1. Kurt Busch wins Coke 600; Ganassi nearly wins both big races
2. Dario Franchitti wins Indy 500 – if you could see past the commercials
3. Lewis Hamilton leads McLaren one-two after Vettel screws up
NASCAR COCA-COLA 600
A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith made headlines by suggesting a $20-million bonus be paid to any driver who could win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
Well, a driver didn’t do it yesterday but a team owner sure came close.
Chip Ganassi’s Indy car pilot, Dario Franchitti, dominated the Indianapolis 500. Later in the day, Ganassi’s NASCAR Sprint Cup chauffeur, Jamie McMurray, finished second to Kurt Busch in the Coke 600 at Charlotte after coming oh-so-close to pulling off the double. See NASCAR story and results link here.
It’s quite possible that McMurray would have won the NASCAR race if it hadn’t been for a single-car crash late in the race. With 24 laps to go and McMurray sailing along in front of the pack, Marcos Ambrose lost control and hit the wall to bring out a caution.
In the ensuing pit stop, Busch’s pit crew – employed by Roger Penske – got him out in front of McMurray and, when racing resumed, Busch got enough of a jump that McMurray couldn’t catch him.
There was no $20-million bonus on the line but if McMurray had been able to follow Franchitti to Victory Lane, it would have marked the first time a team owner had won both big U.S. Memorial Day holiday races.
As it was, Ganassi became the first owner to win U.S. auto racing’s two biggest prizes – the NASCAR Daytona 500 (McMurray did it for him last February) and the iconic Indy 500.
Ganassi might not be finished. His Daytona Prototype entry in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas driving, will be in action at Lime Rock, Conn., this afternoon and it stands a very good chance of winning.
Meantime, the three big-league auto races held yesterday – the Formula One Grand Prix of Turkey (Lewis Hamilton, winner), the 500 (Franchitti) and the 600 (Kurt Busch) – were all thrillers in their own way and I’ve written separate reports on each.
(Which means, if you’re not a NASCAR fan and prefer to read about F1, just scroll down.)
NASCAR Notebook Jottings:
– Kyle Busch, who finished a fine third in the 600 after his brother Kurt and McMurray, was on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing from Jeff Burton. It seems that Burton felt Busch the younger ran into him and caused a flat tire.
I don’t have a lot of use for Kyle Busch because he usually acts like a spoiled brat and his petulance can be totally annoying. But the incident in question happened on a restart when everybody was jockeying for position and I don’t think he was at fault – that time.
But he had more than one run-in with other drivers in the pits – Brad Keselowski, in particular – and so he probably deserved a dressing-down from somebody, just maybe not Burton.
After Kyle Busch came Mark Martin in fourth place and David Reutimann in fifth.
– It was a bad weekend for racing sponsor Geico Insurance. Paul Tracy didn’t qualify their car for the Indy 500 and Max Papis couldn’t get their car into the 600. A lot was spent for not very much return.
– They put ads everywhere in NASCAR. There was one camera angle that showed cars heading right toward the SAFER barrier in turn one and pasted on the inside of the fence were ads for, among other things, the Bank of America.
– For the fourth time this season, perennial Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson failed to finish a race. It seems to be just "one of those seasons" for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who was shown with his head in his hands at one point.
– Kurt Busch, who won the All-Star Race at Charlotte last weekend, became the seventh driver to win both that race and the 600.
– Ganassi celebrated for awhile at Indianapolis before flying to Charlotte to take in the last half of the 600. Penske stayed in Indianapolis and had to watch his car and driver win on television.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES INDIANAPOLIS 500
I watched about 400 commercials yesterday afternoon, interrupted by snippets of the Indianapolis 500.
If TV ratings for the 500 are down, you can put the blame squarely on what seemed to be an abnormal number of commercial interruptions that, frankly, just about ruined the four-hour race.
Every time the race settled into a rhythm, announcer Marty Reid would say those magic words, "we’re going side-by-side," which meant the race coverage was squeezed down to the size of a postage stamp and commercial after commercial would air.
Hard-core fans usually put up with this nonsense. Casual people – the folks who watch a car race once a year – undoubtedly switched off the race at about the 45-minute mark when they were subjected to the third or fourth set of five-minute-long TV ads.
No other big-league sport in the world is treated this way by television. Not one. And yet whether it’s TSN pulling the plug the second they can to get away from Formula One (in order to treat us to 10 minutes of a documentary about fencing in economically challenged areas of New York, as was the case yesterday morning) or NBC or CBS or ABC interrupting a race either for commercials or station identification, it seems to be okay because - after all - it’s only auto racing.
When it comes to Indy, they know there are going to be a dozen yellow-flag periods that are going to last four or five laps at a minimum. Those yellows can last anywhere from five to eight minutes in length. So I don't know why they don't pack all of the commercials into those yellow-flag periods (as TV does between innings in baseball) and leave the actual car race alone.
In the end, it was a typical Indy 500. There was a crash when the race started (Davey Hamilton on the second turn of the first lap) and a crash when the race ended (Mike Conway going up and over Ryan Hunter-Reay in the third turn on the second-last lap).
