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 continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
A quick note before we start…
One of the best things about the Mailbag are the passionate letters you folks send 12 months a year, and this week was one of the largest and most vocal responses I’ve seen since I started doing this back in the early ’90s. I even heard from former Indy driver Scott Harrington. And it’s mostly about qualifying and bumping, which returned to IMS last weekend after a long hiatus.
In talking with Bobby Rahal last Sunday about missing the show and whether to buy a spot in the Indy 500, we discussed whether IndyCar needed to look at guaranteeing its full-timers a place like NASCAR does with the Daytona 500. Bob didn’t endorse it, and neither did I – we simply asked the question in light of Hinch being on the sidelines. And I called Mark Miles to get his thoughts. It was a news story, not a commentary, so maybe you might want to go read it again. I’ve said for the past six months if there was only 35 cars I’d start them all because we don’t want to lose any full-time sponsors in this economy, and hopefully Arrow weathers the storm.
And don’t compare what NASCAR does to 25/8 – that was a political ploy to divide and conquer. It had nothing to do with protecting big names, investments and sponsors. I’ve covered Indy for 50 years, and I know what real bumping is: it’s when 15 drivers are going for three spots in the final hour and jumping in and out of strange cars with no regard for the consequences, not one person making four attempts. I get that many were excited by the first drama we’ve seen in a while, but spare me the comparisons to the good old days.
Anyway, like we always do, we try to give everyone a chance to state their opinion so this is my blanket answer to the first half of your letters. Thanks for caring enough to write, and for reading RACER.com.
– ROBIN MILLER
Q: I read your article “Time for a qualifying re-think at Indy?” While I appreciate the thought/debate provoking nature of the piece, surely you – Robin Miller – can’t think that it is time for a change. This is what Indy is all about. The Penskes missing the show in ’95. Rahal missing in ’93. Hundreds of drivers over the years risking it all to make the race. That’s why the 25/8 rule was so disrespectful! I know it’s only two cars that got bumped this year, but IndyCar is on an upswing and things are improving throughout the sport. It is entirely possible that we see more cars attempting in the near future. I love Hinch. He is the reason my 14-year-old son is a huge IndyCar fan. My son was gutted when Hinch got bumped. But that is what is magical about Indianapolis. It doesn’t matter who you are – if you’re not fast enough, you don’t make the race – no playing favorites. This is the drama this sport needs, even at the expense of the most recognizable driver in the race. Please – do not change that rule!!!
Mark, Littleton, CO
Q: “Re-think” this… No, Miller. No, no, no, dammit! The value of qualifying for the 500 just went up, as well as the value of attending qualifying. Don’t muck it up by rethinking.
Q: So however it happened, a large contingent of drivers will start next Sunday’s Indy 500, and once again disappear for 365 days into racing (forget sports) media obscurity. Meanwhile, one of the biggest names in the series, the man who has been starring in Honda commercials, is not appearing. Let that sink in, and just think how plain embarrassing this is. You want to know where this wouldn’t happen? It’s spelled N-A-S-C-A-R, and you wonder why it’s five times as popular? Listen, if Hinch were that that slow, fine. He wasn’t. He had the bad luck of having to run on a green track, and was given little time to make that up thanks to Mother Nature, and what is clearly a ridiculous format.
To have cars requalifying to make the Fast 9 clearly is not drama anybody cares about. The entire affair looked silly, and quite frankly, like it was drawn up by Brian France. I don’t want more than 33 to start, but my gosh, what are we doing? How can we have cars trying to bump into a phony Top 9, and others dying on the pitlane, unable to make it into the race? I haven’t been this embarrassed to be an IndyCar fan since TGBB restarted ’em in the wet at Loudon.
Greg in Belleville, NJ
Q: I am as shocked and saddened as anyone that James Hinchcliffe was bumped from this year’s 500. But I don’t agree that we should rethink qualifying because one of the best, most popular drivers was not among the 33 fastest. Reserving places for the full-timers is akin to the old IRL 25/8 rule. I think that would discourage one-off efforts at Indianapolis. How many Indy-only efforts would there be if they were only competing for eight or nine slots on the starting grid? This way, they know they have an equal shot at making the race.
