The Top Five: Breaking down the Long Beach and Richmond weekends

Five thoughts after the IndyCar race in Long Beach and the NASCAR race in Richmond…

1. It’s an event

The Long Beach Grand Prix — at least the IndyCar part of it — was an uneventful race dominated by one driver who started from the pole and only lost the lead during cycles of green-flag pit stops. Alexander Rossi, the winner, won by more than 20 seconds (!!!) — the largest margin in more than two decades.

By most traditional measures, it was not a good race.

But I’m willing to guess the majority of the massive crowd at Long Beach didn’t care at all — and maybe didn’t even notice.

Street circuits like Long Beach aren’t about the racing so much as they are about the scene. And it was a glorious scene.

“This isn’t a slight at any other series, but this is an event,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “I go to races all the time; I love going to events. I wish there was an event every weekend.”

As mentioned here Friday, there’s a real joy about being in Long Beach for the three days of racing — and Sunday was no different. People stood on tiptoes along fences with cell phone cameras aloft and craned their necks for a better view on elevated walkways and bridges. They strolled along the perimeter of the track (a freaking harbor!) and soaked up the sunshine while seated in various grandstands around the course.

The attraction at the Long Beach Grand Prix really is the event itself, and it’s no wonder attendance set another modern day record this year (187,000 over the three day festival). There were six different racing series on track, plus concerts, DJs, a car expo, food and drink options galore and Instagram-worthy photo spots at literally every turn. It’s an absolute must-go if you ever get a chance.

But while there are certainly hardcore IndyCar or IMSA fans who attended, most people were just here to see cars and spend a fun day walking around with their families or friends.

So are those people going to get bent out of shape about a lack of passing in the IndyCar race? Uh, NO. But that’s what happens when the focus is on the event more than the race, which is almost always the case at street circuits.

Long Beach is a weekend that can certainly serve the devoted race fan and give them all the racing they could desire from dawn to dusk every day. And it’s also a place that can satisfy even the most casual of race fans — including those who might never see another race.

All of that adds up to make it the greatest racing event in America — not race, but event. When the event is the attraction, there’s no such thing as a bad day on the track, even if the main event was a snoozer.

2. Scott-blocked

Just when it looked like Graham Rahal had held off Scott Dixon for a podium finish at Long Beach, IndyCar stewards Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk ruled the spot should be taken away.

IndyCar said Rahal violated its blocking rule — which is reviewed in the drivers meeting — that says, “A driver must not alter his or her racing line to pursuing drivers.”

Essentially, officials decided Rahal made a movement in reaction to Dixon — though NBCSN analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy disagreed and said Rahal moved first. Nevertheless, Dixon was awarded third place and Rahal was dropped one spot, which IndyCar said was the lightest penalty option available.

The outspoken Rahal was calm in his postrace television interview, and later met with officials to discuss the incident. He then told reporters after seeing the replay, “I stand behind the move even more than I did before.”

“Hell yeah, I blocked,” he said. “Anybody would have blocked. The thing is you can do it legally.”

But the stewards, along with race director Kyle Novak, disagreed. Blocking — which IndyCar tells drivers is defined as “movement in reaction to (a) pursuing competitor” — is not allowed. There’s nothing that says a driver is allowed to make one move.

And that decision raises more questions, team owner Bob Rahal said, because similar cases happen all the time.

“Everybody is blocking all the time,” he said. “So to call that a block? What’s a block? … It opens up a can of worms.

“Now the issue is you’ve got to live up to that for every single race from now on in. You make this call, then what’s the difference with the next one?”

Bob Rahal said he hates it when positions aren’t settled on the track, and I have to agree. It’s not unlike a referee calling a borderline holding penalty that alters an NFL game on the final drive.

I get the blocking rule is in place for a reason: On a narrow street circuit with open-wheel cars, unregulated blocking could be disastrous from a safety standpoint. You don’t want drivers zig-zagging back and forth to defend position.

Still, this call…eh. It sure seemed close enough to let it slide as a racing incident — and on the last lap of a IndyCar’s second-biggest race while going for the podium, it would have been preferable to see the drivers’ battle determine the position instead of officials.

3. Stop the bickering

It’s an odd experience to cover IndyCar because for some reason, any positive comments about another series creates a lot of sensitivity and tension for NASCAR and its fans.

Many NASCAR supporters were quick to chime in this weekend when they saw something NASCAR does better — No blocking rule here! Our drivers never win by 20 seconds! — and IndyCar fans took shots at NASCAR when they could — The best driver wins our races! We don’t have cars failing inspection!