That last pileup spoiled what could have been a nail-biter of a finish. Eventual winner Franchitti - who scored his second Indy 500 victory (see story and full results here) - was rapidly running out of fuel and was slowing down lap after lap. Second-place finisher Dan Wheldon had plenty of fuel, apparently, and had the hammer down heading for the checkers. There was a good chance he would have caught Franchitti right at the line but the yellow came out for the Conway-Hunter-Reay accident and that’s the way the race ended.
There's no green-white-checkered finish in Indy car racing - yet.
Marco Andretti finished third, Alex Lloyd was fourth and Scott Dixon was fifth. Danica Patrick was the top woman, finishing sixth.
– Actor Mark Wahlberg went for a ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series’ two-seater car (Michael Andretti driving) and was right behind the field (albeit scooting into the pit road) when the green came out.
This promotion was so successful that IndyCar will now hold a contest at all the races on the schedule (including the Honda Indy Toronto, July 16-18) and some lucky fan will get to take the ride, but with Michael's father, Mario Andretti, doing the driving.
I imagine that in the not-too-distant future, that ride will go to someone in exchange for a hefty donation to some charity or other.
– The "Voice of God" was heard once again at Indianapolis. Tom Carnegie, who was lead announcer for years at the Speedway ("it's a new-w-w-w-w, tra-a-a-ack record," or, "Mario Andretti is slowing down . . ."), came out of retirement to introduce Mari Hulman George, who gave the "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines" command.
Jim Nabors was in great voice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sign "Back Home In Indiana" any better.
– Four paragraphs ago, I gave a plug to the Honda Indy Toronto. Now, I might have missed it, but I didn’t see (or hear) any mention of the Toronto race during the telecast yesterday. But when pit reporter Vince Welch did a report from Alex Tagliani’s pit just as the race was about to start, Tag’s sponsors were front and centre on his refuelling rig – Bowers and Wilkinson and the Honda Indy Edmonton.
Tagliani started strongly but faded and eventually finished tenth. His team’s sister car, driven by Bruno Junqueira, crashed out.
– The Speedway looked pretty full at the start but emptied out significantly as the afternoon progressed. This is understandable: it was between 95 and 100 Fahrenheit in the stands and 130F at track level. No wonder people either stood underneath the stands in the shade or went home.
I wasn't assigned to cover the race in 1976 so I bought a ticket and sat in the fourth turn. On the day of the race, it was so hot, I got sick. Just after 200 miles, I threw in the towel. I left the track, hailed a cab and was downtown in my air-conditioned hotel when a huge thunderstorm hit and caused the race to end under a red flag.
I love car racing but that was nuts and I can understand why so many people got up and out of the sun yesterday.
– I fully expected Roger Penske to start laughing about his team having "one of those days" yesterday. Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
Will Power pulled away from his pit with the fuel hose still attached, Ryan Briscoe didn’t have the patience to wait for his tires to heat up after a pit stop and hit the wall, and Helio Castroneves – who was trying to be a four-time winner of the famous race – had to duck into the pits in the waning laps for a splash of fuel or he would have run out before the finish. Power and Castroneves finished in the top ten, but the Captain likes to win so that wouldn't have been good enough.
– People were passing in the grass, or trying to, because of all the blocking going on. John Andretti, Graham Rahal and Townsend Bell, three guys you’d have thought would know better, were all given drive-through penalties for blocking. The penalty ruined Bell’s race. He’d been running in the top ten until that happened.
-- Conway was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis with leg injuries. The accident, in which his car climbed over the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay's and tumbled through the air, hitting a debris fence that kept it from perhaps going into a grandstand, was a strange one. Why was Conway going so much faster than Hunter-Reay as they arrived at the third turn? Did Hunter-Reay bog down? Did Conway try an impossible move? Whatever, it was frightening.
-- When the final results were posted, Marco Andretti was listed in sixth place. But he successfully appealed his finish and was moved up to third. What happened, apparently, is that when Conway and Hunter-Reay crashed and the yellow lights flashed, he backed off and was passed by Lloyd, Dixon and Patrick.
– Although Franchitti led 155 of the 200 laps, all was not perfect with Team Target Chip Ganassi yesterday. They released Scott Dixon from a pit stop, only to watch as the left front wheel came off his car. (This happened seconds after Raphael Matos left his pit and one of his rear wheels came off.)
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter because Dixon came back to finish fifth behind the winner.
– Of the other women, Simona De Silvestro finished 13th and was the top-placed rookie. Ana Beatriz was 21st and Sarah Fisher was 26th. Milka Duno didn’t qualify to start the big race but will return to action at Texas in two weeks when the Indy cars race there.
– In addition to Duno, we’ll see Paul Tracy at Toronto and Edmonton (maybe Watkins Glen) and Davey Hamilton at Texas. But here is a list of drivers who all put on a pretty good show at Indy that we likely won’t see again this season:
Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, the forementioned Townsend Bell (who really is a talent), Tomas Scheckter (ditto), Ana Beatriz (double ditto), Bertrand Baguette (he actually led a lap of the 500), Bruno Junqueira, John Andretti and Sebastien Saavedra (okay, maybe not him).
