It’s a universal truth, as we have five years of racing to review, that the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway always provides a show. The very first year we had true teammate infighting in Team Penske. We’ve had rain providing no practice or qualifications and the drivers going right into a race. Last year the start of race one provided enough excitement for both races of the double-header. This year was no different, it was quite the show. We had restarts that weren’t restarts, car parts failing, two strong championship contenders being taken out, and of course fireworks and fire (both of the conflict and the real time).
We got through Lap 1 cleanly, which looking at the rest of the race seemed a little bit like a fever dream. The first three laps showed the fearlessness of the drivers. Ryan Hunter-Rea took the high line and passed approximately six drivers. Both Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay were charging from the back and were up seven spots by Lap 3. Josef Newgarden took over the lead on the first lap, to only have Colton Herta take the lead on Lap 2. Then we got to Lap 3. Ed Jones and Graham Rahal got together. Jones was on the lower side of the track, with Rahal on his outside. It looks like – to me – that Jones’ car got a little loose and he ran out of room taking Rahal with him. Race Control did not issue a penalty so it seems to have been deemed a racing incident. That gave the race its full course yellow. On the first, yes first, attempt at a restart Dalton Kellett and Ed Carpenter got together. So the restart turned quickly into another full course yellow. On the second attempt at a restart, Josef Newgarden got into his teammate Simon Pagenaud. Though the official results indicates this caution was for “debris” which is a really strange way to say: Josef Newgarden once again got into Simon Pagenaud at the Bommarrto race. They get the debris clean up and we now are on the third attempt of the restart. The flag stand was waiving the green flag buuuut the track lights still displayed yellow. So yeah – the third failed restart was due to a lighting malfunction. On the fourth attempt to restart, we finally went green for quite some laps.
That restart was spectacular too. Alexander Rossi got up to fourth, and Rinus VeeKay held the title for biggest mover going up thirteen spots to tenth position. All good green laps must come to an end and on Lap 56 oval specialist Ed Carpenter got into the wall on Turn 4 and really wacked that car. Like he wacked it, the rear of that car was farther down the track than Ed and the rest of the car. Then there was a restart and, to no one’s surprise, more carnage. Serious series championship contenders, and teammates, Alex Palou and Scott Dixon were taken out by Rinus VeeKay. He got into Palou who then got into Dixon. Rinus better make sure his doors are locked. Chip seems like the guy who has contract hitmen on speed dial.
Shortly after the restart we all got to see Romain Grosjean stretch his oval racing legs. In approximately ten laps Grosjean passed the following drivers: Tony Kanaan, Dalton Kellett, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey, and Scott McLaughlin. He passed with style to, going high and then crossing back lower under the drivers. Shortly afterward he had to learn what cold tires and marbles on an oval meant, but he didn’t crash out. A lot of credit both to driver Grosjean and his engineer Olivier Boisson. The discussion between the two during the race and qualifying was both entertaining and educational. Grosjean was both acutely aware of his areas of growth (after his qualifying attempt he was quick to point out where he had issues) and the differences in oval racing (having to get used to the air being chopped off in front of him). Boisson played the part of guide through his drivers experiencing all of the oval issues for the first time. Here’s hoping we see Grosjean at the 500 next year!
Towards the end of the race I realized that Andretti Autosport is cursed. Colton Herta was really having a great race, until about lap 185 when his half-shaft (?) broke, completely ending his day. Then about fifteen laps later, Rossi went right into the marbles and straight into the wall. Marbles, by the way, are a collection of rubber pieces and other track dirt that, throughout a race, gather towards the upper part of the track. Many times a track will clean off the marbles during yellows, but that didn’t happen here until after Rossi got into them and then into the wall.
Ultimately Josef Newgarden took home the win, now a three-time winner at this race and a back-to-back winner. Everything else seemed to be a lot of chaos. The last, non-500, race were so many cars were out of the race was the Clusterfuck 600 (remember this race?). Dear drivers, why can we not have nice things? Why do we always have unmitigated car carnage at ovals? We have a double header at Iowa now on the schedule for 2022. Lock. It. Down.
Since I’m in a bit of a big-sister demanding respect mood (thankfully I don’t see my younger brother for about two-month): Ed Carpenter. What are you doing? I love you. I love your team. I’m a Hoosier so I’m always going to go 110% for the hometown team. I just need you to figure out your life. Do you want to race? Do you want to be a team owner? I don’t think you can do both. I’ve actually been saying this for a bit (see Carpenter’s White Whale).
Romain Grosjean you’re an angel and we’re glad you’re here.