IndyCar: Milwaukee traffic leads to road rage as series heads to Sonoma

Many of the top contenders left last weekend's IndyCar race at Milwaukee frustrated with the behavior of lapped traffic during the event.

Josef Newgarden leads a pack of cars during Sunday's ABC Suppy Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee.

Phillip Abbott / LAT Photographic

WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin – One of the unique characteristics of a Verizon IndyCar Series race on a flat, short oval such as The Milwaukee Mile is how traffic is one of the main challenges in a 250-lap race. It doesn’t take long for the fast drivers to catch up to the slow drivers on a track that has produced some outstanding IndyCar memories in its 111-year history as the world’s oldest continuous race course.

But traffic in Sunday’s ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 had the second- and third-place finishers sounding like they had road rage.

Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya finished second behind teammate Will Power but believes he was impeded throughout the race by slower drivers Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth. He also got off the throttle at one point late in the race and the eventual fifth-place finisher Josef Newgarden ran into the back of him.

“I’m really pissed off, disappointed,” Montoya said after Sunday’s race. “I’m kind of frustrating with the traffic. We’ve really got to come up with a formula. It's understandable at the beginning of the race that you want to stay on the lead lap but when you have 20, 30 laps to go, you're just in the way. You're about to hit the wall every lap, it's kind of embarrassing. But that's what they did. I was pretty mad.”

Third-place finisher Tony Kanaan also expressed concerns over what he thought was “unprofessional driving.”

“Like Juan said, it’s a little frustrating,” Kanaan said. “I don't think towards the end we had the car to beat Will Power. I think we could have been a lot closer if we didn't get the interference from traffic.

“I think when you're two or three laps down, there is no point of you holding people up for position. I just don't understand that. But it is what it is. I know who these guys were. What goes around comes around. Hopefully I won't be in that position to hold anybody up, two laps down. But it's really frustrating.

“I understand if you're fighting to keep yourself on the lead lap because you haven't got a lap down. But you're like two, three laps down, 30 laps to go, why you want to get in the middle of first, second and third place to affect the race, which nothing is going to change for you? It was really frustrating. They're trying to prove a point in the end, which in the end there's no point to prove.”

Neither driver said afterwards there is any point in talking to the drivers they had issues with. But both drivers said they have taken mental notes of the offenders and may pay them back in future races.

“People that don't learn will never learn. If you had a bumper, move them out of the way a couple times,” said Montoya, who spent 2007-2013 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and wasn’t afraid to bump other competitors out of the way. “I used it a few times. It's just frustrating. I think that's where the people calling the race, they should help the drivers, say, 'Hey, you just went a lap down, this is second place coming.'”

It was Montoya’s first race at The Milwaukee Mile since he won on that course in 2000 in CART. When asked about that race, Montoya laughed about how traffic was an issue back then, too.

“It's just hard. With a flat racetrack, so many marbles, it's what the track brings,” said Montoya. “I think in a place like this, the officials have to come up and do something a little more aggressive.

“Once the leader gets within a second, give him five or 10 seconds to stay there. It's different than a street course. A street course is a long way around. Here, you get a caution; you'll be behind the same guy within 15 freaking laps. Here we go again.”

Montoya did find irony in being so unhappy about a second-place finish but was still steamed at what he believed lack of professionalism on the race course. The current IndyCar rules formula is so tight, it’s hard to get around other drivers.

“I don't think it's the package,” Kanaan said. “You can tell the difference between a really good driver and an average driver on an oval. This is the hardest thing we do. These are the fastest corners we take. It's one after the other after the other after the other. You can see the guys that have the talent and the guys that don't.”

“I think it's the person behind the package,” Montoya responded. “People a lap down will race you all the way into the corner. It's like I got inside the 67 (Newgarden) once. I let him go afterwards. He drove me nearly over the curb in one and two. I was there.

“What do you do next time you're beside him? You go all the way to the marbles.

“You want to stay there, knock yourself out.”

The race winner had a few challenging moments with traffic but he didn’t see anything unusual. Perhaps that’s because Power and his Dallara/Chevrolet were the class of the 22-car field all weekend after winning the pole by a wide margin and then dominating the race, leading 229 laps in the 250-lap battle.

“Once you get to traffic, you've got to be able to get through it, which was difficult today,” Power said. “Definitely at the end my car was good through traffic. Juan was closing. I pushed hard to get through a couple of guys and get a gap, which I was able to do. I wasn't quite as good in traffic.

“That's what short-track racing is. You're always going to be encountering lap traffic. That's the key, if you get a car that you can get by. That's just short-track racing, how it is. You know you're going to be fighting back markers hard because they want to stay on the lead lap, and they're entitled to.”

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