Today is what some call, motorsports’ biggest day. Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix, IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500, and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. As a fan of almost any type of motorsports, I find it tough to disagree on how special today is. Some of the traditions that surround the month of May, and this weekend are still foreign to me, but as a very young 33-year-old, it’s tough to ignore how special the month of May is. Growing up watching the Indy 500 made it easy to fall in love with the sport, the types of fans, and the speed of the cars, but on the day before Memorial Day, some say that Indy is only one of three races on a very special day. I disagree, but let’s talk a bit about each race, some of the traditions, and some of this years’ storylines.
Monaco Grand Prix
This is probably Formula 1’s most famous race. Monaco is one of the few races that attracts dignitaries from all across the world and really gives the rest of the world an idea of how significantly richer Formula 1’s fans are than everyone else. You’ll see some of the biggest yachts in the world, people with the whitest teeth ever, and mostly people who know absolutely nothing about Formula 1. Anything wrong with being rich? Of course not, but remember – “Mo Money Mo Problems” – though I think I have a ton of problems for a poor dude.
The racing circuit is nothing less than beautiful and the chances your favorite driver can win are super abundant. Hell, this is the first year Lewis Hamilton will start on the pole. It’s always tough to pick to against what seems like F1’s current flavor of the month (or past few years) but because I hate going with everyone else, I’ll go with Nico Rosberg. The German won Monte Carlo in 2014 and though things are a bit different in his life right now, I’d love to see him win two years in a row.
My sentimental pick is Kimi Raikkonen. It’s tough not to enjoy Kimi. Sure, he’s brash – super brash – but that’s part of the appeal. Unfortunately for this Raikkonen this weekend has been a disaster for him and in 2015, he’s the only driver to have not out-qualified his teammate at least once.
I’d call this the, “Grandaddy of them all” but the Rose Bowl people would probably sue me. To me, there isn’t a sporting event with the prestige, history, and pomp and circumstance like the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. I _believe_ I’ve been to Indy to Indy about 10 times. Some would say it’s sacrilege to not know the exact number, but remember, I’m old and life’s events get in the way sometimes. To those of you who’ve been to Indy every year, I’m jealous. In fact, I’m super jealous.
The state of Indiana, 16th and Georgetown, the Coke Lot, the Snake Pit, Gasoline Alley and the Purdue All-American Marching Band make up some of the best traditions in sports. I would be remiss if I didn’t include my all-time favorite Indy 500 tradition: “Back Home Again in Indiana”.
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2014 was the last year Jim Nabors sang the song, and I get the feeling the folks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will rotate this among some qualified artists until John Cougar Mellencamp (he’s back to three names, right?) finally agrees to do it, but make no mistake: this is one of the MOST popular traditions in motorsports, and until IMS gets this right, there will be boos.
The story line in 2015 is easy, It’s the 99th running of the 500 and only one person in the field can set true history this year. Only one person has the chance to join three other men who’ve won the race three times. Helio Castroneves. The thought process here is that if he wins his fourth this year, he becomes the automatic favorite to win his fifth at the 100th running in 2016.
What a story that would be: first person to win five at IMS at the 100th running.
The problem for Helio is that his car was one of the three Chevrolet’s that went backwards and flipped during practice this month. Since that time, his car hasn’t been close to the top of the speed charts. He finished 10th on Carb Day with a speed of 226.674 mph, while teammate Will Power topped the final practice at 229.020 mph.
The safe pick in today’s race IS Will Power, and the pick that fans would love is always Tony Kanaan. Kanaan won his first 500 in 2013 on what some would say were last lap shenanigans, but hey it isn’t his fault his best friend, Dario Franchitti, crashed at just the right time to bring out the caution and help him win, is it?
My pick for the 99th Indianapolis 500: Takumo Sato. The 38 year old from Japan is starting 24th and is best known for his 2012 last-lap attempt to pass Dario Franchitti. I like it when anyone is willing to throw it all on the line like that at the most famous race in sports. Sato has had a very productive May in 2015 and on top of that drives for one of my favorite people, A.J. Foyt.
If Sato wins the place will go crazy, not like the speedway did for Kanaan or like it will for Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti, but the high number of Japanese fans who attend the race will certainly make their presence known.
This race is a bit of an enigma to me. I know this is supposed to be NASCAR’s endurance race, but now that all the drivers are pretty good athletes and the cars are so even, it doesn’t make sense for this race to be held in such high regard. To be clear, the only people who hold this race in such high regard are NASCAR people. I never understood why NASCAR’s “most important” race – Daytona 500 – wasn’t the longest of the season or why NASCAR feels the need to devalue Charlotte by forcing fans to watch three races at the track per year.
NASCAR could try and make the Coca-Cola 600 special by rotating the All-Star race to other tracks and more importantly moving the fall race to another track. I know most of the teams are based there, but there’s nothing special about 600 miles in Charlotte after watching Formula 1’s shortest race in Monaco and watching IndyCar’s most prestigious and funnest (just made that word up) race in the Indy 500.
All that said, the favorite for today is easily Jimmie Johnson who has six victories at the track. There was a stretch where it felt like Johnson was winning every race at the 1.5 mile track. What helps Johnson, or anyone else who gets in front, is that NASCAR racing has been so “average” this year that passing is a significant problem. As in, no one can pass.
The problem for anyone in front is that the race is still 600 miles. That extra 45 or 65 (G-W-C permitting) minutes are a killer. I guess that’s why this is an “endurance race,” huh?
My personal pick for this weekend isn’t based on anything other than the fact that I drew him in a fantasy NASCAR league. He’s having an average season on what appears to be an average team.
The South Bend, Indiana native has 8,847 laps at Charlotte, but has no wins, four top-five’s and 11 top-ten’s. So, there’s a chance. Newman, ranked 13th, could certainly help his Chase position by popping his Charlotte cherry today and help me move from the bottom of my fantasy NASCAR league to somewhere near the middle.
The sleeper pick at Charlotte is Kevin Harvick. He’s kind of the default pick anywhere except Charlotte.