IndyCar: Sandbagging Is A Dirty Word

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

All 2016 during the Verizon Indy Car Season Honda teams have struggled, then they show up at Indy and dominate the speed charts. Whats the truth?

As I turned the calendar from April to May I wrote a story about how the Honda teams were so far behind the Chevy teams on the track. What was even more concerning heading into the 100th Indy 500 is that on the oval tracks this season it had been even more pronounced.

At Phoenix then entire top ten qualifiers were powered by Chevrolet engines. When the final checkered flag fell, ten of the top 12 drivers had bow tie patches on their drivers suits. It seems as if the the 100th running of the Indy 500 was going to be one to forget for Honda. There had been a little chatter of a rule change that could come to help the Honda’s but nothing came of it.

Then the first practice on the speedway and something strange happened, five of the top six were Andretti Autosport Honda’s with Marco Andretti topping the charts. A team that had but one top five finish between all four teams and without a single pole position all season. Graham Rahal and Bryan Clauson broke into the top ten with their Honda’s as well.

Ok, maybe the first day the Honda teams were a bit more prepared for the 2.5 mile cathedral of racing. Practice two and more of the same, six of the top ten Honda powered. Two more Andretti Autosport teams up front this day led by former champion Ryan Hunter-Reay with Carlos Munoz finding the second spot on the speed charts for the second time.

The third day of practice came and went and the speed charts looked the same, top four Honda, and twelve of the top sixteen. The four Chevy teams to break into the top ten were a pair from Penske and a pair from Ganassi. Charlie Kimball has been the only driver piloting a Chevrolet powered car into the top ten in each of the first three days.

Now people started to talk and you began to hear whispers about the possibility of Chevy teams sandbagging. Why would they do that? Very simple, they do not want the officials from IndyCar to give a boost to Honda to help them catch up. The 100th Indy 500 is going to be a spectacle and IndyCar does not want to look like half the field is out of the race at the drop of green flag.

Fast Friday comes around and everyone says this is the day we will really see what teams have before qualifying starts on Saturday. It would be too late for IndyCar to make any changes to the cars before the 500 because of lack of practice time. So who ends up at the top of the practice charts? The Chevy teams of Will Power and Josef Newgarden, almost five miles per hour faster than they had run the day before. Both laps were tagged as having been aided by toe, but to what extent we have no idea. Power really laying down a lap at 232.672 MPH crushing his best time posted Thursday of 228.200 by 5.472mph. Thats a huge increase.

Now for comparison, the fastest Honda on average for the first three practices was Carlos Munoz who has been second twice, third and fourth on the practice sheets. Munoz fastest time of the week was run day one at 228.945. On Friday he was able to turn it up and get to 231.952, jumping 3mph. So, are the Honda’s just that much better than they have been all season or are the Chevy’s holding something back?

If you look at the speed harts for the four days there have been able to be practices, the same Honda teams have been running fast every day. Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chavez, Townsend Bell, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay have all been fast every time out. Where as the Chevy teams of Charlie Kimball and Will Power were the only teams to break into the top ten three times this week. With other teams popping in and out of the top twelve throughout the week.

Does this prove anything, no, but it does raise some eyebrows. Normally the teams that are fast stay fast, they do not yoyo up and down the speed charts day-to-day. The incredible jump Power and Newgarden made Friday also make you wonder if the other Chevy teams are not running in full qualifying trim. They could just be worrying more about race trim runs knowing they have more for qualifying.

Sandbagging is an ugly term, it’s almost like accusing someone of throwing a game. Its right on the edge of cheating, and without proof I have no intention of making any claims of the type. If though, we finish qualifying and all the sudden the top of the scoring pylon is dominated by Chevy teams that have not spent any time up there there are going to be questions. These questions will have to be answered and nobody is going to like it.

Related Story: Andretti Autosport Limping Into May

I am personally hoping for a spectacular running of the 100th Indy 500. I love the pageantry and celebration of the history of auto racing in this country. If it were to be tainted by a scandal, it would be a black eye on the sport when it has the most eyes on it. Just as IndyCar racing is making some strides in gaining fans and popularity, this could set it back years. Lets just hope that the Honda teams have found something and when the green flag drops, it will be the best team that can win, not the best Chevy team.