It’s almost as if people don’t realize one series can be praised and appreciated without taking it as a backhanded shot at the other. There are things IndyCar actually does better that NASCAR can learn from — but by the same token, there are also things NASCAR does better that IndyCar can learn from.

The fact the series are considering joining forces for a doubleheader in the future is a good thing, because they offer very different philosophies.

NASCAR emphasizes the show/entertainment in a desire to please its fans, with stages and overtime and playoffs. IndyCar emphasizes pure speed/pure racing, preferring to let the races play out in a traditional way.

Cup racing, Rossi noted, “is very different than what we do.”

There’s nothing wrong with liking both, or liking dirt or Supercross or sports cars or Formula One or whatever it may be. It’s all motor racing, right?

“More people are coming to the realization today is we shouldn’t be pitting one against the other,” Ganassi said. “We shouldn’t be in a circular firing squad. Should we all be shooting at each other? I don’t know what purpose that serves.”

4. Mercedes vs. Ferrari

Formula One gets ripped for having only two teams that dominate the sport — and rightfully so. It would be great to see other teams like Red Bull or even Haas F1 Team have a shot to win, but Mercedes or Ferrari have won 91 of the last 103 races. F1 has let things get out of hand with the spending of its powerhouse teams, so much so that F1 actually promotes the “midfield” battle (which is really just the race for “best non-Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull car.”)

But while NASCAR certainly has more competitive racing than F1, a two-headed team domination has formed in the Cup Series of late. And to be honest, that’s a bit worrisome.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have now combined to win 11 straight Cup races — the first nine of 2019 and the final two of last season.

Stewart-Haas Racing has had its chances, but everyone else — including Chevrolet teams Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing — seems behind right now.

NASCAR is at its best when a wide variety of teams and drivers are winning. It keeps the storylines fresher throughout a marathon season and in turn helps keeps fans more engaged (and less annoyed).

Let’s hope the other teams can step up to catch Gibbs and Penske sooner than later, or there’s danger of a predictable slog of a season that could make the “Big Three” look like child’s play.

5. Inspection wars

Taking a step back and being across the country from NASCAR this weekend made it hit home how bad it looks for cars to be failing inspection and crew members to be getting ejected on the day of a race.

Everyone understands NASCAR has a job to do with keeping these sneaky teams in line, but there has to be a better way on those two-day weekends where post-qualifying inspection takes place on the day of the race. Those inspection failures — the ones that come with stripping starting positions and throwing people out of the garage — is so self-defeating for NASCAR.

In the very moments when excitement should be building for the race, the string of updates about failed inspections only builds anger and frustration instead.

Just like with qualifying, this is a problem that can be solved. It might require some give-and-take and creative thinking, but NASCAR has to get out of the business of creating its own bad headlines so people can get back to focusing on what they like and enjoy about what is still by far the No. 1 form of auto racing in America.

Five quotes from the Fast 6 at Long Beach Grand Prix

The IndyCar drivers who qualified first through sixth at Long Beach on Saturday — Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal — held a smile-filled news conference after the session, cracking jokes and laughing through several exchanges.

Here are five of the best quotes from the Fast 6:

Josef Newgarden, on how impossibly close to the wall the drivers get at Long Beach:

“It’s kind of like when you’re pulling out of a parking spot and it’s tight on both sides and you back up and you start to turn and you’re like, ‘Man, am I going to miss that car in front of me?’ And your nose is like right there.

“Like 50 percent of the time, I’m just like, ‘Well, I think I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I hit him.’ (Shrugs)

“That’s kind of what it feels like. All the time on every lap, you’re just like, ‘Argh, I could hit — or maybe not.’ Most of the time you don’t. That’s what it’s like for me. It’s kind of fun.”

Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud on starting alongside each other Sunday despite their incident at the start of last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix:

Rahal: “(Last year) was like a very minor love tap.”

Pagenaud: (Scoffs in disagreement.)

Rahal: “It’s going to be a lot harder to hit him when he’s next to me. So if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to try really hard to do it.’

Pagenaud: “I think you were next to me…”

Rahal: “No, I was behind you and…”

Alexander Rossi: “It was like a torpedo.”

Pagenaud: “Yeah, a torpedo!”

Rahal: “That’s Power’s issue now, right?”

Will Power: “You behind me?”

Rahal: “Yeah.”

Power: “The difference is I’m from Toowoomba, see, and we fight.”

Rahal: “I’m really not worried about you. I’ve got like 50 pounds on you.”

Pagenaud: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don’t get hit.”

Rahal: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could like take out everybody and I’ll be good.”

Simon Pagenaud, off to a poor start this season, on proclaiming he was “never gone” after he made the final round of qualifying:

Pagenaud (deadpan): “It’s just my ego coming out. I’m a pretentious person, so I just said these things. Why not say it, right?”

Reporter: “I was wondering if you’re feeling unloved or ignored or if there’s something going on…”

Will Power, his teammate: “I have been ignoring him a little bit.”

Pagenaud: “Actually I have plenty of love, mostly from Will, a lot from Josef (Newgarden), too much sometimes. But no, I feel confident, so I think ego comes out when you’re confident. I think that’s what’s going on maybe.”

Reporter: “Do you have a chip on your shoulder?”

Pagenaud: “A chip? Chips are for dogs, I think. So I don’t have a chip, no. It’s all good. I’m pretty focused, 100 percent. Yeah, might have shown some aggressiveness, fire — and that’s not a bad thing.”

Alexander Rossi, responding to a reporter who said it was tough to pass at Long Beach:

“I don’t know how true that is. I don’t think it’s that hard to pass.”

Graham Rahal on why the drivers seemed so happy after making the Fast Six (final round of qualifying) but not winning the pole:

Rahal: “It’s not even the top six anymore. You feel like if you’re in the top 10, you’ve been solid. Didn’t used to be that way. Obviously, we’d all like to be on pole. It would be even better. But I think you really have to feel a sense of like accomplishment as a team. You can see it across all our mechanics, too; everybody is happy. You make it to the Fast Six, you’ve really done something.

“In my first years in this, if you made it to the Fast Six then you were like decent. And nowadays it’s just like the gap — like this morning, 1.1 seconds across from 1st to 25th over a street course this long (almost two miles) with all the bumps and curves and this and that — nowhere else in the world will you find racing that competitive, period. So I think you should feel proud if you had a good day.”

Long Beach Grand Prix weekend off to a fun start

The music thumped, the beers flowed and the taco line stretched a dozen deep on another sun-splashed day at one of America’s great racing events: The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

But this wasn’t race day; this was just Friday, the opener of what amounts to a three-day festival of racing. With fans seemingly spread all over the 1.968-mile course, it’s not hard to see why Long Beach reached an 18-year-high in total attendance last year — hosting 185,000 people over the course of the weekend.

“It’s a place everybody likes to come to, because the energy around this place — today is a Friday, man!” said IndyCar rookie Pato O’Ward, who is getting his first taste of Long Beach this weekend. “The paddock is full, the stands are like…packed. I’ve never seen a Friday so full in my life. It’s really cool.”

The majority of people at Long Beach, of course, are not hardcore race fans. Surveys conducted by the promoters show 60 percent of fans who attend the Grand Prix watch just one other IndyCar race all year (the Indy 500, obviously).

But as long as they’re here, the fans seem to enjoy themselves to the fullest. Some are families with young children, some are couples holding hands — and drinks — and some are SoCal bros with their buddies. There are all sorts of people from all sorts of demographics, but the one thing they have in common is they seem happy. And the vibe around the track has a tangible sense of joy as a result.

“What we all love the most is the atmosphere,” defending series champion Scott Dixon said. “The fans here and the people that come out, the event the promoters turn this into, it’s a big deal.”

That’s what can happen when there’s 45 years of equity built into an event and people around the region make it an annual tradition to attend — whether they know much about racing or not.

The other part of the Grand Prix’s success is the course itself. Not only is it beautiful and centrally located in a tourist area, but the circuit is “rewarding” and “a blast” for drivers, O’Ward said.

“It ticks every box off for a driver that you’d want,” added Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was fastest in Friday’s first practice. “You’ve got the passion and the energy out there from the fans, the track is challenging you as a driver — it’s got that aspect to it that you really enjoy and you can’t wait to get back into the car.”

Friday was a fun day, thanks to the atmosphere created by all the fans. With a favorable weather forecast, the rest of the weekend has potential to be even better.

“I wonder what it’s going to be like Sunday,” O’Ward said. “I’m super excited.”

How I Got Here with Jay Frye

Each week, I ask someone in the racing industry to explain how they reached their current position. Up next: IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye sheds some light on his career path. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

When I first knew of you, it was in the MB2 days. Can you take me back to the start? Did you grow up as a race fan or anything along those lines?

I’m originally from Rock Island, Illinois. My family, we owned a small garbage trucking company. It’s funny — I basically learned how to drive by driving a garbage truck, which is kind of unusual. I was always around mechanical things. I really liked cars and motorsports.

My dad’s company would bring stuff back to our shop — pedal cars and bicycles — and they’d fix them up and send them home. So at a very young age, I always had these cool toys. You know, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So it was kind of neat to have that stuff. I wish I still had some of it, because there was some cool old metal pedal cars.

