HOUSTON — It’s fitting, really, that Dario Franchitti’s frightening crash on the final lap of the Grand Prix of Houston is the one thing this season that has gotten IndyCar some mainstream attention.
Far be it for the beleaguered series to draw any interest for something other than a crash that injured 13 fans, an IndyCar official and left the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner hospitalized with a fractured spine and broken ankle.
The accident was replayed on television stations across the country and even made a morning show or two on Monday. It came with a hitch, though: At least one network mistakenly referred to IndyCar as NASCAR, and instead of recognizing Franchitti for his impressive racing resume, more than a few chose to identify him as the ex-husband of actress Ashley Judd.
That’s so IndyCar.
Then again, so was the entire visit to Houston. Despite a dedicated promoter and strong corporate backing in title sponsor Shell-Pennzoil, Sunday’s event was plagued before IndyCar even got on the track.
Construction on the course around Reliant Park could not begin until after the Houston Texans’ Sept. 29 game, so nobody had a clue there was a huge bump in the asphalt where Turn 1 would be located. Scott Dixon saw Helio Castroneves run over the bump during Saturday’s race – “he hit really hard going through the Turn 1 kink” – and Castroneves essentially bottomed out. The whole thing cost Castroneves all but eight points of the 49-point lead he had over Dixon. He now trails Dixon by 25 points with only the Oct. 19 season finale remaining.
Dixon wasn’t immune from one of those “only in IndyCar” moments, either.
Qualifying for Sunday’s race was pushed to Sunday morning, but it rained, IndyCar canceled the session and set the field by entrant points. Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing team led the entrant points on Sunday morning and so Dixon was celebrated as the pole winner.
But sometime after the official pole-winner presentation, somebody decided to read the rule book. That’s when it was discovered that a doubleheader weekend isn’t split in determining the entrant points, and Castroneves was actually the pole-sitter.
But it wouldn’t be IndyCar if it made any sense.