NEWTON, IOWA (AP) - IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield's decision to penalize Will Power for blocking Tony Kanaan during last weekend's race in Texas was a bold call that changed the race and was met with approval from drivers and officials alike.
A few laps later, Justin Wilson cruised to victory in a car with illegal parts that IndyCar technicians missed during pre-race inspections.
Just another weekend of two steps forward and one step back for the IndyCar series.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard acknowledged to The Associated Press while in Iowa Tuesday that the techs simply missed the parts. Wilson was docked five points by IndyCar and Dale Coyne Racing was fined $7,500 for failing a post-race inspection. IndyCar says that Wilson's car had unapproved pieces of bodywork fitted to its sidepods.
"It's no different than an NFL game or major league baseball game. I mean, you watch one that you think should have been a strike," said Bernard, who was at the Iowa Speedway for testing ahead of the June 23 race. "It's human error, and I think the fact is you're not going to get by the techs ... very often."
IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said Wilson's team ran with standard parts that had originally been approved for Texas but were later barred.
"He ran the same parts in qualifying. So if it was such a big deal, would that not have put him higher up than 17th?," Phillips said of Wilson.
Wilson said IndyCar techs caught one of the illegal parts on his car, rear wheel backing plates, which his team promptly took off. But while Wilson said that leaving the illegal top infill panel on the car without his team or IndyCar catching it was "embarrassing," he said it was unintentional and didn't help him win.
"It's pretty obvious. It's sitting on top of the sidepods, it's not like we're trying to hide some trick bits or anything," Wilson said. "From everything we've looked at, it didn't gain downforce."
Count Dario Franchitti among those who disagree.
"I asked my engineers how much downforce would that have given him. They gave me the number and I said I would cut a body part off for that amount of downforce during the race. I not going to say which body part," said Franchitti, who finished 14th. "It was a big thing. I'm happy Justin won. I thought he did a hell of a job. But it was definitely an advantage."
Helio Castroneves, who finished seventh, also thought Wilson gained an edge in downforce and took issue with the penalties imposed on Wilson.
"This is my opinion, OK? Certainly if they want to keep the win, which is OK, the penalties should be in my opinion a little more severe because at this point the guy wins the race, collect the points, only deducted five points and $7,500 in money. If you make the count, if the prize money is $35,000, he's still in pretty good shape on that one. And five points doesn't move the team anyway," Castroneves said.
That the race winner was docked points and his team was fined has threatened to overshadow the fact that race in Texas was a lot safer than many expected while still producing a thrilling finish.
Oh, and even Power seemed to think Barfield's call was the right call to make.
Having the drivers put some trust in the tower is a welcome change for IndyCar, which suffered through some rather ugly incidents in 2011 involving drivers and Barfield's predecessor, Brian Barnhart, leading to his ouster. Last year, Power was furious when Barnhart decided to resume racing at New Hampshire despite protests from multiple drivers that it was raining too hard.
The slick conditions caused a crash on the restart that collected Power, who infamously flashed his two middle fingers toward Barnhart. Castroneves later called out Barnhart on Twitter.
But the drivers seem to agree that things have gone more smoothly in 2012. There were plenty of concerns about how things would go at Texas's high-banked oval in the wake of Dan Wheldon's death at a similar track in Las Vegas last season, but the race nearly went off without a hitch.
"Beaux has done a good job so far. I think Texas was a definite high point, as far as working with the drivers; Beaux, Phillips and the drivers and teams working together to come up with that package. That was really an open dialogue between all of us to come up with something that really put on a good show and put drivers back in charge of the cars," Franchitti said.