I got very heavy into stick-and-ball sports and played basketball, baseball and football all through high school and then went to college on a football scholarship. I played football at the University of Missouri and it was a great time there.

My first job out of college was at Anheuser-Busch and I was a special event manager for the city of Chicago. That’s where I started actually meeting some people in motorsports. Through that, I met some people with Valvoline. And when I left Anheuser-Busch, they thought I was crazy — because things were going really good at A-B. But I wanted to go do this motorsport thing.

So when I went to Valvoline, I ran the NASCAR and the World of Outlaws program.

Was it tough for you to give up the football days, since you’d made it so far?

No. It was a great experience and I’ve got a lot of great friends still in college sports. I’m proud we were able to do that, but it’s a whole other level to go from there to the next level, just like it was to go from high school to (college). I got my degree and met a lot of lifelong friends, and that was enough.

So all along, were you thinking you wanted to do something in sports as a career?

Well certainly going to the University of Missouri, obviously Anheuser-Busch being in St. Louis at the time had a lot of influence on what was happening. A lot of Missouri alumni worked at Anheuser-Busch. So I got to meet a lot of friends there. And obviously A-B was a huge supporter and advertiser of sports. So doing the events in Chicago, you’d have everything from local street festivals to when the Rolling Stones came to town, you’d manage that type of stuff. So it was very unique and a pretty cool job for a 22-year-old coming right out of college. It was a great experience.

So you get to Valvoline and you’re working for them. How did the transition to the team side take place?

I started with Valvoline at the end of ’91, and that was right when they started sponsoring Mark Martin at Roush. And right after that, we put together the deal with Hendrick, which was Jeff (Gordon’s) rookie year (in 1993). That’s when we started the relationship. At that time, I would say it was one of the first B-to-B deals. Not that there weren’t others, but it was a pretty high-profile B-to-B deal.

My office ended up being at Hendrick Motorsports. I was based out of Lexington, Kentucky my first year with Valvoline, but I was never in Lexington, Kentucky. Where the old 25 shop used to be, there was a small building next to it and was called the “Bug Barn.” And the Bug Barn was where Harry Hyde used to work on his Volkswagens. It was pretty cool. So I took the Bug Barn and fixed it up and cleaned it up, and that became Valvoline Racing South back then.

I worked out of there for two or three years. It was very unique being around Rick all the time and being around Jack Roush all the time. Two completely different approaches to the way they do things, but two hugely successful people. So here I am, a 26-year-old who is learning through osmosis from two of the best in the business world and the motorsports world. So that was a really cool experience.

M&M Mars wanted Rick to start what back then would have been a fourth team. Or they were asking about a fourth team. And I don’t think there was much interest in it during that time (from Hendrick).  Rick had some friends who were interested in starting a team, and obviously they had never done anything like that.

So he got me with them, and that’s how MB2 was started. We partnered with Hendrick Motorsports for the engines. I think at that time, people thought it was going to last for two or three years and it’d be something else, and we ended up lasting for 12. Which, to me, part of our success was our survival.

There were a lot of things happening at that time, and I look back at being 30 years old-ish around that time and basically starting a Cup team from scratch and hiring a 24- or 25-year-old crew chief — whatever Ryan Pemberton was at the time — and running it out of an 8,000-square-foot building with maybe 13 people at the time. And to think that team went and sat on the pole at the Brickyard in 1998 (with Ernie Irvan), it was the little team that could.

It was a great experience. You speak of lifelong friends, and the guys on that team, a lot of them were with us for the whole 12 years, which is pretty cool. A lot of them had opportunities to go do something else and they stuck with us, and I’m forever grateful for that.

So as MB2 evolved, I can’t remember all that led into…

…the demise?

Yeah, the demise. I was trying to put that nicely.

The year before that, two of the partners I had in the team had sold to the other partners. And then the last original partner — the sport was getting bigger and bigger, and we were able to bring in Bobby Ginn. Remember, that last year it was called Ginn Racing. Same team, same people, just different name on the door.

A lot of things happened there that, looking back, it was good intentions, I believe, but it just didn’t work out. At that point in the industry, there was a lot of consolidation. So if you think about MB2 basically merged with DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007) who merged with Ganassi. So there’s probably still some MB2 DNA in Ganassi’s Cup team at some point.

But that was tough. That was a really bad time, because you were with this group for 12 years, and there were a lot of people who were with us from Day 1. I took their livelihoods and their families very, very seriously. I mean, I would go without before I let any of those guys or girls go without. So when DEI merged (with Ginn), I had the opportunity to continue — but there was no way I was going to without (everyone). If we all couldn’t, I wasn’t going to be one to stay. So I didn’t.

