After NBCSN’s first Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season, we checked in once again with our NBC Sports Group IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for MotorSportsTalk’s first 2014 installment of “Ten with Townsend.” Look for more of these to come over the course of the year. For a 2013 archive, check this link.
Without further adieu, thoughts from our ace expert on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:
-With St. Petersburg a relatively mild race until the one restart, were you surprised by the level of aggression we saw at Long Beach?
Not really. I would say that’s the norm these days. For good reason too, because it’s so tough to win now. I fully expect a multitude of winners this season. So much quality, parity etc.
-Mike Conway’s win owed a bit to luck, but clearly he’s had the performance on street courses to help Ed Carpenter Racing. Where do you rate him in the field in terms of how talented he is on the road and street circuits?
Top 5 without question. To come in like he does part-time, bouncing between WEC commitments is hard enough already. Detroit last year was flat out breathtaking. I can still remember the first time he showed up for Panther Racing at a Sonoma test in 2008 (I think it was). Straight away- stunning speed.
-With Will Power’s St. Pete restart and now contact with Simon Pagenaud at Long Beach, were you surprised at all by either of those? Or was it more surprising there were no penalties assessed to him?
I didn’t see anything wrong with his St Pete restart. In fact I think it was text book to what was requested by race control. The Long Beach contact was certainly open for review but we are seeing the new ‘hands off’ stance that IndyCar announced previously – let the drivers sort it out. The flip side is the carnage the ensued after Hunter Reay’s similar move on Newgarden. So I’m not sure what the position will be now going forward with respect to ‘avoidable contact’. (BTW I never liked that term) I wouldn’t want that job in race control, so we’re lucky to have people who step up for the abuse!! In the end, life without fenders is complicated but so fantastic at the same time.
-Also Power-related, do you think his momentum was properly able to carry over from late last year into the first two races of the year? Or just more a case of starting strong without regard to 2013 finish?
I’d say St. Pete was expected and Long Beach was a disaster (by his standards) blessed with good fortune. His race pace was no better or worse than the top 10 cars, but circumstances fell his way for sure. The competition didn’t need that!
-Most impressive rookie thus far: Hawksworth, Munoz, Aleshin or Huertas?
Man that’s tough. Have to pull out Munoz because he had some races last season, not a pure rookie in my book. If you analyze their circumstances, the other 3 can all make strong cases. Hawksworth on pace, Aleshin on consistency, Huertas on the last second nature of his program. Flip a coin but all these guys are solid and going to cause headaches (strong competition) for the establishment for the rest of the season.
-Two races in – biggest surprise and biggest disappointment.
Surprise- Rookies are super strong and mistake free.
Disappointment- Seems like Rahal just can’t find the sweet spot to start the season these last few years..they certainly are putting forth the effort and resources. But hiring Servia was a smart move. He will help them tune things in, but he only can if he’s there full-time.
-Thoughts on JPM’s first two races back?
Methodically coming back to old form but not there yet…
-How was PT to work with in the booth? From a viewer’s standpoint he really helped add to yours and Leigh’s insights. Even on the course preview lap, too.
He was my IndyCar idol as a teenager so I’m biased. But the fans loved him and I certainly enjoyed the perspective and candor. He’s one of the most successful IndyCar drivers of all time, so when he speaks, we should listen. But with the Blue Demon mask on…his lips don’t quite work the same.
-You’ve seen how competitive this field is. Having the opportunity with KV for the 500 now confirmed, how much confidence does that give you to be in your usual one-off role but now with the defending champion team?
I sit there in the booth, looking at the depth of talent and competition, and think ‘oh boy, I’m about to jump in this tornado.’ But I think that every year and just go for it. Kind of like sitting at the bar, watching a mosh pit in full glory, pounding a shot and then getting it on. Insert Miles’ advice from Risky Business here..
-Besides IndyCar, a very busy year planned for you with the TUDOR Championship, Red Bull GRC broadcasts and additional TV work. What challenge are you looking most forward to this year?
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.