INDIANAPOLIS -- The inaugural season of IndyCar racing in the Verizon era got off to a surprisingly smooth start on the racetrack.
The first 75 laps out of 110 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ran uninterrupted, highlighted by eventual winner Will Power's exciting outside-inside pass of Takuma Sato for the lead on Lap 30 through Turns 1 and 2. But once the track was swept after the yellow for Charlie Kimball's stall, Power ran into his only problem of the race.
The Australian claimed that while he watched his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves make an unusual move in the rearview mirror, the green flag was waved earlier than Power expected -- in fact, before he reached the acceleration zone as it was explained in the driver's meeting.
Power slowed in response to Castroneves' move, and Helio had to back off suddenly, causing an accordion effect that led to a crash further back in the field that was triggered by Jack Hawksworth, the rookie who up to that point had made a very impressive IndyCar debut for Bryan Herta Autosport.
There was speculation that Power had brake-checked his teammate, a scenario that was immediately denied by Team Penske president (and Power's race strategist) Tim Cindric. For that matter, even Castroneves didn't think there was anything amiss with Power's tactics.
"He did play," Castroneves said. "You've got to understand, Will and I know each other for a long time. He knows my tricks. I didn't quite know that trick from him, and he got me -- which is good. He knew where I was going, so he did something that I was not expecting and it caught me by surprise.
"Brake-check -- I did that in the past when I was young," Castroneves said. "The problem is -- well, it's not a problem, it's competition. You just have to keep learning from your competitors. Today I learned my lesson."
INDYCAR is using a new system with three stewards at each race, and the consensus at St. Petersburg between Beaux Barfield, Brian Barnhart and Johnny Unser was that Power did nothing wrong on the restart in question. However, INDYCAR vice president of competition Derrick Walker said that Power was given a warning for accelerating too soon for the subsequent restart after the crash involving Hawksworth and Marco Andretti was cleaned up -- which was perhaps Power's reaction to the mayhem from the previous restart.
Regarding the initial, contested restart, Power said: "I wasn't even in the zone that you have like 200 yards or whatever it is, to decide for the leader to go when he wants. I didn't touch the brakes -- did not touch the brakes. They actually threw the green before I was even in the zone, so it was confusing to me.
"So the next restart I just went, because I figured they were going to throw the green anyway."
Ryan Hunter-Reay took advantage of Castroneves' lift to pass the Brazilian into Turn 1 on the first restart. Hunter-Reay went on to finish second to Power, with Castroneves third.
Hunter-Reay said that the second, faster restart, which earned Power a warning from INDYCAR race control, was more of what he expected.
"He certainly stacked up Helio on the first one -- that's why I got a big run on Helio and passed Helio," Hunter-Reay said. "The next one he just went. The next one was OK.
"I don't know why, I just had a feeling after the pace car came off, [Power] would stack up everybody, slow down to his own pace to get an advantage," RHR said. "I was expecting it; I guess Helio wasn't. Then you got the guys in third and fourth gear coming through the back. They've got to catch up to that. We've always had stack-ups. It's just this one was pretty bad."
Andretti, who walked away limping and nursing a sore wrist after slamming into a concrete wall on the pit straight, put the blame on race leader Power. "It's hard to see because I was pretty far back, but Will just stopped," he said. "Once you go, you gotta go. It was a bit of an accordion effect, and I just got caught up. But that's what happens when you're in the back [Andretti was running 13th at the time after qualifying sixth] so I've really got no one to blame but myself."
Conversely, Hunter-Reay, who had a better view of what Power did on the controversial restart, backed the Australian's version of what happened.
"In my opinion, the leader shouldn't brake-check or stop and then go, but I didn't see that being very intentional from Will that way," Hunter-Reay said. "What I saw was he kind of set his own pace at that time. It's up for argument that maybe that was too slow. It was very slow.
"I feel like the leader should accelerate when he needs to and set the pace he wants because he's leading the race, but he needs to do it in a safe and predictable manner. We could argue if that was the case today."
INDYCAR has reverted to single-file restarts on road and street courses in 2014 after experimenting with double-file restarts for the past two years. Double-file restarts will remain in place at all ovals except Indianapolis.
Hunter-Reay believes the single-file restart contributed to the only accident in Sunday's race.
"When we had the double-file restarts, there was that stack-up as well, but this is more dramatic because it's single file, which is a longer line, and the restart point now is later than last year," he said. "So that means when we get to that point, the tail end of the field is going to be hustling to get up to the tail end of the line. When they get there, they have to get down to pace car speed or less.
"There's always going to be some stack-up. The guys in the front need to not stack up the field as much and the guys in the back need to expect a stack-up. Those two things combined, we should iron those out pretty well."
Walker said that INDYCAR considered using double-file restarts at wider street courses like St. Petersburg, but decided to mandate the same procedure across the board with all restarting in one line.
"Rather than have one weekend where we're doing them or and one where we are not doing them, we're just going to be consistent and do one thing," he said. "Double-file starts are exciting to watch, but when we start banging into each other, we look like idiots."
Unfortunately, that's what happened Sunday, even with a single-file restart. The good news is that the incident was relatively minor and did not affect the outcome of what was generally an excellent race.