Robin Miller’s Mailbag for June 12, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Just wanted to point out for all of us die-hards who love to bitch over the last few decades that Texas ended with American drivers P1 through P5. The racing was awesome and it was not a pack race. Amazing performance for an American rookie who could have easily won (Herta). Another solid drive from another American rookie (Ferrucci). Great rivalry brewing between two American drivers who are now veterans and have another decade (at least) of racing against each other (Newgarden and Rossi). And even Marco finished in the top 10!

Clint, Chicago

RM: I was getting ready to interview Graham Rahal on NBCSN after the race and he looked up at the scoring tower and said: “Americans sweep the top 5, when’s the last time we saw that? Very cool.” Well the last time, according to NBC stat guru Russ Thompson, was in the next-to-last IRL race of 2001, when it was Jaques Lazier, Sam Hornish, Eddie Cheever, Jeff Ward and Donnie Beechler. Now Wardy was born in Scotland but grew up in California, so I count him as an American. If you don’t count him as a Yank then it was Gateway the race before, with Al Unser Jr., Mark Dismore, Hornish, Cheever and Robbie Buhl.

Q: Scatter-shooting after attending Saturday’s race: Herta made a fan out of me, having the only stones in the field to use the outside of Turns 1&2. Scratching my head why Rossi didn’t at least try it once versus Newgarden in the late stages? Dixon/Herta was a 50/50 deal, but surprised Dixon conceded the way he did and Herta took little to zero fault for it. Much better race than last year, hope everyone enjoyed it. We need more ovals in the series. Aren’t you glad the FIA doesn’t officiate IndyCar?

Aron Morgan

RM: Herta is something else and was the star of the show, but he and Dixie were racing hard, going for the same spot, and it was avoidable but more of a racing accident than anyone’s fault. Rossi would have tried but never got a good enough run going into Turn 1. That b.s. call in the F1 race made me wish A.J. would have been in Vettel’s place, or at least owned his car. Can you imagine that post-race interview and podium ceremony?

Q: I thought the race at Texas was one of the best of the year. Colton Herta was doing some unbelievable passes until the contact with Dixon. What is it about Texas that seems to make exciting racing more often than not?

John Montgomery, Medford, OR

RM: The corners are a little more open than some 1.5-mile ovals and a second groove is usually possible, but Texas seems to bring out the aggression in drivers when it gets dark. And most seemed to think IndyCar’s aero change made for a good show. It wasn’t non-stop passing like the Hanford Device or stuck together like a pack race, you had to get your car working or take some chances (or both) to make passes.

Q: That was other solid race between Herta and Dixon. No one cut the other off, it was a fair fight. Respect to the two that race insane speeds. So to the point, IndyCar is just insanely good, but what do you think about Herta and Dixon?

Paul Angel

RM: I guess Colton could have backed off or Scott could have moved up, but then that kinda defeats the purpose of going for it, doesn’t it?

Q: Miller you have preached for years IndyCar needs a big rivalry. Right now it looks like Rossi vs. Penske. That’s OK, but I’m starting to see Rossi vs. Newgarden. It is becoming pretty clear that this will be the championship fight. If Penske is not able to steal Rossi, we could have a long-term rivalry. Newgarden impresses me more and more every week. Yes he drives for the best team, but no matter what issues the team is having, he ends up a factor in the end. I had to go back and re-watch the race again just to understand how he pulled out the win. Yes, it was a great call from the team to get him in position to have a chance, but it was his driving and refuse-to-lose attitude that won it.

I think the front-runners really overlooked him since he had not been running with them throughout the entire race. Very impressed with the rookies. Ferrucci with another great run. Herta, wow, Andretti had better go find some money. Ericsson is starting to find his stride. Lastly, a big shout-out to Conor Daly. I’m sure he is not happy with how the car ran, but to take a car that was not fast enough to qualify for the Indy 500 and finish 11th and only one lap down, that’s like a podium finish in my book. As an IndyCar fan, we can’t ask for much more this season. The racing has been great with plenty of storylines to follow!