So then the Red Bull opportunity came up from there?

It was in August (2007) when everything happened. At that point, I did help transition it out. There was a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. At that point, I really thought I might go do something with Hendrick. And then I got a call out of the blue from Lee White at Toyota and he was wondering what I was going to do next. We talked for a long time, and he introduced me to the Red Bull folks.

Jay Frye after Red Bull Racing’s victory at Michigan in 2009. (Getty Images)

With Red Bull, if Toyota had been where Toyota was now, things would have turned out differently. Was Red Bull ahed of its time? What happened in those years?

So their first full season was ’07. MB2, we merged with DEI in 2007, because I started with Red Bull at the end of 2007. Like you said, Toyota was in their infancy. Red Bull was just starting and expectations were pretty high. There was a lot of changeover at Red Bull, because Red Bull North America was involved and some things happened before I got there and next thing you know, Red Bull Austria is overseeing the team. So that was a unique experience.

It was amazing how I got started. I had this meeting with Lee (White) and the next thing you know, I get this call from Red Bull. They’re like, “We’d like you to come see us.” I’m like, “Sure. That’d be great. When do you want me to come?” They said, “How about today?” (Laughs) “Today?” Basically it was, “Come to Austria now.” It was cool.

So I got on a flight the next day, landed and went and met with them. This was a pretty cool, up-and-coming great company that one guy founded with an amazing story how he did it, and to meet them was a really unique experience.

So we talked, I get back to the hotel (after just having arrived) and they call me at the hotel and they’re like, “We want to do it.” It was like, “OK!” We started going through what could happen, I got home the next day, talked about it, we put it together and started about a week later.

I’m proud of what we accomplished there. They struggled a lot, obviously, in 2007. A lot. The next year, I think we got the thing pointed in the right direction. The following year (2009), we made the Chase and won a race. Then Brian (Vickers) got sick; that was for sure a setback when that type of thing happens. Getting Kasey (Kahne) that year was a great thing, a great experience.

But it was cool. The international business thing, I’d never dealt with that much and we got to be good friends with the Formula One team, which was cool. Those guys are still good friends. I would have to go to Austria two or three times a year, and we’d have meetings with Dietrich Mateschitz. It’d be Christian Horner, Franz Tost — and we’d go individually, but we’d kind of be in the bullpen waiting on our turn. There was a lot of lot of good collaboration with Christian and Jonathan Wheatley, the team manager, is a good friend.

You look back and it was a great experience. The only thing I’m disappointed in is I think we really could have made something of it. Red Bull Austria’s passion is Formula One, and rightfully so. That’s what they do. The NASCAR thing to them, they didn’t understand what we were going to need to do to take it to the next level.

Jay Frye speaks with Brian Vickers during their days at Red Bull Racing. (Courtesy Jay Frye)

They expected Formula One level results right away?

Well when we got there, our results were better than that team. If you think about it, this was before the championships. When I was at Red Bull Racing, the first year, (Sebastian) Vettel was still at Toro Rosso. I remember being in one of those meetings and they’re talking about Vettel going to Red Bull Racing, and there are guys on Toro Rosso he wants to bring with him and they’re asking how that works and is that OK? They’re asking me, and I’m like, “Absolutely. You want the driver to be comfortable, and if he’s got some people he wants to bring with him, let him bring them.”

Again, looking back on it, it was pretty cool. The first time we went to visit Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes (England), you expect F1 to be everything James Bond-ish. So we go to the factory, and part of it is very James Bond-ish and you’re overwhelmed.

But then you go to the back of the shop and there are guys bolting the car together. It’s like, “There are our guys.” It’s familiar. It’s just racing cars, right? A lot of those guys ended up coming to Homestead at the end of the year, and they were overwhelmed by how we did a lot of things. Like to them, they couldn’t wrap their head around 38 races a year. But think about it: They’re running about 20, but they’re going to countries. We were going from Charlotte to Martinsville. So I think that was something they didn’t quite understand.

How did the transition go from Red Bull ultimately to IndyCar? You had been in NASCAR over 20 years by that point. Was there any hesitation about trying that side?

It was exciting. When the Red Bull thing ended, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Remember, for a year, I did go to Hendrick and do what I could to help.

I had forgotten that.

They didn’t need my help in any way. But I had been around them for a long, long time and they’re great friends and I learned a lot of stuff from them and there’s great trust. They’re like family to me.

