Sunday, May 11, 2014

Racing's Bang-Up Mother's Day Weekend

It was a bang-up Mother's Day weekend in racing and thus is accelerated the motorsports Mecca that is the month of May.    Some takes on the varied racing efforts seen this weekend -


Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all - The first Grand Prix of Indianapolis added a new wrinkle to Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also showed some nastiness as Sebastian Saavedra won the pole, then gagged entirely on the start and got creamed by Carlos Munoz, driving one of Michael Andretti's cars,  and Mikhail Aleshin in Sam Schmidt's car.   

And that was just the first wreck - later on Scott Dixon and Will Power renewed Penske vs. Ganassi acquaintances in Turn Three, then in Turn Seven Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt's teams said a rude Hello between Franck Montagny's #26 and Mike Plowman's #41, and finally Juan Montoya, unable to find a jet dryer to destroy, instead encountered Graham Rahal.

With nine road course cars (out of a 25-car field) thus dispatched, an interesting subplot involving rivalries may have been added to the 500 in two weeks.   Certainly Sam Schmidt and company got something big out of the GP - Simon Pagenaud won it, completing a nice sweep as Sam's Indy Lights driver Luiz Razia led wire-to-wire in the Indy Lights portion of the day.

The contrast of Trucks and Cup at Kansas continued - Last season the Truck 250 at Kansas proved to be a very exciting affair and 2014's running also had very memorable racing.   Kyle Busch won the Truck 250 after battling Brad Keselowski's two Ford trucks most of the night and battle is the operative word here - Busch and Joey Logano got into several nice sidedrafting bouts for first, illustrating again the striking and downright baffling contrast of the Trucks and the Cup cars here and elsewhere - the ability of the Trucks to have the draft mean something where it still hasn't for the Cup cars.  

Some Truck shout-outs - Jeb Burton's season hasn't been much, but he got a solid sixth with Duke Thorson, his second top-ten in three starts and his season now looking optimistic after all.   Also looking great was Taylor Malsam, making his season debut in Steve Turner's Chevrolet and finishing fifth.

While she doesn't get the publicity of Danica Patrick, Jennifer Jo Cobb has posted some decent efforts in anonymity, including a respectable 13th at Kansas.

Chevrolet bounces back - and so does Hendrick - Jeff Gordon got a huge pitstop late and got an ugly handling issue for Kevin Harvick at the end to grab his first win of the season.   Harvick nonetheless led 119 laps and showed anew he's for real for the whole season.   It was point for a huge bounce back for Chevrolet as the bowties took six of the top nine spots while Ford grabbed three top tens and Toyota was largely MIA - only Matt Kenseth in 10th wound up with anything.   It was also another big night for Hendrick as all four Hendrick cars were in the top nine.  

Given he's the focus every week, it should be noted Dale Junior's fifth was an especially solid bounce back after a dismal effort at Talladega, and it's his fourth top-seven finish in his last six outings.  

It was a more mixed bag for Stewart-Haas as Tony and Kurt Busch had another forgettable night while the shocker of the night was Danica Patrick's seventh.     

Continuing to fall back are the RCR Chevrolets, with Ryan Newman salvaging 11th as his season continues to be unimpressive while Paul Menard had a Menard-esque night a lap down and Austin Dillon keeps losing the rookie race to Kyle Larson.

Richard Petty's team on the rise - Though he lost seventh at the end to Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola was very solid all night en route to eighth in Petty's #43.   His third top-ten of the year, it also gave Petty's organization its fifth top-ten (three of them top-fives) between Almirola and Marcos Ambrose.   The nit to pick is the Petty cars need to go for the lead harder, especially in the restrictor plate races; overall, though, it's no longer implausible to expect a win for The King.

Pal Joey - If you thought there might be a chance Joey Logano could slide a bit down the Penske totem pole, it's getting more and more obvious that won't happen after leading 63 laps at Kansas on top of his great sidedraft fight with Kyle Busch in the Truck 250 the night before, and steadily showing he's for real after all - and I doubt anyone had that in the office pool the previous five seasons watching him.    One has to see if Brad Keselowski can get anything going again with a mediocre 13th at Kansas and the wound still raw from his Ernie Irvan imitation at Talladega.

Speaking of which.......... - Keselowski was asked about that Talladega gaffe before the Kansas race and he answered, "I wasn't ready to give up."   One has mixed feelings here - racing insane when six laps down is not smart and we all saw what resulted.   Yet Keselowski's go-for-the-win approach is fundamentally the right one - especially in contrast to Junior quitting on the win in that same Talladega race.

And so the month of May marches toward Ten Days Of Bruton Smith at Charlotte as well as an Indianapolis 500 where the competitive expectations have now hit 68 lead changes based on 2013's running.

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