Dan Wheldon, right, wins the Indy 500 after J. R. Hildebrand, left, crashed into the wall on the final lap of the race on Sunday, May 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Brent Smith)
1. Vettel lucks into Monaco F1 victory
2. Wheldon lucks into Indy 500 victory
3. Harvick lucks into Coca-Cola 600 victory
SYNOPSIS: It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States and the U.S. National Guard sponsors cars in NASCAR and IndyCar. In both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, those National Guard-sponsored cars were within a half mile of winning the iconic races until disaster struck. At Indy, J.R. Hildebrand crashed at the last turn and handed the victory to Dan Wheldon. In Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car ran out of gas within sight of the checkers and a delighted Kevin Harvick crossed the finish line first. What rotten luck. And talking about luck, because his tires were on the verge of disintegrating, Sebastien Vettel was about ready to be eaten alive by both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button at the Grand Prix of Monaco when a red flag stopped the race with just a few laps to go and everybody got to put on fresh rubber. Go figure. When the race restarted, Vettel had no trouble staying in front. Next race: Canada.
1. Red flag helps Vettel to another F1 victory.
Results: Vettel, Alonso, Button, Webber, Kobayashi, Hamilton, Sutil, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Buemi. Full report here.
So my question this morning is: since when, under a red flag, does everybody get to work on their race cars and – specifically – change tires and repair damage?
Silly me. I always thought a red flag meant a race had been stopped temporarily – suspended, if you will – to resume if and when whatever had caused the red flag was fixed, or removed.
It would continue, at that point, as if nothing had happened.
A red flag is not a checkered flag, or even a caution flag. Like a traffic light, it is meant to interrupt the flow but activity can continue once conditions improve and it is safe.
Or so I thought.
I was at a speedway in New York on Saturday night, in which there was a red flag. Permission was given for refuelling – but crews were reminded there was to be no work done on the cars.
Remember the 2000 Daytona 500, when – during a red flag period late in the race – Stirling Marlin (who was leading!) scrambled out of his car and snuck around the front and tried to pull out a fender that was rubbing against a tire? That got him sent to the back of the pack and lost him the race.
Now, I know Oswego Speedway and even NASCAR aren't Formula One but when the red flag was displayed in Monaco, both the announcers, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle, were of the impression the race was over.
But, obviously, the crews didn’t think so because they were all running toward where the cars were stopped on the racing surface and they were pulling carts full of new tires and stuff along with them.
Which was a godsend for Vettel, who had led the race from the start. But after making his one and only – during the actual race, that is – pit stop on Lap 16, he hadn’t been back in the pits. Alonso (Ferrari) had stopped twice and Button (McLaren-Mercedes) went in three times and both had been hounding him as the race wore on.
Both announcers were convinced that Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) was dead meat as the race drew to a close. The Pirelli tires have a built-in obsolescence that makes them useless after a certain period of time. That Vettel had managed to nurse his along was commendible but they were down to the canvas and couldn’t go on much longer.
But then came the accident, and the red flag (during which the McLaren crew even got to fix Lewis Hamilton’s wrecked rear wing), and the rest is history.
– To make this blog report official: The red flag came out after three cars hit the wall near the Swimming Pool with only nine laps remaining. One of the drivers, Vitaly Petrov, had to be removed from the car, which meant rescue vehicles went onto the track; the safety car led the field around for a lap but it was too dangerous with people wandering about so the decision was made to red flag the race.
- Now, by the way, before people start filling my mailbox and calling me an imbecile, I'm sure the F1 rule book is completely different than any other racing series on the face of the Earth and everything that happened during that red flag period in Monaco on Sunday was completely legal.
Of course it was, or else it wouldn't have happened.
But that doesn't make it right. Alonso and Button took on new tires and Vettel gambled on not changing his, which is right and of itself. But he was about to lose his gamble and only the misfortune suffered by Petrov saved his bacon.
A red flag means stop. Period. It should not mean everybody gets a haircut, a shave and a tuneup.
– Sometimes you have to force the issue to make a point. Monaco is so narrow that it is difficult to make a pass so you just have to bull your way through. Hamilton tried that at the hairpin against Massa – he was up on the curb, in fact – and ran into the Ferrari. Massa crashed shortly after and Hamilton was hauled onto the carpet.
Gimme a break.
I thought it was just hard racing. Maybe the stewards in F1 should just look the other way, on occasion. Just like that hockey game the other night between Boston and Tampa Bay. No penalties. Of course there were penalties, but the refs chose not to call them. F1 stewards, take note.
– Hamilton said the stewards were picking on him because he’s black. Then he said it was a joke.