So it was a really cool gap year. It was like, “What do I want to do next? Do I want to keep doing the team thing?” The team thing is pretty tough. There’s no revenue sharing. You’ve got to perform on the track and off the track. And again, taking care of the families — I took that very seriously. So it was good to catch my breath.

Over that time period, I got a call from IndyCar wondering what I was going to do next. I talked to them and that’s kind of how it happened. So it was exciting. As with F1, I was very curious about this. A lot of the people in here I already knew — there’s crossover on teams and some manufacturer stuff. But it was also getting to meet Honda, getting to meet Firestone. I’d never really dealt with them. So I was very excited about the opportunity, and it’s been phenomenal to this point. If you think about every day, we’re able to do something to help it grow, to make it better. The approach we’ve taken seems to be well-received.

Jay Frye and Juan Pablo Montoya. (Courtesy of Jay Frye)

If you take into account what you’re doing with IndyCar now, how much do you draw from your NASCAR background? Is it more similar than different?

Oh, it’s way more similar. Again, what do we do? We race cars, right? Yeah, the cars look different. But there’s people involved, and at the end of the day, it’s all about the people who make the cars go fast. So it’s extremely similar.

The main thing is coming from a team perspective. Everything we do, we do to see how it affects the teams. When I first started in this role, one thing we tried real hard to do was to harness the power of the paddock. There’s a lot of really smart people here. Having them help us craft this direction, we came up with this five-year plan. So we know where we’re going, we know what we’re doing. The teams are all part of it. Now we’re just executing it.

Now the plan has actually expanded through 2026 with the engine program. So we know basically where we’re going between now and 2026. We’ve created this cadence with things. As soon as the season is over, we have a team manager meeting. At that meeting, it’s 20 percent about next year — and that’s more blocking and tackling stuff, procedural things — and the other 80 percent we talk about (two years from now).

So you always try to work a year ahead. You never want to obsolete parts, you never want to cost teams money that doesn’t need to be spent. Obviously there are things that happen throughout the course of a season you have to react to that might be expensive, but everybody gets it — a part failure or something.

But everybody was part of this plan starting in 2017 when we froze the manufacturer aero kits. This year, with the new aero kit, that car, everybody had input in it — even from a fan perspective, we put out drawings and renderings to get fans’ reactions and it came back very positive. So we’re like, “All right. Aesthetically, we’ve got our identity back. It looks like an IndyCar.” The manufacturer kits were great, but there was a whole different mindset to it. There was not an aesthetic thing to it, it was about downforce and performance.

This car is very much putting it back in the drivers’ hands, which is what we wanted. It has less downforce. We’ve got a new engine coming in 2021, which will be pushing over 900 horsepower. It’s funny, people ask: “What’s your niche?” Ours is “fast and loud.” And that’s OK — every motorsports series has its thing, and we’re going back to being fast and loud and these cars are hard to drive and cool to look at. And there we go.

You took quite an unusual path to your current job. But for people who would like to follow your footsteps someday, how would you recommend getting to where you are?

This wasn’t part of the plan, but if you look back, I’ve been on the sponsorship side, I’ve been on the racetrack side with IMS and IndyCar, I’ve been on the league side and then obviously the team side. So I think we’ve checked every box from a motorsports perspective.

We have interns who work for us who are phenomenal. They have the desire and the effort and they want to be part of it. You’ve got to be persistent. It’s amazing looking back — I never would have thought I’d be doing what I’m doing now. How does all this happen in your life? Things change, and I’m very excited to be where I’m at. We think we’ve got some good momentum, some good things happening. So just be persistent and don’t be afraid to do what you’re asked to do — and then do twice that. People will notice.

12 Questions with Will Power (2018)

The series of 12 Questions driver interviews continues this week with Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who drives for Team Penske.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I do definitely have dreams about racing. I’m trying to think of the last one I had. I’ve had dreams about winning races and that sort of thing. Winning the championship, I think that was my last dream, actually.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize? And I guess in IndyCar, you would never mean to do that.

Yeah, I’m sure it does. It’s good when you hear from someone if they took you out. If they don’t say anything, it’s kind of rude, I suppose. If you take someone out and it’s your mistake, you should talk about it and apologize.

Am I correct in thinking there’s no intentional wrecking in IndyCar?

There isn’t. Guys at the end of the year take more of a risk when you’re in certain situations and you have to beat someone. But you just can’t intentionally wreck someone in this series. It’s too dangerous.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I think the biggest compliment is that you’re a clean, good, fast racer and a good guy off the track.

