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Danica Patrick and Ryan Briscoe resurrected their seasons Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
But that wasn’t the only big news for the open-wheel series still trying to find its way under new CEO Randy Bernard.
IndyCar Series safety crews must get a failing grade after Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Simona de Silvestro sat in a burning car for nearly 40 seconds after her car hit the wall Saturday night.
The TV telecast and about a million replays on the Internet show IndyCar Series’ safety crews fumbling around with hoses and extinguishers as de Silvestro’s crew goes nuts in the pits watching on a video monitor.
Luckily, the Swiss Miss’ injuries were relatively minor. The series’ response team usually gets an ‘A’ from drivers and team officials, but this incident will no doubt be the subject of an in-depth review.
Due to the series’ struggles with profitability (and by that I mean it hasn’t made a penny since its founding in 1996), race attendance is always an issue. Reports peg attendance of the Firestone 550K Saturday night at 74,000. Not the series’ strongest showing at Texas, but not terrible either.
In the end, Bernard will be graded as much on his ability to move the needle on attendance and television ratings as anything else. And quite frankly, the attendance number registered at Texas—one week after fans should have been stoked by the Indianapolis 500—isn’t good enough.
Speaking of good enough, fans might be tempted to say that Danica Patrick wasn’t quite good enough Saturday, thus her second place finish to Ryan Briscoe. But those who know racing know Patrick arguably raced her best race in an IndyCar, and yes, that includes her 2008 victory in Motegi, Japan.
Patrick was booed at Indianapolis for dogging her crew. For what it’s worth, I thought Patrick’s comments at Indianapolis were justified. And maybe her harsh words lit a fire under her Andretti Autosport crew. Patrick and her pit posse were spot on Saturday, getting in and out lightning quick during green flag stops. Maybe, just maybe, in time history will tell us that Patrick's tirade at Indianapolis is what finally turned her career in the right direction for good. Just maybe.
Coming down pit lane at just the right speed after rolling through debris on the apron isn’t easy. And busting up to speed on cold tires is no picnic either, and Patrick did a good job of both Saturday. Pit execution is often overlooked, but it’s a big reason why Patrick placed second out of 26 drivers at Texas.
Patrick’s crew also did a solid job applying lots of downforce to her car, giving her a stable ride over the long-haul. Downforce is a difficult balancing act, because more downforce often costs a car speed. But the Andretti crew realized that any air under the car would cause lift that would scrub even more speed.
So again, maybe Patrick’s tongue lashing at Indianapolis was just what the crew needed, because they were razor sharp at Texas.
Like it or not, no IndyCar driver’s success is more important than Patrick’s because of her stature in this league. She’s the only real star, and that was evident Saturday, with a huge Danica poster greeting race fans. TMS boss Eddie Gossage took a little heat for that move—highlighting a driver who has had little success this season. But it turned out to be the right move.
The Texas Motor Speedway crowd went bonkers cheering when Patrick took the lead on lap 192 of the 228-lap race. Saturday, she must have seemed a long way away from the booing masses at Indianapolis. The crowd continued to cheer Patrick all the way to the end and even after the race as she exited her car. And the contingency in her post-race press conference was predictably sizable.
Her race under the Texas stars was almost enough to make her sponsors forget about the lousy exposure Patrick earned for them in Indianapolis. Almost.
No driver had more pressure on him than Ryan Briscoe. Let’s not mince words here. If Briscoe doesn’t start performing at a higher level this season, he’s likely to be out of a job next season.
Rumors are boiling that Team Penske is eyeing Graham Rahal for next season. And with Briscoe crashing out early and having another disappointing Indianapolis 500, racing sources have begun to rumble that Rahal may soon be sitting in Briscoe’s seat in the Penske paddock.
Let’s be straight, one win with 74,000 people watching live and maybe another million or so watching on TV isn’t alone going to save Briscoe’s career long-term. Eventually, he’s going to have to get it right at Indianapolis. But it’s a good first step and should allow him to settle down and prove himself for the rest of this season.
So to recap, Patrick lit a fire (under her crew), and the IndyCar Series’ safety crew put one out (after 40 long seconds). Briscoe saved his job for now, and all eyes remain on the series’ new CEO—hopeful that he can plant more posteriors in seats and preserve everybody’s job.
Stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading The Score.