J.R. Rouse

RM: That’s why it’s imperative that Rossi stays with Andretti, like I wrote last week – don’t break up the balance of power, and IndyCar needs to hope its current Big 3 lineup stays intact. JoeNew is a threat to win any race, and possesses a great temperament in the car that helps if things are rocky at the start. Daly did a marvelous job under the circumstances, while Ferrucci and Ericsson drove smart and smooth for their first test at Texas.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for June 5, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Another good broadcast by NBC, if you ignore losing the feed. A toast to the director who made the call to go to the in-car camera of Marco Andretti on Saturday after he switched to slicks. That drive had us all on the edge of our seats. People can dog on Marco all they want, but he kept it out of the wall in really tough conditions, which can’t be said of other drivers in dry conditions.

Watching on Sunday, I was happy for Ericsson and the ASPM Team. It led me to think about the performance of the rookies. When you look at the rookie class this year and the equipment they have, I think it really highlights how special Robert Wickens is and the performances he put on last year. What are your thoughts on this year’s rookie class and their performance to date?

John Balestrieri

RM: Like I said in Monday’s column, this rookie class may not rival 1965 (or 1963, which was also stellar) but it’s the youngest, fastest and most promising in a long time. Just look at Ferrucci lately. He and engineer Mike Cannon have obviously clicked and he’s giving Dale Coyne a great ride. I told Juan Pablo Montoya that Pato reminded me of a young JPM, and Colton’s collective cool and savvy is hard to fathom for 19 years old. Felix and Marcus have a lot of experience, but the battle for rookie of the year is shaping up to be a dandy.

Q: I often wonder why they don’t do an oval race the weekend after the Indy 500. I like street courses and road courses, but they can be a bit boring in my opinion. Weren’t IndyCars originally designed to be race cars on oval tracks? Do you see them changing what track they race at on the weekend after the Indy 500 in the future?

Erynn C.

RM: I beat that drum for several years to no avail. Yes, IndyCar should be on an oval right after Indy because you’ve got the momentum of “must-see TV” and a street race just doesn’t keep people engaged. It’s great that Chevy has a home race and R.P. has made Belle Isle a real event, but flipping Texas and Detroit would be my druthers. But, no, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Q: So 200 points have been awarded in the last eight days. Who have you got for the title, Miller? I’ll take Newgarden. I loved you putting the question to Roger about a fourth car for Rossi on the NBCSN qualifying show. I know you’re a betting man, so what’s your bet on where Rossi draws his paycheck in 2020?

Ryan Terpstra

RM: I picked Rossi to take the title before the season, and I’m saying he stays at Andretti with Honda and engineer Jeremy Milless.

Q: Why did IndyCar agree to a 75-minute timed race with the engines firing at 3:55pm CST if they knew the NBC TV window ended at 5:00pm CST? If they knew they would have to switch channels because 75 minutes would go beyond the TV window and a channel change to CNBC would be required, why not run the full race distance? Would the fans of Undercover Boss reruns be more upset than IndyCar fans? I think the Belle Isle circuit puts on an entertaining street race, but as good as race two was, I feel equally confused by race one.

Jim Sarow, Whitefish Bay, WI

RM: The weather obviously played havoc with everything and the lightning kept forcing 30 minute delays in any decision, so IndyCar and NBC simply tried to out-guess Mother Nature.

Q: Why was there no pack-up that caused Marco Andretti to drop to 20th? Marco should have cycled to the lead since he pitted for dry tires before the rest of the field. Townsend Bell said on the broadcast the field should have been packed up to prevent cars going too fast under a yellow flag. Why the change in procedure?

Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY

RM: Statement from IndyCar: Race control was reviewing data and closing rates and based off the information the pack-up was developing. The goal was to get the pits open as quickly as possible for the competitors and fans, but given the circumstances that included cars on different tires and a cold track, it did not occur as expediently as was envisioned.”

