Murto: Frequent penalties stalling racing

By Craig Murto

IndyCar Race Director Beaux Barfield must have thought it was Halloween on Sunday, because he was handing out drive-through penalties at Sonoma like candy.

It seemed that every time there was any contact on the racetrack during IndyCar’s visit to California wine country, there was a penalty. It got to the point where the penalties seemed to overshadow the race.

And in the end a penalty did decide the race, though that penalty was justified.

Scott Dixon dominated, and Will Power tried to run him down. Both cars made pit stops at the same time, and their pit stalls were next to each other. When Dixon left his pit, he brushed up against a crew member from Power’s team who was carrying a tire. The crew member was knocked to the ground and bowled over a second crew member. Thankfully the crew members involved suffered only minor injuries.

Power’s crew member was carrying the tire away from his body, and didn’t seem to be paying attention to Dixon’s car leaving its pit stall. But an overhead view of the incident shows that Dixon did drive through part of Power’s pit stall; the drive-through penalty against Dixon was justified. It was, however, a shame that it altered the outcome of the race.

But during the race, every time a car was spun — even if the car that spun cut across three lanes of traffic to the apex of the corner and clipped a car already on the inside — the car that made contact with the spinning car received a penalty.

This isn’t SCCA club racing; these aren’t amateur drivers still acquiring the skills to race. These are professional drivers and they should be allowed to race without interference from officials watching the race on TV monitors. Beaux Barfield’s job isn’t to police the drivers on the track for every small incident; drivers can police themselves, and will if given the opportunity. Hopefully Baltimore’s race this weekend will be different.

But at least IndyCar was consistent.

During the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, Sergio Perez was given a drive-through penalty for forcing Romain Grosjean off the racing surface. The incident actually looked as if Grosjean made a mistake and tried too hard to maintain position in the heat of battle.

But later in the race Jean-Eric Vergne obviously drove Nico Hulkenberg off the track in an effort to prevent a pass, yet officials did nothing. It seems that F1 has a problem with consistency, which equates to a problem with credibility. They would be better served to allow the drivers — supposedly the best in the world, if F1 PR is to be believed — to police themselves.

Credibility problems are why NASCAR went to electronic scoring and timing loops to determine things such as pit road speeding penalties. Whether you like him or not, you had to feel sorry for Juan Pablo Montoya, for he was in position to win at Bristol until a speeding penalty on pit road ruined his race.

Montoya — who has incredible driving talent — will not return to Chip Ganassi’s team next year. It’s not just the fact that Ganassi’s cars are sketchy, but Montoya didn’t come cheap, and the return on Ganassi’s investment just hasn’t been there.

It’s a shame there’s no more money in AMA flat track racing, as that is some of the most exciting racing on the planet. The race at Colonial Downs east of Richmond was a good example. If you missed it this year, hope it comes back next season so you can have a chance at seeing for yourself.

The 1.25-mile track was the largest the flat track competitors will race on all year. The Pro Singles feature was a real barn burner, ending in a three-rider battle with Cody Johncox beating Shayna Texter by a .008-second margin.

In the expert twins class, Bryan Smith seemed to dominate as he did the week before on the Indy mile. He won his heat race, won the dash for cash, and got out to a five-second lead by halfway in the feature. But the big track took a toll and Smith’s bike faltered. Jared Mees, last year’s national champion, went on to win by about a second over Henry Wiles and Brandon Robinson.

The racing at Colonial Downs was absolutely fantastic. And there were no penalties against riders handed out during the race, which made it even better!

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.