Immediate events tend to create something commonly known as overreaction and hyperbole. Case in point – IndyCar's last two races have ended under yellow, and the most discussed storyline on Twitter coming out of Toronto was not Ryan Hunter-Reay's third straight win (as it should have been, and later was), the obscure podium (Charlie Kimball and Mike Conway?!) or the festival of carnage that ended the race.
No, the talking point was “green-white-checkered” – a way to ensure races won't end under yellow.
It was first tweeted by, of all people, Scott Dixon – who'd been taken out by an engine failure earlier in the race. The tweet was picked up by AP auto racing writer Jenna Fryer (who's added IndyCar coverage full-time this year besides her usual NASCAR commitments) who re-tweeted and sent on copying IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. That led Bernard, who's had far from a smooth summer, to then pose the question on Twitter:
“Personally, I think green/white checkers are against the tradition of #INDYCAR. Would love to know what you think???” Bernard wrote mere hours after the checkered flag in Toronto.
I'll get my opinion out of the way first – yes, they're against the tradition and no, I don't want to see them. I like knowing the advertised distance will remain as such and I'd rather not see some of IndyCar's less-appreciated points – fuel mileage derbies or late-race carnage involving carbon fiber shards and front wings scattered all over the place – extended for the sake of “the show.”
And secondly, considering polls have been taken measuring fan reaction (at least of the current, ardent, long-term supporters), why would IndyCar risk sacrificing the relatively few remaining hardcore fans they still have in the hopes of attracting a handful of “low-hanging fruit” who have bought into dumbed-down, entertainment-first “racing” that challenges the concept of what racing should be?
Even IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield, who admitted this idea is something the series could (not would) consider for 2013, said later on Twitter he appreciates the fans' passion, and, for the most part, disdain over the idea. And for the record, he too said he “wasn't a fan himself” of the idea.
“The true racer in me is reluctant to step into that area, but we have to consider what our fans want to see,” Barfield told USA Today's Jeff Olson, also a RACER senior writer, on Wednesday.
Now we can get to the overreaction caused by these cries that GWC should even enter the table. Since IndyCar came back under one umbrella in 2008, with the absorption of the Champ Car World Series, there have been 79 races – 69 through 2011 before the 10 thus far this year.
In those first 69, five races (Milwaukee and Texas 2008, Edmonton 2009, Indianapolis 2010 and 2011) ended under yellow and two more (Nashville 2008, Loudon 2011) were rain-shortened events. That yields a 7.25 percentage of races, non rain-shortened, which ended under yellow.
The problem this year is just that because it's been three in 10 – or a staggering 30 percent – the perception is that IndyCar might need green-white-checkered when in fact it's just been an abnormal stretch of races that have ended under yellow.
Barfield already admitted he didn't sweep the racing surface at Toronto after the Josef Newgarden/Simon Pagenaud yellow to ensure the race had a chance at a green flag finish within the advertised distance. There already is a rule in the rulebook allowing for a race to resume after a red at that distance – Barfield has said “at least five laps” out might allow for a green finish after a red period. That's one possibility to ensure a lack of a yellow finish from 2013 onward.
Rule 220.127.116.11 of the IndyCar rulebook states: “Officials will make reasonable effort to restart a race stopped by the declaration of a red condition if the conditions warrant.” And, there's this fairly obvious but not to be overlooked rule regarding race distance – Rule 18.104.22.168: “IndyCar shall announce the scheduled number of laps and/or time limit prior to the start of a race.”
This year, a green-white-checkered ending might not have worked to actually provide a green finish. Indianapolis 500 leader Dario Franchitti took the white flag – which, by NASCAR's rule, would ensure no GWC – before Takuma Sato made his ambitious passing attempt that ended against the Turn 1 wall.
The previous two Indy 500s, although they have both technically ended under yellow, were also in the same boat for whether a GWC would have made any difference. JR Hildebrand's crash occurred last turn, last lap in 2011 and the yellow came out in the relatively short time frame between when he was grinding along the wall and Dan Wheldon stormed past. In 2010, Ryan Hunter-Reay slowed on the last lap out of fuel, and the major speed differential unfortunately aided Mike Conway's flight into the catch fencing. No GWC would have occurred in either instance.
The amazing thing is that the last three Indianapolis 500s have all ended under yellow. And in no way, shape or form were there any cries, then, for the most sacred IndyCar event to have its distance extended beyond 500 miles for the sake of improving “the show.”
The 1989 finish is revered when Al Unser Jr. went for it in Turn 3 on Emerson Fittipaldi but crashed. That race ended under yellow. Dan Wheldon's first 500 win in 2005 came under yellow. All three of Franchitti's 500s have come under yellow. Save for the Helio Castroneves/Paul Tracy opinion differential in 2002, there hasn't been an issue with the yellow flag finish at Indy in more than 30 years (1981).
Making GWC an issue is overlooking some of the obvious tweaks or fixes needed for next year in IndyCar – namely the 10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine changes, the limited amount of horsepower on ovals, organizing the schedule or what have you – and shifting it to something which is being blown out of proportion based on an abnormally high figure.
IndyCar has plenty of improvements it can continue to make after what has been a productive year of on-track racing. Adding green-white-checkered doesn't need to be one of them.