Q: At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned grump, as much as the end of the first race this weekend was fun to watch, I was annoyed that Tim Cindric was able to tell JoNew what Rossi was doing with his push-to-pass. It’s a great addition to be able to use tactically and is much better than F1’s DRS. But if the team has the information on what the others are doing, then the drivers don’t have to do anything but push it when the team tells them to do, and you may as well not bother with the concept. Also, surely such coaching pisses the drivers off?

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

RM: I agree, and I wish IndyCar would go back to not giving out that information because it defeats the purpose of push-to-pass. I’m sure it pisses off the drivers – just like you viewers.

Q: Why no penalty for Sato when he lost it and crashed O’Ward in Race 1? Same question for Newgarden spinning in front of Hinch and Rossi in Race 2? I understand neither was intentional, and Newgarden came out the worst for his error, but Sato benefited from his and it really hurt O’Ward. Seems as if Race Control is afraid to pull the trigger.

Rick, Marengo, Ohio

RM: I think both were simply racing incidents. Sato slid in wet conditions and used Pato as a buffer from the wall, but it wasn’t intentional. Josef’s penalty was fairly obvious since he was out of the race, but again, it was aggressive driving and going for it and paid the price.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for May 22, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: As a journalist and media personality, what is the bigger story: McLaren/Alonso’s failure to qualify, or the uplifting story of the little teams that could? I was conflicted all weekend. Sure, we want Alonso in the field for massively increased interest levels and eyeballs on the event. But the David v Goliath showdown was true eye-moistening drama. In the end will the event suffer, maybe decreased interest due to the smaller teams, lesser-known names, now in the field of 33? Conflicted? I was pulling for Pippa, Ben, and Kyle to secure a spot, while still wanting to see the two-time world champ pursue his Triple Crown. Conflicted? What a weekend full of drama. How does Zak Brown and McLaren react to another failure? Now a mid-field team at best in F1, they can’t even crack the staring grid for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Can’t wait for Sunday!

Michael Gruber

RM: As good as those little team stories were, and they were all damn good, nothing can top McLaren’s failure to provide Alonso with a competitive car. It’s an international story, and his presence will be missed in the race in terms of worldwide viewers and coverage because he is so popular. Zak reacted by firing team manager Bob Fearnley, but it’s obviously a black eye for the organization when a little USAC team with no money or experience makes the race and McLaren goes home.

Q: After today (Sunday, Bump Day) I am all in for the full-time teams to be guaranteed spots in the 500. Not the top spots, just spots. It just makes too much business sense, and even locking in the part-timers up to the 30th spot is fine. However, IndyCar stumbled on something with the last row going at it with bumping on the line. That was by far the most dramatic qualifying session I have watched in years, and I enjoyed every second of it. It’s just enough “tradition” mixed in with a bunch of business sense.

My question is the spare car rule. I was surprised McLaren fumbled about as much as they did (I think the TV crew really gave them a pass by not calling out their incompetence. I mean, when has Paul Tracy ever kept his opinions to himself?) But I did read an article earlier this week and it made it sound like a team can have a spare car, but it cannot be fully ready. Is that correct? Even the lease motor has to be swapped as well as other parts? It made it sound like it can be partially-built but not turn-key. I remember the days of drivers jumping in and out of primary and T cars at Indy all the time. What’s the rule now?

Ruben

RM: Obviously you wouldn’t want to guarantee the front row, but there would still be bumping even with 22 spots reserved, and the Last Row shootout was Jay Frye’s idea and it was a roaring success. You can have your backup car pretty well finished like Arrow SPM did, but no team is allowed to have a T car waiting with an engine in it. It usually takes 90 minutes to two hours to install one, and Hinch’s team did a yeoman’s job.