FORMULA ONE GRAND PRIX OF TURKEY
Perhaps it’s part of a racing driver’s DNA that prevents them from ever admitting they’re wrong.
Ryan Briscoe left his pit box at Indianapolis in 2008 and drove right into the side of Danica Patrick’s car. His fault, right?
"She was to blame," he said with a straight face.
Kyle Busch has been the aggressor in as many NASCAR accidents as he’s been the victim. But you’d never know it. He even went so far as to threaten to kill another driver last week at the conclusion of an on-track incident that was at least half his responsiblity.
Which brings us to the Grand Prix of Turkey yesterday, in which Sebastien Vettel tried to pass his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber and crashed into him instead.
Instead of a one-two finish for Red Bull with Lewis Hamilton third in a McLaren, the resulting accident gave the victory to Hamilton, with Jensen Button second and Webber third. For race story and full results, click here.
I like Vettel, so I don’t think I’m biased against him, but there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he caused that crash.
"Hey, you dingbat; what’r ya doin’?" his upraised right hand seemed to be saying to Webber as both Red Bulls went off the circuit.
Then he made that mocking schoolyard gesture that we’ve all seen or been exposed to at one time or another – a finger held to the temple and going in circles that, translated, means crazy, looney, insane.
"If you look at the pictures, it was clear I had the inside," he told reporters. "I was ahead, and just going to focus on the braking point and, honestly, you can see we touched and he touched my right rear wheel and I went off."
Memo to Vettel: If you look at the pictures, it shows you turning right into the side of Webber in much the same way as Michael Schumacher turned right into the side of Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997.
Even BBC commentator Eddie Jordan, in defending the young German for having a go (Martin Brundle and David Coulthard were adamant in their condemnation), eventually had to acknowledge it was his mistake.
The incident certainly brightened up the show, though.
The two Red Bulls and the two McLarens were in a class of their own in this Grand Prix and, although they were running very close together at the front, appeared en route to a routine finish in that order.
But then, on Lap 40 of the 58-lap race, the drama kicked in and it was edge-of-your-seat stuff for most of the rest of the way.
– There is not doubt that the drivers, the teams and the people in charge of the spectacle known as Formula One will be looking forward to coming to Canada in two weeks because I’m sure all of them are sick and tired of going to races where the place is half empty.
Never mind the many empty seats along the main straight at the Istanbul circuit. There were entire grandstands that were either completely or nearly empty.
One thing about Montreal: the place will be packed.
– Was I imagining things or did I sense that just about everybody was subdued after that GP yesterday? Nobody was jumping up and down; nobody appeared particularly excited at all.
Here’s my theory as to why:
At the conclusion of the marvelous Blake Edwards comedy "The Great Race," Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) challenges The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) to another race because, "I didn’t win, he let me win."
Most highly competitive athletes want to win on their own terms. Remember when Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey defeated American sprinter Michael Johnson at the Skydome in 1997? Johnson pulled up, apparently injured, and the first thing Bailey yelled after he won the race was that Johnson chickened out and faked that he was hurt when he realized that he was being beaten.
So that’s what I think was up in Turkey yesterday. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished first and second, instead of third and fourth, not because they were better racers on this day but because of what happened between the Red Bull drivers.
That’s why they weren’t particularly excited. They lucked into it.
(Or else there's something going on at McLaren that we don't know about - yet.)
– Hey, wasn’t that fantastic racing between Button and Hamilton – until the team told them to lay off? Button caught Hamilton at just about the same place Vettel pulled even with Webber. Button passed Hamilton going into the corner and then Hamilton retook the lead several corners later. Great stuff!
(Theory No. 2 about the subduedness . . . perhaps Button and Hamilton wanted to keep racing each other until McLaren told them to stop. . . )
– The top four were eight seconds ahead of everybody else after 10 laps. Watching top-of-the-mountain racing drivers is like watching the top pro golfers: they do it (drive the car, hit the ball) again and again exactly the same way – which is why the rest of us aren’t in F1 or on the PGA Tour.
– Michael Schumacher finished fourth but was never really a candidate for the podium. But he’s getting there.
– When Vettel made his way back to the pits and then emerged from the Red Bull compound to meet the media, he was surrounded by dozens of reporters, photographers and camerapeople, all crammed in like bees in a hive.
The leaders of the G20 meeting in Toronto in a few weeks should be as lucky. . .
– Pussycat Doll Nicole Sherzinger won TV’s "Dancing With The Stars" on Tuesday night and was very evident in the McLaren garage, cheering on boyfriend L. Hamilton, who also came out a winner this week, which is a good thing.
Better to have two winners in an ego-filled household than a winner and a loser, I say.
– Finally, Fernando Who?
(P.S. Just to wrap up the weekend, Donnie Shatz held of Joey Saldana to win the World of Outlaws feature Saturday night at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And Daniel Morad of Markham scored his second fifth-place finish in the GP3 Series support race at the Turkish GP. Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto had another miserable day, finishing well back in the pack.)