It's never a good thing when a driver hits bad luck on the first lap of a race, but sometimes misfortune can bring a positive outcome for fans.
That's exactly what happened after Graham Rahal was collected in a Turn 2 incident triggered when Mikhail Aleshin spun at the start of Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
Rather than stew after being knocked out of the race before completing a single lap, Rahal chose to use social media to improve the fans' race-watching experience. After seeing how the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver enhanced the race coverage with his insight, the Verizon IndyCar Series might be well-advised to adopt a new rule that obliges any driver out early to tweet expert commentary for the rest of the race.
The No. 15 United Rentals Honda driver took to Twitter about 90 laps into the race to apologize to his fans and crew. He then stuck around and clearly brought welcome depth to the action on track through his insider perspective.
His first observation about the race was that Honda seemed to have trouble matching the Chevrolet-powered cars on fuel mileage, something that would play out all night at Phoenix Raceway.
From turn 3, leaders are able to save a lot of fuel. From Hinch on back, Honda's seem to be flat out trying to keep pace with front 5.
When the checkered flag flew, the top four cars in the Phoenix race were powered by Chevy.
Rahal's ability to see the future continued with his next tweet prior to the second set of pit stops, which turned out to be as equally prophetic as his previous observation.
Pay attention to who is pitting first. Could play a big roll later in the race if someone can stretch the mileage and catch a yellow!
A few laps later, that yellow did fly and No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet driver Simon Pagenaud saw the race come to him. In third place at the time, Pagenaud stayed out as the rest of the top four pitted at the same instant as Takuma Sato's No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda brushed the wall and brought out a full-course caution.
What did I say?! Pagenaud stretches mileage, and catches that yellow!
Rahal pointed out that the perfect timing of the yellow left Pagenaud a lap ahead of the field, which allowed him a free pit stop to get fuel and tires and keep the lead.
Pagenaud not only jumped Will for the lead, but gained a few lapped cars to create a buffer. If you're at the back, top fuel up now!
From that point on, Pagenaud was never really challenged and cruised to his maiden oval win and first victory of 2017. The win also put the defending champion atop the point standings for the first time this year.
As the race moved into the final stages, Rahal noted that fans should listen closely during on-board shots to hear that the Honda-powered drivers weren't able to save fuel if they wanted to match the pace of the front-runners.
He pointed out that Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Honda) and Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Honda) seemed to have decent race cars but could not take advantage, while No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driver James Hinchcliffe was clearly struggling with fuel mileage due to the increased drag from the additional downforce he was running.
Those comments prompted quick discussion with a few fans about the downforce tightrope the Honda drivers were walking.
It's an issue with the underwing, and how the car creates downforce. Aero frozen this year, no changes allowed. https://t.co/Q2UYFjkrMa
In the end, Rahal's willingness to engage with fans and take time to offer expert analysis despite the disappointment of a first-lap crash made watching the Phoenix race much more enjoyable and shed added light on the intricacies of competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Then again, while it was terrific for fans, it's a good bet that Rahal would be pleased if there's never a repeat of the circumstances that made it happen.