Q: I just watched Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing knock the great Fernando Alonso and McLaren out of the 500. With Zak Brown saying that a full-time program for next year was somewhat dependent on this year, did we just see the last of McLaren? I would imagine that if Alonso wants to try Indy next year, he will do it with an established team, not McLaren, even if they do run.

Bruce, Philadelphia, PA

RM: It’s tough to say right this minute, but it certainly couldn’t have helped Brown sell the program to McLaren’s principals. As for Alonso, he’s been loyal to Zak but I can’t imagine him returning unless it’s with a top-notch team.

Q: Was curious about your thoughts on Colton Herta and who he reminds you of? What he did on Saturday, in my eyes, was one of the best qualifying performances we’ve seen in a long time. To go that fast in those conditions and then get out of the car and calmly say “we could have trimmed out more” was insane to me. With everyone nearly crashing on every turn in those conditions, him just keeping his foot in it, driving beautifully, and acting like it was no big deal reminds me of Rick Mears. What do you think?

Brad Heuer, Coeurdalene, Idaho

RM: I’m not sure he reminds me of anyone Brad, because he’s a teenager and 19-year-olds aren’t supposed that cool under fire. Colton is amazing, and no less than Sebastien Bourdais was singing his praises over the weekend. “Don’t count that kid out when you’re talking about who could win this race,” he said. Bryan’s son is an amazing blend of talent, chassis savvy, aggression, smarts and a refreshing humility and honesty.

Q: I think the new format for qualifying worked really well. It added some great drama to the weekend. It almost feels like Alonso thought he was going to waltz right into IMS and get a starting spot. I think they got a good dose of reality. He didn’t act like he really cared to be there. Also, I’d like to thank you and Hamburger for having your videos with French Fry. I was not a fan of his during his CART and early IndyCar days, but now I have become a fan of his and root for him each weekend. He has a great personality and doesn’t pull any punches. Keep up the great work.

Eric, London, OH

RM: Jay Frye hated the old format where Saturday basically was a test day, so he concocted a format that restored some common sense and retained the drama, and would have been a great show on NBC had it not rained. Alonso was understandably frustrated, but was a total class act and he cared until he was a couple tenths short of making the show. Seb is the best thing on the internet.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for May 15, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Longtime reader, first time writing in. The Indianapolis infield course doesn’t get a lot of love, but that may have been the most entertaining race I can remember in a long time. Most of the big names couldn’t figure out qualifying, lots of new names out front, passes all over the place, and then of course rain for more chaos! These days I pretty much root for ABP (Anybody-But-Penske) to win, but even I couldn’t help but admire Simon’s drive. He’s apparently in a class all by himself in the wet. Keep doing what you do, I look forward to every Wednesday!

Mike Foster

RM: Before the race we were talking about how the flat IMS road course had no character, but rain obviously helped make for such an entertaining race. Pagenaud grew up in the rain and certainly earned that victory – chasing down Dixon is no easy feat. Thanks for reading.

Q: Outside of the Indy 500, last Saturday was by far the best race I have ever attended. The entire weekend was action-packed, and the conditions kept things exciting. It was great fun watching everyone struggle with grip entering Turn 1 in the cold conditions on Friday, and of course Pagenaud showed pure talent and hunger in the closing laps with erasing Dixon’s lead. If the Grand Prix is any kind of a preview of what to expect in two weeks, I feel like it’s going to be a hell of a show!

Alan Bandi, Sarver, PA

RM: The way qualifying was mixed up was a precursor to the race, and it rained just enough to make it treacherous but tolerable. Harvey, Jones and Pigot came to the fore in those conditions and made some great passes, while Simon stole the show.

Q: What a race, the best ever on the road course at Indy since its inception.  And how about the driving skills exhibited throughout the field during inclement weather conditions? That could easily have been a yellow-flag fest and yet those drivers kept their noses straight, their foot hard on the gas and raced cleanly.  Kudos to Diffey, Bell or Tracy who pointed out that Pagenaud trained relentlessly in inclement conditions while driving for Peugot in France. That insight enhanced the viewer’s understanding of Pagenaud’s skills as he over took the top three contenders on his way to victory. And how about Tracy’s comment that that: “Pagenaud’s belief of overtaking Dixon from 35 seconds behind was a bit wishful thinking?” Priceless!

