Protest panel announced, but will it matter?

One day after INDYCAR announced that it would hear the protests of Newman-Haas Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing regarding the outcome of last Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the series’ president of competition and chief steward, Brian Barnhart, has revealed the three-person panel he’s chosen to resolve the protest.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Gappens, current World of Outlaws Rules and Appeals Committee member Rollie Helmling, and USAC Chairman Jeff Stoops will help decide the final outcome of the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 and will be part of an Aug. 23 protest meeting in Indianapolis. In addition to Newman-Haas and TCGR, Andretti Autosport has been invited to take part in the hearing due to its interest in the outcome.

Newman-Haas contends that its driver, Oriol Servia, was ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay when the yellow flag came out just mere seconds after the race re-started with eight laps to go. With the track still wet from rain, Barnhart made the call to throw the green flag and multiple cars promptly spun coming out of Turn 4. After admitting error in his decision, Barnhart chose to revert the results back to before the restart.

As for the Ganassi team, their stake in this lies with Scott Dixon, whom they contend also passed Hunter-Reay for second place before the yellow flew. Dixon is currently scored third in the race results as a result of the reverted field.

The saga has so far led to a heightened outcry for Barnhart’s dismissal, not to mention a tightening of the INDYCAR rule book that more and more people are now citing as necessary. But as SPEEDTV.com’s Marshall Pruett showed in his meticulous piece that analyzed the book for any cut-and-dry answers to this problem, he found some matters that may be in Servia and Newman-Haas’ favor.

First off, it’s not the yellow flag that officially activates a caution period, it’s the TCR system that’s found on the flashing yellow lights around the track and inside the cars. Secondly, the track did go green for three seconds before the yellow flag came out — which, as it turns out, has no “official bearing” as Pruett puts it. It’s Race Control that must activate the TCR system in order to trigger an official caution. Then there’s the rule that says on restarts, the green flag means that racing can come from anywhere.

Skip the following video to 31:30 and you’ll see why Servia and Newman-Haas have a case. When the green comes out for the restart, Servia’s ahead of Hunter-Reay as Danica Patrick is already spinning. Three seconds later, the yellow light below the starter’s stand comes on, and Servia’s still ahead. As for Dixon, it doesn’t look like he’s made the pass on Hunter-Reay for second place when the light comes on; in fact, he isn’t ahead of the American until just before the start/finish line. 

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Based on all of the above, I think Servia and Newman-Haas won the race. I also think that they’ll never be recognized as the winners.

Barnhart made a critical error, but he was wise, in my opinion, to revert the order back to before the restart. That start never should’ve happened. As we all know, drivers and team owners were screaming bloody murder upon hearing that they were going back to green on a wet track. It was all a giant mess.

Then there’s the fact that 30,000 spectators and a worldwide TV audience saw Hunter-Reay declared as the winner and recipient of a 25-pound lobster for his trouble. All of that feel-good fuzz has been overshadowed because of this matter. Does INDYCAR really want to completely erase that after taking all the crap it has been for the last few days?

What would happen to the series in the court of public opinion if the current result is overturned? Some will say that it’d be manning up and doing the right thing. Others will say, ‘Oh look, INDYCAR screwed up again.’

Does the series really need another big hit to its credibility? Does Randy Bernard really need more trouble to deal with after the tough announcement of the aero kits’ delay until the 2013 season? He should be grinning right now with all the free publicity his series got this weekend. Instead, he’s being asked by the base to put Barnhart’s head on a silver platter.

I predict that the series’ best interest will emerge as the dominant factor next week and that Ryan Hunter-Reay’s victory will stand.