June 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Terry Foster

Crashes slow early racing before riveting finish

Detroit -- The garage area behind the main grandstands turned into chaos.

Fragments that used to be racecars were carried onto tow trucks. Some teams gave up trying to win the second IndyCar race of the Belle Isle Grand Prix on Sunday and instead packed up and lowered their team flags before the race was even halfway done.

Other teams diligently fixed their cars and sent them back onto the track. With so many early cautions you just never knew if the entire field would blow up in smoke.

Welcome to the Detroit Demolition Derby, where every clean lap should have been met with Bronx cheers.

For the second year in a row, the Grand Prix turned into a situation comedy without the laugh track. Last year, a crumbling track left us in stitches. This time, the drivers turned into blockheads. Some said the problem was the combination of hot tires turning cool after cautions on a new surface.

Racing on the inside of the track was good. Racing on the outside was bad because there were too many rubber bits on the road.

Racing on red tires was bad because they were slower and slick. Racing on blacks was good because they produced good speed.

Got it?

Scott Dixon, who finished fourth, didn't blame the track at all.

"The track was perfect," he said. "It was just the crazy drivers, man."

Dixon broke into laughter after that.

6 crashes in first 28 laps

The crashes did not discriminate. Team Penske driver AJ Allmendinger was the first to go — and Penske has spent millions to bring the race back to Detroit and even bumped it into the sweet spot following the Indianapolis 500.

Here's the good news.

The race turned into a good old-fashioned track meet at the end. There was some drama and maybe the best driver did not win, but there was action that kept fans on their feet.

Few were laughing during the early laps of the race. There were groans because the race seemed to stop every five minutes. There were six crashes in the first 28 laps, or every 10.97 miles. If your kid did that, he wouldn't drive the family car until age 25.

There were no more crashes after that was because there wasn't anything to run into, after a multi-car crash momentarily knocked out nearly half the field. The guy who got the shaft was Mike Conway, who broke away from the field following every restart. Somehow Conway was in fifth place, 22 seconds behind the leader, with a few laps to go. He wasn't involved in the multi-car crash but shortly after, his right rear tire turned to mush and it slowed him down until he could get it changed.

Making something happen

By the time the race ended he was the best car again and was breathing down James Jakes' neck for second place. Conway had the best car much of the day but as we are learning with the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers series, the best team does not always win.

Jakes, who finished second behind Simon Pagenaud, did not win because his wing was busted up on the final crash. He even touched a wall on Turn 6 with about 11 laps to go.

"I was hit from every angle on Turn 1," Jakes said. "How I did not go out, I don't know."

It's amazing that anybody finished this race. Cars seemed to crash for no reason. The track was no more crowded than any other street course; it's just that everybody wanted to make something happen as quickly as possible.

Patience was good. But nobody was in a patient mood.

"It was a lot of fun," Dixon said. "You had some guys with tons of grip and you had some with no grip and you are fighting to get through the corners."

It led to some good old-fashioned racing once you got past the early shenanigans.


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Ed Carpenter, right, runs into Sebastien Bourdais after Carpernter got spun in Turn 2. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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