Q. Why is three-wide OK to start the Indy 500 but two-wide is not OK for restarts?
A. Two reasons: 1) The speed, based on different acceleration points for starts compared with restarts; and 2) the spacing of the field. Three-wide is acceptable because the initial start is slower, because the acceleration point is later and the likelihood of drafting up on the row in front of you is much less than under the tighter confines of a two-wide restart. As early as the drivers wanted to go and the officials were allowing them to go on double-file restarts last year, the point at Indy where the draft had the greatest benefit for the guys further back in the field happened to be right where they were all spreading out at Pit In – where the wall is. There are a lot of differences between starts and restarts.
Q. Don't be overwhelmed by the few voices screaming loudly for more ovals, particularly the high banked ovals. Stick to relatively flat and well-run tracks. As for road courses, get back to the classic tracks – Road America, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and even Road Atlanta. Don't go overboard on city "events."
A. Not a question but an interesting viewpoint. I think we have to pay attention to the numbers, be that at-track attendance or at-home TV viewership and those numbers don't lie. Ultimately, as much as people seem to sit at home and ask for more oval races, that's the problem – they sit at home and don't attend them. The people who say, ‘We don't like street course races' haven't shown up; if they did, I'm sure they'd get hooked on the buzz and atmosphere at those events and they'd love it like the vast majority of the attendees.
I'm a purist, a traditionalist, a student of the sport's history and I adore the sport's heritage including flat ovals. But if we go to Milwaukee and people don't show up, how can we justify returning? We have to make business sense and although this doesn't appease the purist, we need those purists at the track if they want the ovals to thrive. I'm confident that Michael Andretti's group can make a difference to the spectator numbers at Milwaukee this year.
Q. What do you think of the suggestion of a possible drivers boycott at Texas and the argument that the new cars are too well glued to the track and will continue the pack-racing trend?
A. The fact that the drivers could potentially unify and boycott the event is unfortunate, but I've got to be open-minded to the drivers' concerns and I need to be responsive to that. Ultimately, though, the answers have to rely on the efforts that Will Phillips has made and will continue to make. There was a two-phase test agreed to by the drivers at the end of last year. We would take a handful of cars to a test – it happened last week at Texas Motor Speedway – to determine the aerodynamic package, and then we'd return with a larger group. It looks like we'll have around 15 cars at TMS on March 13, to see how they interact with each other. Based on what I know of Will's capabilities and his knowledge of what needs to be done to make the kind of race we want to see, I think the drivers should be a little more patient.
Q. Are you expecting to make fewer calls than Brian Barnhart did?
A. Not necessarily. Looking back at Toronto 2011 as the great example, I'd say I would be less strict about defending but I would definitely have been more strict about contact. If my memory serves me correctly, there were no calls about blocking, but there were also few – if any – calls about contact, and some of the incidents I saw, particularly at Turn 3, I'd have been more vocal about, for sure. Having said that, my views on being able to defend your position would likely have led to fewer incidents anyway.
Q. One of the phrases that used to be used to explain why a driver appeared to go unpunished was “he served his own penalty.” I remember thinking that was bogus – like Tagliani after taking out Rahal at Edmonton last year on the first lap. Next yellow flag, Tag was in the lead! Will your punishments be more severe than Barnhart's?
A. The punishments will match the violation. So if, say a leader during the first race of the year happens to make contact and he keeps the lead, he'll be assessed a drive-through penalty. If at the next race, the same driver makes the same contact and this time in the melee he gets shuffled to the rear of the field, he will again be given a drive-through penalty. Considering a driver's current position as a parameter for whether or not to impose a penalty is completely wrong.
Q. Several times in the past, Race Control has made calls based on whether a driver made an honest mistake while trying to pass or deliberately made a low-percentage move and put a rival off the track. Basically, it was like they were trying to guess what the drivers' intentions were, which surely can't be done 100 percent accurately. Is that going to stop from now on?
A. I learned in my first year of officiating that it was impossible to prove intent, and therefore by the nature of our sport, trying to prove intent to back up your decision of a penalty or not is completely unnecessary. So if a driver makes a mistake and, say, locks up his brakes and that initiates contact, is that something that should be penalized? Heck yes! Making a mistake, even if it wasn't his intention to hit the other driver, should be penalized.
“Responsibility” is the key word. You take responsibility from the moment you initiate a pass on someone in front of you, so if you make contact either by not positioning your car properly, locking up the brakes, or getting the car out of shape, then you will get penalized. If you're the one defending, and you make contact by moving across on the guy passing you after he's drawn alongside, then you will get penalized. Basically, if you ruin someone else's day, then you should be penalized, regardless of intent or malice or anything else.