4. IndyCar comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

Dave Grohl. That’d be pretty cool to have him. I don’t know if we’d put him in the Penske corporate (suite) — he needs to be in a Snake Pit type scenario. But that would be a celebrity I’d love to host.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, IndyCar decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Yes I would. For a pit spot? No. 1? Absolutely.

Have you ever tried going vegan before?

No.

But you’re a healthy eater, I understand.

I am, yes. But I do eat a lot of protein — meat. But I’d do it because I’d like to try it anyway. And if you get Pit Out, it’s worth it.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2014 race at Barber Motorsports Park. Do you remember this race at all?

(Thinks deeply) Did I win that one?

No, I didn’t want to make it too easy.

Yeah. OK. Let’s say fourth place and I was saving a lot of fuel.

You were fifth. I don’t know what the fuel situation was. But you led 15 laps and ultimately Ryan Hunter-Reay won.

I think that might have been that race.

Are you good at remembering races in general?

Not anymore. There’s just so many. Earlier in your career, you could remember every race you’ve done. Now it’s so hard to recall, I couldn’t even remember all my wins.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

Alive? I’m into 90s rap, so Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre. Tupac is obviously gone. Biggie is gone.

Definitely not Jay-Z.

Oh! Not a Jay-Z guy, huh?

Nah. I’m not a big Jay-Z guy. He’s not bad. But I listen to NWA and Public Enemy — No. 1.

I don’t know who it is, but I’d say Snoop Dogg. He’s kind of the guy who comes to mind now. There’s so many good 90s rappers, man. Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Tribe Called Quest.

8. Who has the most punchable face in IndyCar?

Most punchable face. That’s an interesting one. Who would I like most to punch in the head in IndyCar? I don’t know. Let’s go through the field. (Thinks for a moment.)

I don’t know that anyone has a punchable face. That would be very, very mean to punch someone in the face. It happens. I’ve punched people in the face and been punched in the face in my life, but it’s just not a good thing.

Let’s just pick a random person. No. There’s no one there who I’d like to punch in the face.

9. IndyCar enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your chief strategist, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’d have Tom Hanks on strategy. He’s probably a pretty cluey guy in that respect, having to learn lines and memorize well. (Editor’s note: “Cluey” is Australian slang for wise or knowledgeable.)

LeBron would be very good at spotting. He’s always looking to understand what’s going on on the court.

And Taylor Swift is always on a bus traveling, so she’d have some sort of idea of how a motorhome is run.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Actually, I usually scope it out beforehand. The best ones are when it’s a port-o-potty right on pit lane there. Indianapolis is the worst, like the Indy road course. You have to go searching into a room and try to find one.

11. IndyCar decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the former Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

What, do they have an unlimited budget? You’d take big money, as much as you could go. A million bucks. You could make money off it if they said they’d give anything. Then you’d learn and do the backflip.

Or you don’t learn at all. What is it? If they say, “We’ll give you a million bucks if you backflip,” can you go off and learn? Or do you have to turn up without learning and they’ll say, “Bang?”

You can have time to learn.

OK. Well then the highest amount of money you can get. It’s business.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was with Daniel Suarez. His question for you was: How much do you enjoy road course racing versus oval racing, and would you like to try one of those in NASCAR one day?

I would love to try an oval in NASCAR. And a road course, actually. For me, I really enjoy oval racing a lot more than earlier in my career. It’s almost to the point where I’d much rather do ovals each week. But you’ve got to have both in IndyCar. They’re just such different disciplines for us. Really enjoy ovals though. Really, really enjoy understanding how to get the car working and where to run and running in traffic. It’s just a lot of fun.

Do you have a question I might be able to ask for the next interview? It’s with Rico Abreu, the sprint car driver.

Yeah, I think I would ask him: Would he like to try an IndyCar out on an oval or a road course? That would be interesting to see what he thought.

IndyCar at Portland: Sometimes, racing comes down to luck

Shame on those of us who saw Scott Dixon disappear into a cloud of dust on Lap 1 of the Portland Grand Prix and thought his race was over.

How foolish. How absurd. After all, even casual followers should know Dixon is IndyCar’s MacGyver — able to escape seemingly any situation, even when it looks dire.

Dixon somehow — improbably, incredibly — salvaged a fifth-place finish on Sunday when his day looked screwed from the start. Not only that, he took advantage of untimely cautions and misplayed strategy that affected fellow title contender Alexander Rossi, allowing Dixon to actually extend his lead by three points — to 29 overall — going into the season finale.

These are the kind of things that only seem to happen to Dixon. If you described such a scenario to someone in IndyCar and didn’t attach a name, everyone would know you were referring to the driver of the No. 9 car.