Daniel Bonham, Indianapolis, IN

RM: Yep, as impressive as Pagenaud’s charge was, the fact the drivers ran so close and hard and kept things so clean was what stood out. It was the debut of this rain tire and it seemed to be an improvement over the old one, and I think we were all expecting a crash-fest and instead were treated to a damn fine road race. Maybe even better than COTA. There were a total of 189 passes for position – that’s impressive.

Q: We just witnessed the answer to your last week’s question about a great race. That was fantastic to watch! A mixed-up qualifying grid, lots of passing, tire strategy, push to pass strategy, Harvey on the podium, and Pagenaud back at the top. Throw in a little rain for some drama. I don’t get too excited about this race usually, as most minds are on the Indy 500, but it was a great start to the month of May in Indianapolis.

Mark Suska, Lexington, OH

RM: Well put. This race never thrilled anyone before last Saturday, but a combination of the elements and some good driving made for a helluva show. From Harvey’s opening move to Pagenaud’s pass at the end, it held our attention for two hours and that’s all you can ever hope for in a road race.

Q: Glad to see Simon finally get the monkey off his back. I’m sure he’s still under pressure from Roger to perform to a higher standard. Hopefully Penske will keep him for another year. At least the GP was competitive this year. Enjoyed your article on Ed Carpenter, been a longtime fan of his.

Kevin C.

RM: Oh yeah, you can’t go more than a year without a victory at Team Penske and not be concerned, and Pagenaud understands the situation. But even if he’s replaced for 2020, he’ll get hired by Arrow/SPM or somebody because he’s got a lot of good years ahead of him.

Q: You asked us last week to tell you what we feel makes good racing. Well, I think the Indy GP was a prime example. Watching Pagenaud hunt down and pass Dixon with two laps to go was one of the most exciting moments this season. And Jack Harvey having a stellar day (a stellar weekend, to be honest) and earning his own and his team’s first podium was thrilling. I enjoyed every minute of the broadcast, . The 2019 GP definitely was the very best race in its short history!

Deb Schaefer

RM: Don’t think we could have asked for any better in NBC’s first network show, and the .85 rating was encouraging since road races are tough to stay with many times.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for May 8, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Ask, and ye shall receive: that’s the theme of today’s Mailbag. Last week I wrote a column about what makes a good race and asked you readers to give me your thoughts. Well, you responded with the largest Mailbag since I started doing this at the Indianapolis Star in the late ‘90s. And other than a couple of wordy souls, you kept your thoughts concise so we were able to use every letter. There won’t be any Q&A this week, just your thoughts, and as always, I appreciate all of the responses, from the first-time writers to the regulars. It’s your Mailbag, so enjoy it. Thanks, Robin.

Q: What makes a good race? I have been pondering that since you asked that question, and here are a few of my answers. A good race is one that is filled with excitement, drama and action. Large number of different leaders, lead changes, passing all through the field, surprise winners and great comebacks. In your article on the subject, the ’92 and ’94 500’s were mentioned. I thought neither were that great – I am more partial the 1993 500. Now that was a great race – 10 different drivers led.  A couple of road course races that get overlooked as great races are Long Beach 1993 (PT coming back from two flat tires to win) and Mid-Ohio 1988 (Mario and Emmo battling it out, in and out of the rain). When it comes to one-sided domination, when your favorite is the one doing the dominating it’s a great race. When your least favorite is dominating, it’s a very boring race. Another reason why there’s all the complaining, moaning and bitching when someone does dominate is that people do in fact have shorter attention spans, than they used to.

