IndyCar decision totally shreds conspiracy theory

Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Sheboygan Press)
Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo Credit: Sheboygan Press) /

IndyCar’s decision not to throw the caution flag right when Romain Grosjean went off course at Road America put an end to a recent conspiracy theory.

Selective timing on road course cautions has developed into somewhat of a talking point in IndyCar over the last few seasons, and another instance of a questionable call transpired on Sunday afternoon at Road America.

Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean went off course in turn three of the 14-turn, 4.048-mile (6.515-kilometer) Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin road course on lap 12, but the caution flag didn’t fly until after the drivers who still needed to pit made their way into the pits on lap 13.

The decision effectively prevented those who needed to pit from being forced behind those who had already pit. The pits close when a yellow comes out and the field gets bunched up before the leaders can come in for service.

It’s not the first time such a call has been made. However, this time in particular, it totally shreds a fan-favorite IndyCar conspiracy theory.

IndyCar faced criticism for their decision to wait to throw a caution flag at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last year. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was the main beneficiary and went on to win the race, one that would have looked a lot different had the yellow come out when the incident occurred.

McLaughlin won at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this year after a similar decision, and similar criticism ensued.

Inevitably, some of the criticism is based on the idea that IndyCar is selectively throwing caution periods in a way that will benefit Team Penske. Team owner Roger Penske took over the series in late 2019. The legendary racing figure purchased the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Hulman & Co. and maintains ownership via Penske Entertainment Corp.

To someone unfamiliar with the steps Penske took after his acquisition of the series to remove himself from the pit box and the strategy side of team operations, the suspicions might make sense.

But the theory is based on nothing other than the fact that a Team Penske driver has happened to be in position to benefit when this has happened in the past. In Sunday’s case, many of the frontrunners were aided by the decision. Eventual race winner Alex Palou was among those who made a pit stop, and he drives for Chip Ganassi Racing.

If runner-up Josef Newgarden had won the race, so be it. I’m sure we wouldn’t have heard the end of it from some, but it is what it is. It’s obvious that there is no “Penske favoritism”.

Roger isn’t up in race control sending the rigging signal at the opportune time for his drivers to win, as hard as the ever-level-headed community known as Twitter might find that to believe.

The legitimate gripe that many fans continue to have, however, is that IndyCar waits to throw a yellow at all.

If the situation indeed rises to the level of a caution, how is the track any less dangerous from one moment to the next? This was a problem a few years ago in NASCAR too.

The series’ stated goal of waiting is to avoid interfering with the pit sequence and thus messing up any driver’s or team’s pit strategy if they can avoid it. The reasoning is respectable enough.

The argument against that is that cautions and pit strategy are a part of the sport, and things don’t always go your way. We have seen not only races but championships won and lost on strategy and timely/untimely yellows. If anything, maybe the pits should remain open.

All things considered, however, IndyCar should be applauded for their consistency, as that is what fans have really been clamoring for as of late.

The series has made a habit of waiting for as long as they possibly can wait, rather than throwing the yellow the second a car gets off-line. Hopefully it doesn’t end up resulting in an even bigger accident down the road.

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IndyCar should also breathe a sigh of relief that the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists on social media can lay off the “Penske favoritism” claims — until, of course, the next instance of a questionable call happens to go their way.