Sports feed on controversy and rivalries, and it seems like the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach breathed some of that into the Verizon Indycar Series this weekend.
The race, won by underdog Mike Conway at Ed Carpenter Racing, featured a massive pileup, questionable calls by the race stewards and possibly broke up a friendship. Depending on the way you look at it that was either good or bad for the series. Unfortunately negative news gets more attention that positive news. Two drivers race a clean, hard race, no one in the sports media cares. Two drivers engage in a long bitter rivalry? Now that stuff gets on Sports Center and Ron Howard will eventually make a movie about it.
Since most of the Indycar drivers in are friends with each other have a good amount of mutual respect there isn’t a lot of personal fighting; that might change after Long Beach.
The biggest accident of the day happened when Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted to pass Josef Newgarden. Newgarden had just come out of the pits and was on cold tires as he tried to keep Hunter-Reay behind him. Hunter-Reay went for a pass in a narrow section of the track and took out himself, Newgarden and several other cars including his teammate James Hinchcliffe.
While Newgarden appeared calm during his interview on NBC Sports, Hunter-Reay was reluctant to take blame
“In turn three (Newgarden) had some wheel spin, and so I decided I was going for it,” Reay said. “I could have waited maybe a little bit later, and that’s my fault, but at the same time I had at least half of a car alongside of him…. Giving each other a little bit of room would have gotten us through there.”
What surprised me is when Hinchcliffe called out his teammate.
“I guess at the end of the day patience is a virtue, and I guess someone wasn’t very virtuous today, and it cost this team a lot,” Hinchcliffe said told NBC Sports. “It was a rookie move and I feel bad for Josef, and Tony and everyone else who got involved.”
He was following close behind, saw the replay and pretty clearly blamed his teammate. That’s really unusual for Indycar drivers who typically keep negative comments behind closed doors. Hunter-Reay was a little more contrite on twitter later.
Had an opportunity & I went for it w/the win on the line. Split second decision that backfired. Hind sight is 20/20 and I take the blame.
— Ryan Hunter-Reay (@RyanHunterReay) April 14, 2014
Another incident potentially shattered a friendship between two of the series’ closest drivers. Will Power tried to nip Simon Pagenaud and sent him into the tire barriers. The former teammates vacation together and Pagenaud said he was having none of Power’s attempt to apologize.
“It’s a bit late for that,” Pagenaud told reporters after the race. “He ruined my race. When you’re somebody like Will, you whinge about everything, especially people taking you out.”
There’s been a lively debate on message boards about why Power didn’t get penalized for that move, and Power doesn’t seem to understand it himself, telling NBC Sports“I don’t understand why I didn’t get a penalty.”
So it’s not a feud between Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, but it’s probably the most venom drivers have thrown at each other in a while. Will there be NASCAR-style retaliation later on and a building feud? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind.