It’s official. IndyCar is swapping its season finale at Sonoma for one at Laguna Seca instead, starting in 2019. A lot of people are stoked. A lot of people are definitely not. And I am definitely one of those people asking IndyCar “what are you doing?!”
Because the last IndyCar race should be at an oval.
Don’t try to argue with me. It’s true. Ever since the reunification of the series, IndyCar has been something of a beautiful disaster. Tracks come and go, the series struggles to maintain solid TV ratings, and race attendance isn’t always great. But the racing is incredible. It’s a sport that has been pretty unpredictable for the last few years, which isn’t something you can say about certain other international open-wheel racing series.
But because IndyCar is a hot mess, and because their races at ovals are often hot messes, it only makes sense that the season finale should take place at a track that lets that really shine.
Think about it. The 2017 season finale at Sonoma was a pretty straightforward race. We all knew Josef Newgarden was going to win the championship if all went well, and since it was a road course, the chances of disaster striking at the last minute was pretty impossible. It’s kind of tough to maintain your excitement in a race like that. It’s like when Lewis Hamilton wins the F1 championship with three races to go. The rest of the season just gets kinda “meh”.
But put the finale on an oval? Oh baby. Anything goes. Some sort of race-ending fiasco is always on the brink of happening. Drivers get lapped left and right, they’re going three wide on restarts, a backmarker crashes into a leader and all hell breaks loose—it’s fun. That shit keeps you on your toes. You don’t get to breathe easy all season because it could all blow up in the last race.
Jim Ayello at IndyStar wondered if Gateway in St. Louis wouldn’t be the better option—although, mostly just to bring IndyCar back to its central fanbase in the Midwest. I’m thinking Gateway wouldn’t be a bad idea as a finale because of the spectacular race it hosted in 2017. It was fun. It was unpredictable. It offered drivers a chance to shine in a season that might have been pretty dull for them.
I totally understand that swanky Californian race courses are a very official looking way to end the season. It’s like Formula E hosting their season finale in the glitz and glamour of New York City.
But IndyCar isn’t really a glitzy, glamorous series—and that’s awesome! That’s an identity they should definitely claim ownership of! Become the racing series of the people. Embrace the fact that ovals can be mad exciting races with super cool strategy changes—that an oval race doesn’t just equal “redneck”, that there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes to get these cars running like they do on a track like that, but that you don’t have to know a damn thing to recognize good, dirty fun when you see it.
The last race of the season should be unpredictable. It shouldn’t be a parade. Now give me my damn ovals and the end-of-season outrage.