Robin Miller Mailbag from May 26, presented by Honda Racing / HPD
Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag brought to you 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 regarding Robin can be sent to [email protected] Due to the high volume of questions received, we cannot always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will answer as many as he can. The published questions have been edited for clarity. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda / HPD.
Q: Can a team, especially a large team and a team with technical alliances, fall into the trap of relying too much on their technical / data instincts and ignoring their “runner” instincts? A few examples: Ed Carpenter Racing must have missed the memo that Chevy teams weren’t meant to be competitive. When asked on Sunday morning if the Penske team had asked for help, Ed said no and he would more or less expect it. That tells me it’s not a Chevy problem, it’s a Penske problem. Rinus VeeKay said something similar after qualifying that Chevy gives them a lot of power and tools and that it works for his team. Ed and his team are runners and drive them fast and hard. The third and fourth are the results.
On the show on Friday, Paul Tracy said, “At Team Penske, they more or less tell you your setup.” Could this be why their rookie (albeit exceptional) driver was the best qualifying car in what was a pretty dismal performance? No data to trust, just go with a gut and be a runner, not look at endless years of data on what should and shouldn’t work?
Sunday morning, during practice, Townsend Bell and PT were discussing the merits of Top Gun Racing being able to throw everything except the kitchen sink to try and go fast, against Team Penske not being able to make that big jump due to the obligations of sponsors, etc. PT (in my mind, correctly) thought it was an advantage for Top Gun, and Bell disagreed. Your thoughts? Last question, a rough idea of the size of the crowd? Sunday, in particular, looked quite busy.
Chris, Chicago, IL
RM: Of course, anyone can get lost and that’s what happened to Team Penske in 1995, but instead of taking Rahal’s cars as is, they naturally had to change them. At least that’s what I remember. RP is very proud and doesn’t ask for help and it has worked 18 times so I don’t know how a qualifying badass like Power can get stuck in the back row and a rookie with very little experience on the oval track. blow up all of his teammates, but that’s why it’s called racing. I doubt Scott was a renegade going out on his own, but it didn’t matter what he had adapted to his style. ECR’s impressive performance took away any excuse from Penske that it was Chevrolet. Top Gun did about as well as you might expect given its schedule and maybe Penske was more conservative, but I doubt the sponsors have anything to do with it. I was told 45,000 people every day and it sounded pretty accurate – a good turnout.
Q: I like to read 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 like half a century to me. Keep it up. What happened to Penske? Last year he had a slow start to the season and a small step backwards in performance. This year, the performance has eroded again. Is it due to the loss of staff, Roger’s distance from active management of the team or something else?
RM: Well, Penske won seven races in 2020 and Newgarden was second in the title, so I don’t really see that as a regression. At the end of the day, it’s a lot more competitive and harder to win a race with all these talented youngsters.
Q: My question is about bluffing, if there is such a thing. Over the years at Indy, during the weeks of practice leading to qualification; when some big, successful teams seem to have a hard time leveling up, I heard the phrase, “They’re not showing all of their cards yet.” Is this really a tactic sometimes used by teams? If so, what is he supposed to do – lead the other teams into a false sense of security? I think all teams would do their best to get the most out of their cars, regardless of what other teams are doing or not doing. Chip Ganassi Racing certainly doesn’t seem shy about the speed of his cars this year. What you say?
Steve Sporer, Chicago, IL
RM: AJ and Sneva would run a couple of hard corners and then back up so no one could read their lap times (long before computers could steer), and in 1994 all of Team Penske’s riders were told to never run a full 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 late enough to sell tickets, but with the CDC’s lifting mask regulations, is it possible that they are increasing the attendance limit for Indy? Even in California, the LA Dodgers are reaching full capacity. It looks like the captain is screwing himself over here. Will they also lift the mask requirements inside the track?
RM: It doesn’t look like there will be any concessions in either area. Our beloved mayor said at last weekend’s annual breakfast to blame him for the masks and I’m doing it because the fans are outside most of them have been tested and the rest of the country relaxes.