Dan in KY

Q: Motorcycles – flat track, road racing, any of it. You haven’t seen real racing until you’ve seen a mile flat track race. The bikes haven’t been spoiled by the dependence on aero that cars have come to rely on, and that’s what’s ruined what used to be some great racing series. The bikes are able to run nose to tail through the fastest corners they don’t need some trickery like DRS or push to pass to bring back draft passes.

I don’t mind a domination race like Rossi at Long Beach this year as long as there’s some good action somewhere in the top 10 Unfortunately Long Beach didn’t have that either this year, but I still didn’t turn it off – you need to see if that driver that’s putting an ass-whipping on the field can pull it off. I totally gave up on NASCAR once they started stage racing, the races are way too long don’t get interesting until the last 50 laps. Don’t get me started on green-white-checker, it’s worse than the NBA. It could take 45 minutes to run the last 10 laps. That’s when I turn it off – if I even turned it on.

Rick Corwine

Q: I thought of your question about what makes a great race while watching sprinters at the Ventura Raceway last night. It depends on the type of race, I think. On a short track, it’s the frenzy of 20+ cars that quickly stretch out over almost the entire track. Cars running wheel-to-wheel for so many positions you don’t know which to watch. Then the leaders start slicing through lapped traffic, enticing involuntary exclamations from the crowd. The race is often decided by who cuts through traffic best. For a longer race, as a spectator, I watch the longer game. Strategy, tire management, yes, even fuel management is fascinating. And the moments of dueling for position – any position – get the heart racing. One thing makes all racing better: no yellows. Go green, man, start to finish, and let’s see how this plays out.

Tom Hinshaw, Santa Barbara, CA

P.S. Oh, and last night, Troy Rutherford won. But everyone will remember Austin Wilson, who started 22nd and finished second.

Q: I’m 53 and have watched racing from the mid-70s through today: IndyCar, NASCAR, F1 and USAC, mainly. Currently, what I consider good racing happens with the USAC midget and sprint cars on dirt. I want to see passing, and the ability to pass and re-pass a competitor. When a driver in second, third or even fourth has a chance to catch and pass the others and then the driver that was first still has an opportunity to get back those positions, that really grabs my full attention as a fan. The different fast lines on dirt tracks, plus navigating traffic on a quarter-mile track… drivers always seem to have a chance to improve positions until the checkered flag. (As an added bonus, most central Indiana dirt tracks are very affordable entertainment.

Currently, in NASCAR and especially F1, once passes are made there is minimal re-passing at the front of the field. All of the series can and have had races where I’ve been glued to the TV and on the edge of my seat, but a lot of the time, something is lacking. I don’t mind an occasional race that is a beat-down, like Rossi at Long Beach, especially when it is your favorite driver delivering the beat-down. For entertainment, the beat-downs can’t be the norm, in my opinion. For me, the best opportunity to see what I consider good racing occurs on an oval track – dirt first, and asphalt second. I appreciate the skill and talent involved in a road course and can understand why it is enticing for the drivers, however, road courses lend themselves to scenarios offering limited passing and a single driver dominated race. We have seen exciting, close, and passing happen at road course races and those are great races, I just feel the potential is better for those things at an oval track. I rarely change the channel when a race is on, but attention wanders in the middle two hours of a NASCAR race or once the Mercedes duo is at the front of a grand prix.

Allen, Brownsburg, Indiana

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for May 1, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

This will be the last week we print any questions or rants or declarations about the possibility of Indy guaranteeing starting spots. It’s not going to happen next month, and it may never happen, and I’m not spending another minute on the subject, so please don’t waste your time writing about it. To quote Danica’s boyfriend to the Packer faithful: ‘R E L A X.” – Robin

Q: After reading last week’s Mailbag, I think people need to relax a bit about guaranteed spots. While I respectfully disagree with you one the subject, I do understand where you are coming from. If we do go to guaranteed spots in the 500 I will 100% bitch about it, but at the end of the day my butt will be in the same seat it has been in the past 22 years for qualifying. This place and this race are too important to me. Race fans just like to bitch.

