The 100th Indianapolis 500
The 100th Indianapolis 500 showcased what makes Indianapolis The Greatest Spectacle In Racing and was the highlight of another boffo Memorial Day weekend of racing. The full joy of the racing weekend was well spread among varied venues.
Friday night short tracking kicked things off in many areas and for one of the nation's most famous bullrings Friday Night was a trio of eye-popping showdowns. Stafford Motor Speedway in CT saw a three-wide photo finish in SK Lights - Joey Ferrigno appeared to have won but a lengthy review of the finish showed Daniel Wesson was the winner. It's been a very long time any race saw a finish so reminiscent of Tim Richmond over Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine at Pocono in 1986. The SK Mods were won by Woody Pitkat over Keith Rocco, then Pitkat stole the win in the Late Model race after Tom Fearn got sent to the rear after taking out leader Tom Butler. Fearn still stormed to finish second.
The Hisense 300 on Saturday began as a good race, turned into a Kyle Larson-Joey Logano showdown, then exploded to the biggest upset of the weekend until the Indianapolis 500
The Hisense 300 almost topped the weekend as Denny Hamlin stole what looked like a certain Kyle Larson-Joey Logano showdown, and it also suggested another JGR runaway for the Charlotte weekend despite Penske Racing's 1-2 finish in the All-Star Race.
But it was Indianapolis that seized the headlines from the amazing Freedom 100 to Alexander Rossi's stunning upset on fumes, becoming the first Indy rookie since 2001 to win the 500 and the first true Indycar rookie to win the 500 in far longer than that. The win gave Michael Andretti a car owner win he had to share with Curb Motorsports; it doesn't matter that Andretti and Curb share the win, because the win is what matters.
It was also a 1-2 finish for Michael's organization, and among the semi-surprises was the depth of Ed Carpenter's team, as Josef Newgarden finished tbird and J.R. Hildebrand sixth. Sam Schmidt's team had a boffo month of May even though James Hinchcliffe could only finish seventh.
For Andretti, though, the big frustration came when his cars driven by Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who may have been the strongest of all, crashed on pit road in a shunt past halfway with Helio Castroneves; this left them crowding the leaders trying to get back on the lead lap and may have helped Rossi put enough gap to withstand running out of gas. It was also a fitting development for a mediocre May for Penske.
You think Penske at Indianapolis, you also think AJ Foyt and Takuma Sato's promising day ended whacking the wall off Four; teammates Alex Tagliani and Jack Hawksworth didn't wind up with finishes to write home about even though Tags led eleven laps.
The Indianapolis 500 saw 54 lead changes among eleven drivers, and it once again presented a graphic contrast with NASCAR and the World 600. NASCAR has made 2016 a virtual year-long referendum on low downforce aerodynamics and the contrast of the 600 with Indianapolis - low downforce, too much power, and a curiously unresponsive tire after encouraging races at Dover and in the All-Star Race vs. Indy's super downforce, ample tire, and relative underpower making the draft everything and passing almost unstoppable - made the referendum turn against NASCAR yet again.
Not that aero packages were relevant to anything at Charlotte this time - the way Martin Truex beat the field into submission it didn't matter what downforce anyone was generating. It did come, though, after a set of tweaks to fans and chassis "skew" before the All-Star Race and postrace chatter suggested it hurt JGR more than anyone else.
Truex's win was the most lopsided on a big track since Kyle Petty mopped the American 500 at Rockingham in 1992 leading 484 laps and easily crushed Jim Paschal's 600 record of 335 laps led in 1967, a race where Paschal's three-lap lead was killed by a crash yet he still won easily. It was also the first win in the 600 for a one-car team since, irony of ironies, his team godfather Joe Gibbs Racing won the 600 with Bobby Labonte in 1995 - one of the most competitive 600s ever, another irony of ironies after the lead only changed nine times in this 2016 600.
Now we see if Truex can turn this massacre into a sustained victory rampage as NASCAR hits Pocono, site of Truex's previous win.
That fifteen cars finished on the lead lap is the one eye-popper of this race; the blunt reality is almost no one outside of Truex can feel good about this 600 because basically Truex was alone out there and everyone else was just a bystander. There's been talk that the Roush guys are slowly getting better - they may be slowly getting better except everyone else is getting father away. It was basically Penske and no one else for Ford.
It also wasn't much for Kyle Larson after superb efforts at Dover and in Charlotte preliminaries - his last-lap crash in the Hisense 300 got his 600 weekend off to what proved to be the worst possible start, as he never really got anything going for the 600.
So it went. The rest of the field need to put this to bed and hope Pocono can offer someone else the upset or quasi-upset surge the 600 provided for Truex.