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.
Questions for Robin can be sent to email@example.com. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda/HPD.
Q: Can a team, especially a big team and one with technical alliances, fall into a trap of relying too much on their technical/data instincts and ignore their “racer” instincts? Some examples: Ed Carpenter Racing must have missed the memo that Chevy teams weren’t supposed to be competitive. When asked Sunday morning if Team Penske had reached out for help, Ed said no and that he more or less wouldn’t expect them too. That to me says it’s not Chevy issue, it’s a Penske issue. Rinus VeeKay said something similar after qualifying that Chevy gives them plenty of power and tools and it works for his team. Ed, and his team, are racers, and drive them fast and hard. Third and fourth are the results.
On Friday during the broadcast, Paul Tracy said, “At Team Penske, they more or less tell you your setup.” Could this be why their rookie driver (albeit an exceptional one) was the best qualifying car in what was a pretty dismal performance? No data to rely on, just going with a gut and being a racer, not looking at endless years of data of what should and shouldn’t work?
On Sunday morning during practice, Townsend Bell and PT were discussing the merits of Top Gun Racing being able to throw out everything but the kitchen sink to try and go fast, versus Team Penske not being able to take that big leap due to sponsor obligations, etc. PT (in my mind, correctly) thought it was a benefit for Top Gun, and Bell disagreed. Your thoughts? Last question, any rough idea on the crowd sizes? Sunday especially looked quite well-attended.
Chris, Chicago, IL
RM: Of course, anybody can get lost and that’s what happened to Team Penske in 1995, but instead of taking the cars from Rahal as is, they naturally had to change them. At least that’s what I recall. R.P. is very proud and doesn’t ask for help and it’s worked 18 times, so not sure how a qualifying badass like Power can be stuck in the last row and a rookie with very little oval-track experience blow off all his teammates, but that’s why it’s called racing. I doubt if Scott was some renegade going out on his own, but whatever he had suited his style. ECR’s awesome performance took away any Penske excuse that it was Chevrolet. Top Gun did about as well as can be expected considering its time frame and maybe Penske was more conservative, but I doubt sponsors had anything to do with it. I was told 45,000 people each day and that looked fairly accurate – nice turnout.
Q: I enjoy reading your work. Several years ago when I found RACER magazine and saw your name, I thought it was your son since I remember seeing your name for what seems a half century. Keep it up. What has happened to Penske? Last year it had a slow start to the season and an overall small step back in performance. This year, the performance has eroded further. Is it due to loss of personnel, Roger’s distancing from active team management or something else?
RM: Well, Penske won seven races in 2020 and Newgarden was a close second in the title, so I don’t really see that as regression. The bottom line is that it’s just a lot more competitive and tougher to win a race with all these talented kids.
Q: My question is with regard to bluffing, if there is such a thing. Over the years at Indy, during the practice weeks leading up to qualifying; when certain large, successful teams seem to be struggling to get up to speed, I’ve heard the phrase, “They’re not showing all of their cards just yet.” Is this truly a tactic used sometimes by the teams? If so, what is it supposed to do – lead other teams into a false sense of security? I would think all of the teams would be doing the best they possibly can to get the most out of their cars, regardless of what other teams are doing, or not doing. Chip Ganassi Racing sure doesn’t seem bashful about showing how fast its cars are this year. What say you?
Steve Sporer, Chicago, IL
RM: A.J. and Sneva would run two or three corners hard and then back off so nobody could get a read on their lap times (long before computers ruled), and in 1994 all the Team Penske drivers were told to never run a complete hot lap in practice for fear of exposing their advantage. So it happens, but probably a lot less now because everyone has the same equipment.
Q: I know it’s pretty late to sell tickets, but with the CDC lifting mask regulations, any chance they’ll up the attendance limit for Indy? Even in California the L.A. Dodgers are going to full capacity. Seems The Captain is getting screwed here. Will they lift the mask requirements inside the track now, too?
RM: It doesn’t appear there will be any concessions made in either area. Our beloved mayor said at the annual breakfast last weekend to blame him for the masks and I do because fans are outdoors, most of them have been tested and the rest of the country is loosening up.