As someone who became an IndyCar fan in the IRL days, I bitched about the addition of road courses to the schedule. I have since come to respect them as a different type of racing. IndyCar and the 500 have a lot of positive things going for them right now and we can’t afford to lose die-hard fans to something so trivial. Traditions have to start somewhere. For example, I cannot remember a sprint car without a roll cage – to me that is normal. With enough time, all new things become normal. Fans can feel free to bitch, but they need to keep coming to the Speedway. Bring their kids and grandkids, buy them garage passes and get them engaged in the sport. Then, when they are hooked, feel free to educate them about the “good old days.”

Michael, Hartford City, IN

RM: There’s nothing wrong with a healthy debate about the pros and cons of guaranteeing spots for the Indianapolis 500, and it’s obviously been a hot topic for The Mailbag. But to your point, is whatever happens in qualifying going to ruin the race? I would hope not.

Q: I’m a traditionalist as far as the Indy 500 goes, but I think it is time for a change. I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m in favor of guaranteed spots for the full-timers. I never thought I would say that, but its time has unfortunately come. IndyCar desperately needs big-time, full season sponsors, and it isn’t good business to penalize them for coming up short one or two days because of equipment failure or something. Thank goodness Arrow didn’t bail when Hinchcliffe didn’t make it. The sport can’t afford to have a full time rider/sponsor miss the biggest race of the year. That is the reality of racing in 2019.

Tom, San Diego

RM: The early onslaught of letters were mostly anti-guarantee, but the past few days it’s really evened out because I think people like yourself have looked at the big picture. Car owners aren’t making money in IndyCar, and we’re damn lucky to have 10 full-time teams with Mike Shank waiting in the wings and Ricardo Juncos trying to make it happen. The Indy purse hasn’t gone up in a decade and the Leader’s Circle has actually gone down, so what exactly is the incentive to run full-time? I’m not sure, but guaranteeing a spot for the 22 full-timers is about good business and taking care of the people who support this series.

Q: Et tu, Brute? The only reason we are now discussing the return of the 25/8 rule is because of the influx of talented teams and drivers with sponsors into IndyCar, many by way of the Indy 500. Just as NASCAR hated it when Mario, AJ, and Gurney used to get quality rides and school the regulars on their own playground, Roger, Chip, and Michael are afraid guys like Alonso will push one of their cars out. With all of the advantages they already have over a one-off effort, it is laughable that they are also demanding guaranteed starting spots for the one race per season in which they actually have to qualify. Babies! We have already gone down this path. More cars, drivers, and sponsors at Indy is a great thing. Bumping is good. International interest is good. Stories of giving it all for that one shot at Indy are good. Don’t take my word for it, read everything you wrote for the last 25 years.

PS: Hinch missing last year was a bigger story than Power winning.

John Masden, Georgetown, Indiana

RM: You may be discussing the 25/8 rule, but as I’ve tried to explain the past two weeks, guaranteeing 22 spots to full-time entrants is completely different. The 25/8 hammer was supposed to knock out CART, but as we know, it didn’t, and open-wheel was torn apart. As for the babies, if it wasn’t for Andretti, Penske, RLL, SPM, ECU, Carlin and Coyne running extra cars next month, there wouldn’t be close to enough cars to have bumping. Then you wouldn’t have anything to bitch about.

Q: I am disappointed at the disrespectful tone which many of the email contributors adopted when voicing their opinions about guaranteed starting positions for established IndyCar teams for the Indy 500. Robin, no one has shown more integrity and loyalty to IndyCar over the years than you have. To voice a counter opinion is fine and expected. To impugn your motives and dedication to what is best for the future of IndyCar is out of line, for none have shown more commitment to the series than you have. I was truly saddened to read some of the accusatory slurs hurled your way. So keep up the good work, Robin, and don’t let the bastards get you down.

