Officiating sideshow overshadows IndyCar momentum
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) - Once again, IndyCar put on a pretty good show.
And once again, a sideshow threatens to upstage it.
Ryan Hunter-Reay won Saturday's race at Milwaukee, bringing home a trophy for team owner Michael Andretti - the man who saved big-time racing at the historic but financially troubled track by agreeing to take over as the event's promoter to get it back on the IndyCar schedule this year.
But confusion reigned afterward, as an IndyCar official had to explain a mistaken penalty to driver Scott Dixon earlier in the race. Although officials gave a full public explanation right away, they now must cross their fingers and hope their mistake doesn't end up figuring prominently as Dixon continues to contend for a championship.
Next comes a race at Iowa Speedway, where recent aerodynamic issues may come up again and officials are experimenting with short "heat'' races instead of traditional qualifying to determine the starting field.
Given all the off-track controversy the past couple weeks, Andretti hopes people focus on the idea that the racing has been good.
"We have a great series,'' Andretti said. "We have great drivers, great personalities. If you like racing, how do you not like what's been happening this year in all the races? It's been flat-out great racing. I think our product's great. That's important. Hopefully people are going to take notice.''
But Dixon - and his fans - couldn't help noticing that what already had been a rough week for series officials didn't get any better Saturday.
IndyCar penalized Dixon for jumping a restart. Race director Beaux Barfield acknowledged later that officials were mistaken because a failure in their timing and scoring system caused them to look at the wrong replay.
According to Barfield's explanation, what officials looked at was a replay of a previous restart - one that was waved off by officials at the time and didn't count.
"It was obviously the wrong call, based on the reality of the situation,'' Barfield said.
Dixon finished 11th, slipping from second to third in the series points standings. Barfield said there wasn't anything officials could do to undo the mistake, but that officials would work to resolve the problem.
It's another mess to clean up.
After the Indianapolis 500, stories of team owners quietly working to oust CEO Randy Bernard - something Bernard confirmed in a Twitter post - overshadowed talk of a competitive race and compelling third career Indy 500 win by Dario Franchitti. The next IndyCar race, June 3 at Detroit, was shortened when the track surface started crumbling.
Then came Texas, where Barfield generally was lauded for making a tough but correct call to penalize Will Power for blocking. But IndyCar later had to admit officials completely missed illegal parts on Texas race winner Justin Wilson's car in pre-race inspections, not finding them until afterward. Drivers also second-guessed the penalty issued to Wilson, which was seen by some as too lenient.
With officials in the spotlight far more than they'd like to be, Barfield conceded that the Dixon mistake might linger.
"It's probably going to make us a little bit gun-shy, to be honest with you, for the next few calls that we make, in terms of making sure that we get everything from beginning to end,'' Barfield said.
But more tough decisions might be looming. At Iowa this weekend, officials could once again find themselves tweaking the cars' aerodynamic characteristics amid scrutiny from opinionated drivers.
By most accounts, officials got the formula right at Texas, taking away some downforce - aerodynamic pressure that keeps cars stuck to the track - to make the cars more difficult to drive and breaking up large packs of cars. Some drivers dissented, wanting more downforce.
Driver Graham Rahal said less downforce "separates the men from the boys'' and makes for a better show for the fans.
"We tested last week and it was way too easy,'' Rahal said of Iowa. "Way too easy. Because Iowa's like (Milwaukee) but with the high banks, you're riding so much downforce that it was way too easy. Power and I and Dario and Dixon, and everybody, we were all talking about how we can take off downforce efficiently and make it a little bit harder. Because the show at Texas was phenomenal.''
Connect with AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins: www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins
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