IndyCar ignites a firestorm with laughably controversial call

IndyCar race control has been questioned on many occasions before. Sunday's race at Laguna Seca took controversy to a new level.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Laguna Seca, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, Laguna Seca, IndyCar / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A late incident involving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Christian Lundgaard and Chip Ganassi Racing's Marcus Armstrong during Sunday's IndyCar race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca left Armstrong's No. 11 Honda stranded on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile (3.602-kilometer) natural terrain road course in Monterey, California.

But IndyCar race control did not throw a caution flag, despite the fact that Armstrong was stalled in a dangerous part of the track and clearly wasn't going to be able to move without the aid of a recovery vehicle.

His car was almost t-boned in the process, but that evidently didn't matter to series officials.

One of the first things NBC Sports announcer James Hinchcliffe referenced when the caution flag didn't fly right away was that the series was probably going to let race leader Josef Newgarden come into the pits first.

That's exactly what happened, and that decision ignited a firestorm on social media.

Newgarden, who qualified mid-pack, had been running at the back of the field after an early pit road penalty. The Team Penske driver was one of the last drivers on the alternate strategy, and he had simply waited longest to make his final pit stop.

He was maybe going to fight for a top 10 finish if the race had stayed green. Instead, he came out in second place, trailing only Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou.

Why the important questions were not asked after that decision was made was incredible, yet not shocking. Even Hinchcliffe couldn't believe the fact that Newgarden was now running in a legitimate second place.

Palou asked race strategist Barry Wanser on the radio if the series really and truly just sculpted an entire caution flag period around letting Newgarden pit (and basically pass half of the field by doing so).

Rather than further rile up the typically calm Palou, Wanser attempted to diffuse the situation by saying that similar decisions had been made in the past. Palou was able to hang on and win.

To some extent, Wanser's statement is true. We have seen the series, as they've said, "let the pit cycles play out" before throwing caution flags on road courses.

But all the NBC Sports booth did from that point forward was talk about how the call reflected "consistency", a rather convenient mask to hide behind when it comes to addressing a recurring issue.

IndyCar completely blunders Laguna Seca caution

How is not throwing a caution flag one second (or in this case, minute) and then throwing it the next consistent? If a situation is dangerous on the race track, it's dangerous on the race track. It's not conveniently okay one second and then conveniently dangerous the next.

That is the definition of inconsistency, and based on where Armstrong's car was positioned, it could have been a total disaster, as it nearly was.

It's almost laughable how very few individuals feel comfortable questioning or criticizing IndyCar's blatant disregard for fair play – and more importantly, beyond that, driver safety.

And if the goal isn't safety (which it quite clearly isn't) and is instead to let the entire pit cycle play out, why is the yellow being thrown as soon as Newgarden enters the pits? He's basically getting the equivalent of what Formula 1 would call a "free" pit stop.

If they really wanted to let it play out, they'd let him rejoin the race where he would have rejoined under green and then thrown the yellow flag, instead of slowing literally everybody else down first.

After having held the caution flag for that long, it couldn't be too dangerous to hold it just a little bit longer, right? Or is driver safety suddenly of utmost importance?

But race control has had an affinity for making markedly bad decisions over the last few weeks following the Indy 500. Sunday's race was no different, and they once again outdid themselves.

It's a total farce.

It's full-fledged race manipulation, and it puts the integrity of the NTT IndyCar Series in question.

Maybe it's time IndyCar takes notice of what's going on in some other sports leagues when it comes to influential figures wagering on certain outcomes. It's the one thing everybody wants to believe isn't happening, to the point where it has become a taboo subject in various circles.

But as we've seen in those other leagues, it is indeed happening. Given the already stained image of the series' integrity from certain events that took place earlier this year, would it really be a terrible idea?

A lot of fans were quick to jump on the "Penske favoritism" bandwagon on Sunday, given the fact that it's not the first time that such a call has happened to benefit one or more drivers on the team owned by the series owner.

But in past cases, the drivers who benefited, specifically Scott McLaughlin at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2022 and then again at Barber Motorsports Park in 2023, were already in position to win the race.

Newgarden was nowhere near in position to do that, and he inherited second place. The issue here is the call itself, not the driver who benefited from it.

That said, the Newgarden situation was not a first-of-its-kind, even on the Team Penske front. McLaughlin gained more than a half dozen spots at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course back in May due to a similar incident involving Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing's Luca Ghiotto.

But as stated, it's not just Team Penske that have benefited from this nonsense over the years, and other incidents have been just as elaborately documented. The real gripe has to do strictly with the ridiculousness of the decision itself.

It's not about who benefits and who doesn't and which team they happen to drive for, but the fact that it was Roger Penske's team, and in such a blatantly ridiculous manner, does admittedly make it that much more interesting.

Newgarden ended up in 19th place anyway, due to a late mistake and spin. But again, that's beside the point.

Caution flags are a part of the sport. Differing strategies are a part of the sport. Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good.

Next. Kyle Larson has a new teammate for 2025 (if he decides to return). Kyle Larson has a new teammate for 2025 (if he decides to return). dark

Unfortunately, race control picking and choosing who they want to screw over and who they want to aid is apparently a part of the sport as well. And it has become a recurring theme.