Thursday, March 27, 2014

Razzle Dazzle, Drop the Hammer, Here we GO!

I’m the type of guy who calls it like I see it, especially in sports. I remember a trip to Nashville and a night out with extended family at a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game. A Nashville player hit a deep shot into the gap in right center that would surely lead to extra bases. The opposing outfielder, from Memphis perhaps, came flying in and made a fantastic diving catch for the out. I clapped. People sitting around me turned and looked at me with that “how dare you cheer for the other team” look. It was a fantastic play; I can definitely appreciate it, so why not give the young man his credit.

Transition into racing, those who know me know I pretty much think Will Power is the best out there. A few years ago, at an oval, Power led with TK charging with just a few laps to go. Power chopped TK, and I screamed at the television “NOOOOOO! You knucklehead!” A few laps later Race Control rightfully sent Power to the pits for a drive-through penalty. After the race you could see TK and Power talking, Tony was obviously hot, I think the chop may have cost him a front wing and in turn the race. You could tell Will knew he was wrong just by his body language, and although there was no audio in my mind I saw Power apologizing to Tony.

I would have penalized my favorite driver too, had I been in Race Control.  I wanted Power to win, but he’d committed a penalty. So with that lengthy setup/sidebar now established I’d like to talk about what I think is going to happen this year.

Simon will contend for the Championship

I’m honestly not much of a fan of Mr. Pagenaud, but he’s really coming along. I enjoyed the battle between him and Charlie Kimball last year that resulted in the gingers first victory. He quietly battled in every race, and slipped under people’s radar being moderately mild mannered and driving for one of the smaller teams. Last year taught me that Simon is no joke, so I look for this year to potentially be a big change in what we’re used to seeing.

Bro is like ice. 
I certainly have no reason to dislike the man personally, and I don’t dislike him, but his style has never really been one I was attracted to. I know there is a lot of talk that he will contend this year, and make a real run at being the Champ, and I for one am in that boat. I think he will probably have a great year. However, I will offer that everyone now knows what he brings to the table. The Kansas City Chiefs got a new coach and new quarterback this year and found their way into the playoffs for the first time since I can remember, but next year everyone will know they’re decent, so next year is the key.

The same holds true for Pagenaud. This is his year to shine or fall. He has a very good chance of being our Champion at the end of the year, and if he does win it, it will be because he flat out beat everyone else, and that’s no small task. I plan on watching him with great interest this year, because he needs to show the field that last year wasn’t just good driving with great luck.

Prediction: At Fontana, Simon Pagenaud will be in first or second in points.

Marco may become a god.

A few years ago, that punk kid with a famous name ranked quite high on my “People to get into a fight with” list. 2013 showed a mature Marco Andretti, who’d taken the time in the off season to not only focus on road and street courses, but also with a Sports Psychologist to help him better visualize the direction he wanted in his racing career. We saw it immediately at St. Pete, gone was the little boy who complained about everyone else as he, only in his mind, walked on water. He raced last year’s season opener hard, and pushed past Simona de Silvestro when her tires finally gave way to all that Chevy power.

He composed himself with class all season long. When there were mistakes he owned his part. He expressed his frustration to the camera and to the press in a way where you genuinely felt that he was a frustrated driver, but personally I never wanted to jump through the television and smack him. It also became very obvious that Marco isn’t just racing for himself anymore. There appears to be a genuine friendship between he, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchliffe. More than anything Marco seems to be a big supporter of Andretti Racing. I’m really becoming a Marco fan, which a few years ago I might have laughed in your face had you said that to me.

Let’s also not forget that he was really competitive last year, especially on ovals which we now know carry double points this year. Marco had a string of bad luck closing the deal between equipment and engine issues to just plain bad luck in the fuel strategy department.

Marco will win at least one race this year, of that I am certain. However, to become a god, there’s one race and one race only, Indianapolis. This will be the year that Marco moves to a higher level. This will be his superhero year.

Prediction: 2014 Indianapolis 500 Winner: Marco Andretti

Farewell Ed Carpenter

Simply because I haven’t already made enough outlandish predictions, let’s talk about Ed Carpenter Racing and the move to sign road and street course stud, Mike Conway. Folks, this is the beginning of the end for Mr. Carpenter, but not like you think.

Carpenter/Conway will end up Top 10 in entrant points this year, and I’d bet it might even be top five. This will mean a huge paycheck to Ed Carpenter Racing above and beyond the winnings their respective driving will bring in. ECR, after this season, I don’t think will ever hurt for money or sponsorship. I think their success will allow ECR to put a second full time car into the field for 2015 with a pretty solid driver to boot. This will lead to more wins and more funds.

I may completely miss the boat on this entire ECR prediction but I like it anyway. As long as Mike Conway continues to want to race in IndyCar full time (minus ovals) he and Ed will make a fantastic team. I predict they will each win a race this year, and that this partnership will last for several years.

More than anything, this one move; recognizing that this is both a business and a sport means that Ed Carpenter Racing will be around for a very long time, and will probably be quite competitive. The end of Ed Carpenter is the end of the driver, as he will slowly begin working himself out of the cockpit.

Prediction: Ed Carpenter Racing will win twice this year.

Smooth is FAST

This is going to be Will Power’s year. There I said it, you all knew it was coming, so why disappoint, but I can back it up with more than “because he’s my favorite!”

Last year was all bad luck, he was still very, very fast. Between J.R. Hildebrand driving over him, or his run-ins with Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti nothing seemed to go Will Power’s way. I will offer that there was definitely some questionable driving there in the middle of the season, and some questionable actions which without defending anyone, come from a position of frustration and desperation. Neither of those feelings are very conducive to being competitive. Will managed to settle down, once he realized finally that he was out of the championship hunt. Once he did that, the driving got a bit smoother and less desperate, and the wins started rolling in. He definitely finished the season with a bang!

The man has conquered his issues with ovals. He was fast at Indy, I saw with my own eyes, and nearly took the pole. The other ovals he was competitive and even a winner. So that should strike fear in the hearts of many of you out there, here this road and street course master, has now exercised his oval demons. Be afraid, be very afraid.

I think we’re going to see it this year, and if what I think might happen, may mean we at last lose Mr. Power to Formula 1. I don’t think he’s going to be stopped this year. Being teammates with Helio last year, the Penske Team has learned about consistency.

I think this year will start out differently for Power than last year; which will lead to less pressure, and faster lap times. I think the last thing IndyCar needs is a driver so dominant it makes for boring racing, similar to Dan Wheldon’s famous championship run. If I am the weatherman, I’m not telling you a tornado is going to hit your house, all I’m telling you is that the conditions exist where that might just happen.

Sunday cannot get here fast enough.

Prediction: Will Power may win six races this year.

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