Randall, Citrus Heights

RM: Thanks for the kind words. It’s always amusing to have some “experts” tell me what I wrote or what I think or how I’ve flip-flopped. Really? I lost my newspaper job, radio show and TV gig because I dared to point out in 1996 that May was being ruined and Indy’s credibility and popularity would suffer, which of course it did, big-time. Tony and I worked together on the merger story in 2008 and he put things back together, so today there is some real optimism between car count and Jay Frye’s five-year plan. If Mark Miles and Frye decide to guarantee spots for full-timers, it’s not anything more than good business in my mind. This isn’t a war, it’s about survival.

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Robin Miller’s Mailbag for April 24, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: I have been reading postings on other sites about guaranteed spots, one which had a link to a certain local newspaper. All I hear from you is crickets. Also seems most viewer/spectators hate the idea, including me. Go fast and don’t crash. That how racers get into a race. That’s tradition. Hint, hint, many viewers/spectators will head for the exits if this happens. Someone telling you folks what to think?

Jim, Ft. Pierce, FL

RM: Yeah Jim, I don’t make a move unless I get my orders from Chip and R.P. Then I write my story and send it for their approval before we can publish it. Been that way for 51 years. I wrote a story last May with Bobby Rahal wondering if it was time to guarantee starting spots for full-timers and I’ll weigh in next month, but you aren’t going to want to hear what I have to say. And don’t give me that crap about how racers get into Indy. Remember 1997? Oh that’s right, Nissan was going to miss the show so IMS/IRL had to give them two spots so we started 35. Or those years when all you needed was a car and four laps at any speed and you were in the show. Yeah, that’s tradition.

Q: So Roger, Chip and Michael are scared that one of their drivers might not make the Top 33? Give me a break. Does IndyCar really want to venture down the 25/8 road again? Hey R.P., Chip, Michael, this is not what the majority of fans want, and when you keep pushing away an already fragile and niche fanbase, you won’t have to worry about a series or guaranteed spots because there won’t be a one to worry about these kind of things. Grow up, race, stop being politicians and focus on the big picture you big whiners.

Hutch, PA

RM: If the fans are so passionate about this “tradition” then how come no more than 5,000 show up for qualifying?

Q: So, is it kind of ironic when Tony George started the IRL, he locked in 24 positions for the full time teams for the Indy 500. Back then, everyone bitched and moaned about it. Now, all of a sudden the big dogs want to see that happen. TG took a pounding when the IRL started, but personally I thought it was a great move to reward the full-time teams for the 500 and trying to lower the cost of IndyCar. Maybe, just maybe, TG wasn’t has stupid has everyone thought!!

Brian Lancaster, West Lafayette

RM: The IRL’s 25/8 edict was a weapon of war, and TG figured CART would cave and at least show up for one of the two races to earn points because there was no way they would miss the Indianapolis 500. Of course they staged a race in Michigan instead, and the month of May took a beating in attendance, ticket sales and credibility that took more than a decade to recover from. You can call that smart if you like, but open-wheel will never get back to what it was in 1993-95.

Q: I read about R.P. and Chip saying that full-timers should be locked in to the Indy 500. I personally agree with them, mainly because Indy is a championship race like all the others, but it stupidly pays double points. So if a driver who’s in with a shout misses the show like Hinch did last year, their season is unnecessarily derailed because they’ve effectively missed two races. What’s your view on their comments?

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

RM: Obviously the Big 3 aren’t going to miss the show unless something freaky happens, and that’s always a possibility with just one day of qualifying. I’ve got no problem guaranteeing the 22 full-timers a spot, and there can still be bumping. I said start ‘em all when there were 34 and 35 cars. Who cares? It pays $200,000. And I hate double-points at Indy and the season finale. But the bottom line is that this isn’t 1965 or 1995, and we don’t have 50 cars going for 33 spots. Amazingly we have 22 full-time cars in a series that pays squat, and Indy’s traditions were trampled a long time ago, so why not protect the key players? We’re trying to get people to watch the races, and sending a couple of big names home does what?

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