Also, everyone wanted bumping, like the old days. Now we have it. Sometimes there are surprises, and drivers we never thought would have been bumped are bumped. I’ve been attending the 500 since 1962. I remember 1965 when Rodger Ward, who in the previous six 500s, finished first twice, second twice, third and fourth, was bumped. No-one suggested altering the qualifying procedures. The same in 1993 when Bobby Rahal, defending CART champion, was bumped, and 1995, when Penske couldn’t get either of his cars into the top 33. The price of bumping is that some drivers, good drivers, fan favorites, recognizable drivers, may not make the race. Manipulating the starting line-up to guarantee certain drivers are in the race is a NASCAR tactic. Let it stay there. I feel sorry for Hinchcliffe and all of SPM. I also feel sorry for Pippa Mann and her team. But as Hinch said, Indy can be a cruel mistress; and like any cruel mistress, is full of surprises.
Peter, Gainesville, Va.
Q: Hinch. One of only five drivers in the field with national media exposure outside of IndyCar. Great sponsor. Full-season entrant. Bumped. NASCAR would have never let this happen. I’m still baffled by the decision not to start all 35 cars.
Clint, Chicago, IL
Q: Okay, so now “Mr. Tradition” thinks the Speedway and IndyCar needs to revisit their qualifying rules because one of the big names didn’t make it. Here’s a wild idea: how about we keep the 33 spots intact, but, say we reserve a certain number of positions, maybe 25, for full-time series participants. We can call it the 25/8 rule. What do you think??
Scott C, Bargersville, IN
Q: It’s so funny everyone (including you) has been saying for how many years, “I miss Bump Day, we need Bump Day, we need larger crowds for qualifying”. We finally get Bump Day back and everyone is crying it’s different than NASCAR. Thank God! That’s what makes Indy, Indy. If Davison got bumped, this would be a non-story. It could have been worse – Danica could have been bumped! Then what? Let’s make Danica win because that would be a great story, or let’s give a trophy to everyone in field because we don’t want any losers, waaa waaah. Just put Hinchcliffe in the booth instead of Cheever. What’s worse: not qualifying for the Indy 500, or crashing on the on the pace lap from pole? There have been plenty of people that have qualified but never finished the first lap. It’s no different. Be thankful we had more than 33 cars, and hope we will again next year.
Tony, Mamaroneck, New York
Q: I can’t help but feel that after the struggles to field 33 cars the past several years, that Bump Day is just stupid now. And I don’t buy the “Tradition” argument. The Tradition ship sailed years ago when two weekends of qualifying changed, among many other things. Here’s my solution: any car qualifying slower than 33rd must start from the pit lane. They go with the field for the parade laps, but coming to the green flag must pull into the pit lane at the pit lane speed limit, and rejoin the track on the backstretch. Also, there should be a minimum speed rule, since you don’t want a car qualifying for the race that’s 20mph slower than everyone else.
Q: I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve read one of your articles and found myself shaking my head, but I find some of what you say regarding Indy lately a little hypocritical. You ran an article about including NASCAR and Formula 1 drivers to the IMS Hall of Fame, titled “Spitting in the Face of Tradition.” Then you champion the effort to have all 35 drivers who showed up be allowed entrance to the race, eschewing decades of tradition at Indy and reminding us all of the debacle that was the 1997 installment.
Now, after bumping finally returns and – in my personal opinion – two consecutive days of some of the best qualifying crowds in recent memory despite the weather, you are calling for IndyCar to adopt NASCAR’s horrendous charter system. NASCAR has made one bad move after another, leading to artificial racing, declining crowds, and withering TV audiences. IndyCar should be running from anything NASCAR-related. You’re still the best, you’re just wrong on these accounts.
Q: I’m shocked such a champion of tradition like you even suggested changes to the qualifying format. Hinch being bumped has actually put more emotion into this year’s 500 than any other in recent history. Want to change the format? Consider this: two-day format like now. Pole day Saturday, Bump Day Sunday. Everyone must make at least one attempt on Saturday, but are allowed unlimited runs. Only top nine are locked in on Saturday. Everyone else comes back on Sunday and tries again as many times as they want. This gives those slow cars from Saturday a second chance to qualify. In case of Sunday washout. Saturday times stand.
Having Hinch out is gut-wrenching, but this is what Indy means. Just ask Al Jr. There must be another way to accommodate sponsors and teams without resorting to provisionals or expanding the field. I’d rather see selling the naming rights first. Let’s face it, a past champion’s provisional or promoter’s option isn’t going to infuse the cash needed, and failure to make the show isn’t going to hurt the series or race significantly. If anything, a major driver bump has attracted more attention to this year’s race than lack of bumping has.