“We got super lucky today,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to take those days.”

Drivers predicted a sketchy start to the race all week, and that’s exactly what happened. As part of a multi-car wreck on Lap 1, Dixon was shoved into the dirt and felt a significant impact — though he couldn’t see what he hit.

“I felt like I wanted to cry,” Dixon said of sitting there while the dust cleared.

He didn’t expect his left front wheel would still be attached when his vision returned, but there it was. And as it turned out, Dixon had the presence of mind to pull the clutch while the crash was occurring — allowing him to keep the engine fired.

While others left on a hook, Dixon somehow put it in reverse, told the safety truck to move and drove away.

“I couldn’t believe the thing was still going,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a pretty lucky day from that point on.”

But that wasn’t immediately evident, because he was tagged for a speeding penalty midway through his comeback and saw all the gains erased.

“I thought on that point, we were definitely on the out,” he said. “Crazy, crazy day.”

Again, though, it’s foolish to count out Scott Dixon. So when his team stuck to a two-stop strategy (the same as race winner Takuma Sato) and Rossi made three, Dixon got the track position needed to extend his points lead.

“Huge day for us points-wise,” Dixon said, then added with no apparent sense of irony: “This might be our lucky day.”

Meanwhile, Rossi looked a bit stunned in the aftermath of his good day gone bad. He had a faster car than Dixon, but was done in by circumstances not of his own doing.

Rossi quickly dismissed the suggestion the damage was minimized by losing only three points to Dixon heading into Sonoma.

“That’s a nice way of putting it,” he said. “It was a terrible day.”

Season of Rossi: Can Alexander cap roller-coaster campaign with title?

As an unexpectedly large crowd lined up for Friday’s IndyCar autograph session at Portland International Raceway, one of the first people in line to get Alexander Rossi’s signature was a young boy wearing NAPA gear.

It’s something Rossi has noticed more lately now that he’s frequently been in the spotlight — for various reasons.

“It’s been very cool for me to see from Year 1 until now — almost the end of Year 3 — the amount of people wearing my shirts and hats and wanting to talk to me at autograph sessions,” he said. “That’s really increased. So that’s a huge positive and something I’m happy about and something I hope will continue to grow as the years go on.”

If you’re a fan of Rossi, it’s more likely to be based off his racing style than his personality. That’s not to say he lacks in the personality department; heck, he competed on a reality TV show and co-hosts a podcast, so that’s clearly not the case.

But the self-described introvert does most of his talking on the track, where his no-apologies driving styleballs-out racing ability and eye-opening talent have made people sit up and pay attention more than ever this season.

Rossi’s moves can be controversial at times — depending on your view — but you can’t accuse him of settling for anything.

“He’s definitely gone after it and been aggressive and raced to win a championship,” Will Power said. “That’s what you’ve got to do.”

Winning the 100th running of the Indy 500 two years ago was a major accomplishment. But given it happened nearly right away in his IndyCar career and he was a virtual unknown to many American race fans at the time, it wasn’t something that launched him into stardom by itself.

But now, having found his rhythm with three victories in 2018 — after winning twice in his first two years combined — Rossi is on track to becoming one of IndyCar’s biggest stars.

I love this championship and everything it represents,” he said after arriving in Portland for Sunday’s race here. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be here. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

It wasn’t always that way, because IndyCar was never the goal for Rossi. He chased Formula One dreams and ultimately made starts in five F1 races. But his home ultimately became IndyCar after getting an opportunity with Andretti Autosport.

These days, he’s hoping to be the next American who could carry the banner as a champion in the United States’ biggest open-wheel series — one year after Josef Newgarden did the same.

I think it’s massive for the series (to have an American champion),” Rossi said. “(As) Americans, it’s hard to cheer for the French guy or an Australian guy. As much as we love them and respect them and admire what they do, Americans are patriotic people, right?

“Americans winning is a great thing for a growing fan base and hopefully inspires more young American racing drivers and go-karters. It’s a cool thing to be able to represent the U.S. in a U.S. series at U.S. tracks.”

If he pulls it off, he’ll have completed an impressive comeback. After the Toronto race on July 15, Rossi was third in the point standings — 70 points behind four-time champion Scott Dixon.

Three podium finishes later (two wins and a runnerup finish last week at Gateway), Rossi is down by just 26 points with two races to go.

Oh, and the season finale at Sonoma? It’s a double points race.

“Scott has been a model of consistency, as he always is, and he’s won a bunch of races nevertheless,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “Alex has been so flamboyant and just hitting it hard out of the gate that I think if it comes down to a dogfight at the end, he might have the edge. But we’ll see.”