for granted.

"We know that they will develop massively  I know that there is lots of parts coming for later in the season so we just need to work flat out to keep that advantage and hopefully to recover those positions in the championship. They are currently fourth, we are currently fifth  but I think that we deserve to at least have a go at the fourth position."

In the team's preview for this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Abiteboul added that Baku will see further upgrades as Renault looks to strengthen its position in a midfield that has seen plenty of fluctuating form so far this year.

"Baku will mark the start of the next phase of our season push. We will debut some new chassis upgrades, specifically on the wings and bargeboards, which will be followed on the engine side in Barcelona. We are confident that the combination of these developments can allow us to maintain our performance. We need to remain focused on making every single element work."

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