Looking back to the start of June, Detroit was a great weekend for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, especially on the No. 9 Target car. Scott and Dario left the Indianapolis 500 very energized to continue their momentum, but you never feel confident you're going to win. You can feel you're at your best, the car's capable, and the team practices to be flawless – but you know that you can still lose track position if the yellows fall badly for your pit sequence. I'll take full responsibility for ruining it for Scott at Detroit in 2008, while leading; the yellows flew, we thought everyone would pit, as we were at half-tanks, but we were the only front-runner who did. That lost him track position which on a street race leaves you with a very uphill battle. So the decision-making and when the yellows happen make a huge difference. That's constantly on your mind when you're watching the race unfold. Everything has to be on your side – and that includes luck. Being the last to pit sometimes carries significant consequence.
That crossed my mind in Iowa, too, as the yellow on lap 176 brought the No. 9 Target car to the pit lane and Roger Penske brought in Ryan Briscoe – and no other car on the lead lap came in! Thinking – good company to be with RP, but why did the rest stay out? The calculator said that with the length of this yellow, that there was only one more stop to come, so it was logical to take it under a caution. Pitting under green at Iowa would lose you almost two full laps! When others pitted, Scott and Briscoe would cycle to the front of the pack and hopefully the No. 9 would still be leading when all pitted for the final time. OK, I know we fell back in first part of the final stint, though only by five seconds, but to me that strategy made sense; you always want your driver to be at the head of the line when all are “full to finish.”
We didn't plan on Briscoe finding trouble – if that wouldn't have happened, the rest of the leaders would have had to pit under green with a potential splash at the end for them. We'd have been happy to match everyone else green stop for green stop with those odds. It would have made the result very boring, and the TV guys left trying to explain what just happened.
Dario should have been very much in the Iowa mix too. He had a very fast racecar but his engine failed on the final pace lap. His Target car was flawless in the heat race, and his setup meant he could have led from the start. Perhaps it goes back to what was said earlier about teams being required to run engines at the end of their life. However, it continues to amaze me how Dario finds the nuance of each different type of IndyCar track to gain a speed advantage – impressive to see up close. Enthusiasm for today's task combined with experience is great to have on your side.
The heat races were a mixed blessing; everyone had plenty to lose for zero gain. We were two-for-four, as both Dario and Graham won their respective heats. Graham's Service Central car won his heat but, the way the rules were laid out, he didn't get an opportunity to transfer – really? It did give an opportunity to work on the racecars with 30 laps-worth of fuel. Unfortunately, that was the only benefit, because there was nothing coming back to us in terms of points or financial reward. I think IndyCar needs to alter the format in terms of how you qualify, transfer and earn points and/or prize money. The action in the heat races was put into perspective by the USAC races; the midget race, in particular, was unbelievable! That was an indication that when a full field races at Iowa, it's an amazing show.
Sorry – a bit out of calendar sequence – Graham Rahal's professionalism in the wake of his disappointment at Texas Motor Speedway was impressive. His Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was running right at front all night, and he drove with his ingrained talent but also with solid maturity. Afterward, he candidly talked about his mistake, but I really wish there had been more attention to detail at technical inspection, because the car that Graham was working so hard to clear when he brushed the wall was one that did not comply with the regulations.
It is terribly disappointing to think that Justin Wilson could have been a legal winner if attention to detail was employed a bit closer in pre-tech as for the entire weekend his car was carrying illegal parts. They were aero exhaust cover panels that were allowed at the Indy 500 but were removed by official bulletin as a part of the changes for Texas, and in plain sight. The Dallara aero figures for the panels are 11lbs of drag-reduction which Dallara's aero data said at TMS should be worth 1mph! Do you think that they made a difference? If removed prior to the start, IndyCar would have had a complete positive from Texas.
Bigger Picture…we learned that the drivers can indeed run with a different aero spec that led to a terrific oval race. That should indicate to everyone that IndyCar does listen, and made the changes requested by the drivers to make us better. It was a great step to showing that we can race well on bigger ovals with a “spec” car that can go more than one way. The real winner was IndyCar, TMS, the teams, drivers, and most importantly, the fans.