Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Boffo Brickyard And Bizarre Charlotte

Memorial Weekend 2017 is racing's late-spring Mecca and Indianapolis and Charlotte stunned the racing observer in both.

For the seventh straight running the Indianapolis 500 exploded past 34 official lead changes and pre-race favorites took a back seat to defending champ Alexander Rossi, rookie Fernando Alonso (who was one week old when Ron Bouchard won the 1981 Talladega 500),  Briton Max Chilton, three-time champ Helio Castroneves, and on the 40th anniversary of AJ Foyt's record-setting fourth 500 win his former driver Takuma Sato stormed to the win (while AJ's team salvaged tenth with Carlos Munoz, this after Conor Daly fell out and rookie Zach Veach had a miserable 500, this after running earlier this season in an Ed Carpenter car).  

The first big subplot of the race going in involved Alonso, driving a Michael Andretti car backed by McLaren; he is the first active F1 guy to run the 500 since Teo Fabi in 1984.  Alonso has a strikingly lengthy rap sheet accusing him of brake-checking rivals and also of blocking.   This may explain F1 ace Lewis Hamilton's tirade about the quality of drivers in the 500 after Alonso timed fifth for the 500 - though the obvious self-serving quality of Hamilton's gripe becomes all the more laughable given Hamilton's "racing" never sees him challenged to actually pass, let alone repass, anyone - something Alonso handled with a respectable level of aplomb. 

The other story of the 500 was when Jay Howard smacked the wall and slid into pole-sitter Scott Dixon's path, and the result was the nastiest melee Indycars have seen in some time.   

Sato was four months old when AJ Foyt won the 500 for the fourth time, and in 2013 he stunned Indycar by winning the Long Beach GP in AJ's #14 during his four-season stint with Super Tex.   He also led 31 laps in 2015's mind-blowing MAVTV Cal Indy 500 at Fontana, so as far as being able to race other cars Sato long ago proved his mettle.  

Lost amid everything was a superb third-place by Dubai-born British rookie Ed Jones in the Dale Coyne racecar, this a year after Jones got blipped by Dean Stoneman in a photo finish in the Freedom 100.

Max Chilton meanwhile became the loudest darkhorse in years after leading 50 laps - the most laps in the race.   Added to teammate Tony Kanaan's twenty-two laps led and Chip Ganassi's team had a boffo day, while Penske had the runner-up and a quiet sixth by the normally-loud Juan Montoya, but otherwise didn't have much to write home about Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden weren't up front...............

...........and Will Power ended up with yet another wrecked racecar.

From Indianapolis we got the most bizarre World 600 in years - first the most bizarre wreck in years as Chase Elliott, who is disturbingly building a reputation that doesn't seem compatible with winning, and Brad Keselowski hammered each other out of the race.   Next we got a lengthy rain delay - doubly ironic as NASCAR's Sirius radio channel replayed the rain-plagued 1980 World 600 the night before.  

In the race itself Martin Truex picked up pretty much where he left off after annihilating the 600 field the year before, while his Visser Racing teammate Erik Jones had a running issue with Jimmie Johnson during the race.    Danica Patrick crashed twice, by now something to expect of her.  

But then came the most preposterous upset in racing in years - Martin Truex pitted with 34 to go and Johnson stayed out - so did Austin Dillon, who had posted some thirteen top-tens in 2016 but had only one so far in 2017 and who was coming under fire in fan circles, especially after his crew chief Richard Labbe left after the Kansas race.   Dillon closed on Johnson and Johnson shockingly ran out of gas with two to go, and Austin Dillon - his team mocked as RCR aka Rich Children Racing - had the win.  

Coming after Ryan Newman's win after the fast cars pitted and he didn't at Phoenix, RCR now has two wins, their first since Kevin Harvick won four times in 2013.    Even more astonishing is RCR presently has as many wins as Rick Hendrick - and JGR is still winless.   It stands as an interesting commentary on what more and more is becoming the most eye-popping NASCAR season in years.

The subplot of the finish was Kyle Busch's surly reaction in the postrace presser - while it shows his sanctimony yet again, I suspect it goes beyond just that, that it reflects real contempt for Austin Dillon in the garage area; it certainly reflects the curious inability of JGR to finish the job.  

One subplot that was overlooked was Regan Smith's debut in Richard Petty's #43 with Aric Almirola out presumably for the year; Smith ran decently but fell back late to finish a lap down in 22nd, a discouraging start for his time in the #43.  

Thus does Indycar head for Detroit and NASCAR to Dover next week.

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