Perhaps the problem with Hamilton is that he won too soon. He still has a lot of growing-up to do.
2. High drama at the Indianapolis 500
Results: Wheldon, Hildebrand, Rahal, Kanaan, Dixon, Servia, Baguette, Scheckter, Marco Andretti, Patrick. Full report here.
There were so many storylines in this year’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 that it was hard to pick one.
For instance, I was going to start this by saying: “The two fastest rookies in this year’s Indy 500 made the same rookie mistake – they got too high in a corner and they both crashed into the outside wall. You can bet that J.R. Hildebrand and Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe won’t be doing that again.”
This is another thought I had: “Rookie Indy 500 driver James Hinchcliffe of Oakville might be too nice to be a professional racing driver. He was preparing to let Bertrand Baguette pass him in Sunday’s Indy 500 when he got too high going into turn three and wound up hitting the wall.”
Or, how about this one: “An unemployed driver hired for a one-off by an owner who doesn’t have his own equipment and had to make a deal with another team for technical support and a crew wound up winning Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.”
Actually, any of those paragraphs could have been the lead of a story about the Centennial of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
In the first instance, poor Hildebrand (Hinch had made his mistake earlier and crashed out) was winning the 500 and all he had to do was pass Charlie Kimball in the fourth turn and sail home when he enexplicably went too high and slammed the wall.
Wheldon – in a move reminiscent of A.J. Foyt’s in 1967 when he had to pick his way through a four-car crash to make it to the finish – managed to tread carefully past the still-crashing Hildebrand, a slowing Kimball and a lapped car to cross the line of bricks in first place for his second Indy 500 victory.
Wheldon, who doesn’t have a regular ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series, drove the race for Brian Herta, a retired Indy car driver who has been running an Indy Lights team. Herta, with sponsorship from the William Rast high-end jeans company, had to make a deal with Sam Schmidt’s organization in order to run the 500.
So it really was a David vs. Goliath day in Indy as the big Indy teams of Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske were – with the exception of Scott Dixon – exactly nowhere in this race.
It was a great race, with lots of good dicing in the pack and drama. The pre-racing celebration of the 100 years of Indianapolis was an excellent piece of work.
Jim Nabors was great singing “Indiana,” (which is the official name of that song, by the way), and David Foster's playing, with Seal and Kelly Clarkson singing, the Star Spangled Banner was terrific. Florence Henderson massacred God Bless America – again – but she’s been doing that for years and nobody seems to mind.
– Brent Musburger was – again – a disaster. Although he finally learned how to pronounce Dario Franchitti’s name correctly, he pulled one of the great boners yet again.
As the camera panned across the face of arguably the greatest, all-‘round, racing driver the world has ever seen, Mario Andretti, ol’ Brent made mention of the living legend, but then called him “Marco Andretti.”
- Alex Tagliani of Montreal started from pole - the first Canadian to win the pole at Indy - but crashed out on Lap 147 and finished 28th. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville crashed out on Lap 99 and was officially classified 29th. Paul Tracy of Scarborough brushed the wall early in the race but returned to finish 25th, 25 laps behind the winner.
– There were rumblings in the last year to 18 months that the Speedway was for sale. In fact, one “reliable source” said the deal was done and it would become public after the 100th anniversary.
They say that everything has a price. I sure hope this one doesn’t.
3. Earnhardt Jr. has victory in sight, runs out of gas
Results: Harvick, Ragan, Logano, Kurt Busch, Allmendinger, Ambrose, Earnhardt, Smith Reutimann, Hamlin. Full report here.
Going into last night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 104 tries going back to 2008. This morning, you can make that 105.
Little E. was three-quarters of the way through a green-white-checkers finish when his tank ran dry and as a 100,000-plus crowd collectivelly gasped, along with millions watching on the tube, Kevin Harvick seemed to come out of nowhere to win the second U.S. Memorial Weekend classic.
David Ragan followed suit and Joey Logano had his best finish in a long while when he arrived home third. Three more cars driven by Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose got the checkers before Dale Jr. coasted across.
The last 40 laps of the race were pretty routine with Greg Biffle leading, Kasey Kahne second and Earnhardt third.
With five laps to go – and just about everybody running low on fuel – Jimmie Johnson’s engine let go (resulting in his crew chief, Chad Knaus, dropping the F-bomb on live TV, for which anchor announcer Mike Joy immediately apologized) and all bets were off.
Biffle had to give up the lead and pit for fuel. Ditto Kahne and others. Earnhardt stayed out, driving onto the apron and turning off his engine to conserve fuel. Harvick turned his off and was pushed for awhile during the yellow by his teammate, Paul Menard. Other drivers copied Menard and started pushing their teammates.
Finally, the green fell and Earnhardt took off – only to come up dry.
Like Hildebrand, Earnhardt’s car is sponsored by the National Guard and, like Hildebrand, he was sooooo close.
- Kevin Harvick has won a lot of races but never the Coke 600. He changed that Sunday night.
- Kyle Busch had a miserable night. He lost control twice, once spinning through the grass and once into the wall, right-side. He wasn't hurt. He also wasn't happy.
- There were a record 14 cautions. The worst accident involved Mark Martin and David Gilliland and it was a ka-boomer that also collected Ryan Newman.
- Whether Danica Patrick stays in the IZOD IndyCar Series or moves to NASCAR full-time will likely be up to her sponsor. With the exception of the Indy 500, NASCAR enjoys better TV ratings than IndyCar and also has more exposure through more races, which would appear to be a major attractions.
While she's been driving for Dale Jr.'s Nationwide team (by the way, he looks much better without his beard, as does Jimmie Johnson), the chances are good that she will sign with Tony Stewart's team and race in the Sprint Cup series.
I hope she insists on a clause in her contract that will allow her to run the Indy 500, should she move to NASCAR.
Now . . . because I-Can’t-Be-Everywhere, or Watch Everything, this following report about the opening race of the 2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series national championship was sent to me by NASCAR Canada’s Shon Sbarra:
Scott Steckly rebounded from problems during a pit stop to win the Dickies 200 at Mosport Speedway on Saturday night, as the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series kicked off its 2011 season.
The 2008 series champion from Milverton, Ont., had dominated much of the 200-lap event on the half-mile banked oval and led a race-high 112 laps, but lost the lead during a pit stop when an air gun jammed as a crew member was changing the right rear tire on his No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge.
Steckly's fast pace earlier in the race, which left only five cars on the lead lap by just past the midway point, served to minimize his setback.
He restarted fifth and quickly began his charge to the front. He caught Pete Shepherd III of Brampton by Lap 153 and moved by for the lead a few laps later. Steckly held on through two restarts in the last 10 laps to take the win, the ninth of his career.
Shepherd edged Don Thomson Jr. of Hamilton for second;with fourth going to Brad Graham of Glencoe, Ont.. Defending series champion DJ Kennington of St. Thomas was fifth. Jason Hathaway of Apin was sixth, J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge was seventh, Jeff Lapcevich if Grimsby was eighth, Ron Beauchamp Jr. of Windsor was ninth and series rookie Steven Mathews of New Liskeard was tenth.
Fitzpatrick had led the initial laps, after winning his seventh career series pole in qualifying. Mathews charged out front and set the pace but Kennington later slipped by as they battled through lapped traffic.
Steckly, who had started second on the grid, chased down Kennington and moved by for the lead on Lap 58. He maintained the lead until everyone made their pit stops during a caution on Lap 124. After the pit stop issue, he charged his way back to the front and retook the top spot on Lap 157.
A & W-sponsored driver Jason White of Sun Peaks, B.C. suffered a loose oil line fitting, which put him several laps behind but he rallied to finish 15th. Meantime, Isabelle Tremblay of St. Hippolyte, Que., suffered from handling problems and a flat tire but managed a 14th-place finish.
The Dickies 200 will be televised on TSN next Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT.
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will be back in action next weekend when the circuit makes its inaugural visit to Circuit ICAR at Mirabel Airport north of Montreal. Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Alex Tagliani is entered in the event.
NOTES: David Ostella of Maple finished eighth in Friday’s Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race at the Indianapolis Speedway. The Jensen Motorsports driver is currently eighth in the series’ standings. Eighteen drivers started the race. Ostella was on the lead lap when the checkers fell. . . AIM Autosport of Woodbridge is pleased to announce that fuel and oil supplement manufacturer GAMMA88 will continue as primary sponsor of its BMW-Riley Daytona Prototype for three more races this season – Road America, Watkins Glen and Montreal. . . A new sprint car sanctioning organization, the Ontario Topless Sprints, is planning its first event at Humberstone Speedway in Port Colborne on Fri., Aug. 26th. Wingless sprinters from Ontario, Quebec and the U.S. border states are expected to run the inaugural show. . . Ohsweken Speedway’s 2011 opener was rained out yet again and they’ll try again next Friday night. Meantime, the Pro Modified Racing Association, the Quick 32 Sportsman Series and the Pro Bike & Sled Series, which had their runs washed out at Toronto Motorsports Park on Victoria Day weekend, will try again June 10-12 during the Extreme Mayhem Nationals.