This column originally appeared in the September issue of RACER magazine. –Ed.
As I write this, the race at Richmond was just a couple of nights ago. Personally, I'm reasonably content with how it went: the car was much better in the race than at any other time in the weekend and we went from 10th on the grid to finish fifth. The Andretti Green Racing cars finished 4-5-6-7 after qualifying eighth, 10th, 16th and 17th. So the result wasn't great but it was a good recovery.
But what everyone is talking about is how hard – virtually impossible, in fact – it was to pass other cars that night. And it's a problem we've been seeing too much of on the ovals this year. There's passing on the starts, and on the restarts when they clean the track off, but, everybody is scratching their heads, going “Man, what can we do to make the racing better?”
I think that until we get more manufacturers in the IndyCar Series and get some separation in performance between cars so they have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, we're stuck in a rut. Back when I started IndyCars in 2005, there were more variables – different chassis and engine combinations.
That mix forced everyone to try different setups. As I recall, because the Honda was so good, we'd add downforce and maybe not work so much on mechanical grip because we knew we had the speed to pull bigger wings through the air. Toyota drivers would set their cars up to have more mechanical grip, but because they were trimmed out, their cars would behave differently in traffic. Those little things shook the order up a lot more – not just from track to track, but from stint to stint, depending on how little or how much rubber was going down on the track.
Speaking of tires, a lot of people wonder if Firestone can come up with the golden answer to the problem. After the Richmond race, Firestone guys were asking me about the degradation, because I went about 115 laps on my first set – one of the longest stints of the race. I told them that if you pushed too hard at the beginning, you paid the price later, but if you dropped into pace (because once you caught lapped traffic you couldn't pass them) then they were fine. So they asked, “But what can we do to help the racing?” And I'm still thinking about it!
So my opinion at the moment is that there is no easy answer, no quick fix, until there are new cars, and/or more variety of suppliers.
Because I only write for you every two months – what's up with that, huh, Mr. Editor?! – and we're going through the busiest time of the season, a lot of racing has been covered since I was last here. The last one I wrote was just before the Indy 500, where we again showed what we can do. (I tell you, I tried everything I knew and used all the tools we have in the cockpit to get past Dan Wheldon for second place. But third's not bad.)
Now we're at the halfway point of the season – well, eight out of 17 races – and our No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola car is fifth in the championship, best of the rest behind…guess who? Two Ganassi cars and two Penske cars. Can we – and I mean Andretti Green Racing as a whole – make it into a situation where we're battling with those two teams again week in and week out?
I think that you only get substantial shifts in the power rankings during the off season. It comes from doing five months of R&D, and discovering new tricks. What you see at the first race is probably how it's going to be for the rest of the season. So, given how things are for us at the moment, I don't want to be proven right on that, but I'm just being realistic. We'll chip away at it and keep trying everything we can, but I think we're going to have to try to be smarter than them or beat them in some other ways.
As well as the lack of overtaking, another topic that has popped its head up since I last wrote for you is the whole “who goes where?” scenario for 2010.
(I swear the rumors start earlier each year.) I've gone on the record as saying that I won't make any announcement about my own decision before the year's finished. Will I have even decided before then? There's a chance, sure. But you'd be surprised how far out of the loop I am on this. My agents are having meetings with people, and they give me progress reports, of course. But they're doing the talking and I'm doing the walking – or rather, driving. They're doing their job, I'm doing mine. I am not lying when I say their attitude is, “You go drive the car, Danica, and let us do our job.” I have to trust them. No one is better than IMG, and I'm lucky to have some great agents who know about marketing and branding way better than I do.
I told them what my feelings were on all kinds of racing, what teams I'm interested in, and where my heart is. After that, it's their job. I think it's great to not be involved, and I don't just mean because it allows me to focus on racing. It means when I get interviewed by the media or when I'm writing this column, I can say completely honestly, “I don't know where my future lies.” If you don't believe me, I'll point out that this is my column, where I can write what I want: If I had something to hide, I could have avoided this subject altogether!