RACE FANS……TO YOUR COUCHES!
It’s that time of year again! Time for Monaco, The Soda 600 and The Indy 500. For Indycar, it’s a chance to step out of the shadows of obscurity and into the national media spotlight. For one day only, open wheel racing in The USA stages “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and moves from the back page of the sports page to the lead story on ESPN.
Here is what I’m envisioning:
ESPN SportsCenter Anchor Stuart Scott: “And on the final corner my main man Simon Pagenaud was as cool as the underside of the pillow as he stuck to the back of Andretti like a cheap suit and then, BOOYAAA, like Adrian Peterson abusing a safety, Simon got busy and took the checkers! More on the little Frenchman’s improbable run to Indy glory coming up later in the show but now back over to Sal Paolantonio for the latest on Johnny Manziel’s left testicle injury suffered in spring drills.”
Sadly, for the couple hundred thousand of us hardcore fans who will tune into watch the race live on ABC, we will have to listen to the crap banter between Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever as they explain the nuances of the race to racing neophytes. New Rule: Steve Matchett should be involved with all motorsport broadcasts in America!
Regardless of the TV situation, there will be plenty of intrigue to follow at The 500.
Here are three levels of intrigue:
Grade A Intrigue:
The Returns of Montoya and Villeneuve: Clinging to the romantic notion that F1 is the end all-be all of motorsport, I still get excited when F1 legends cross over to the Brickyard. Memories of Mansell rolling around in the grass with Dennis Vitolo or Nelson Piquet shattering his legs in practice are hard to forget. And how can one dismiss the confounding scenario that took place just last year when my all time favorite driver, Jean Alesi, came out of deep retirement in the guise of a Lotus Ambassador to plunk around in a pathetically under-powered car prepped by a mid pack Indy Lights team! What was he thinking?? Anyways, Montoya and JV are no strangers to turning left and it will be exciting to track their progress. JPM should contend. JV, not so much.
Kurt Busch: For the first time since Tony Stewart finished 6th in the 2001 Indy 500, we have a bonafide Nascar hero driving in the race. While Busch may be a polarizing personality*, there is no denying that he is a mega talent behind the wheel. (*I prefer the old eccentric, pre ear job KB who used to win titles, occasionally get arrested and seemed to fight Harvick once or twice a year). Busch should have no trouble getting comfortable running in the draft, but I hope the ABC director has a camera on him when it comes time to execute his first green flag pit stop and green flag out lap. Braking from 225 down to the pit speed limit while the adrenaline is flowing in a foreign car sounds like a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, he keeps the car off the wall and inspires his brother to join next year. Side note: Remember a few years ago when Kyle Busch was being mentioned with a couple of F1 rides?
Grade B Intrigue
Sage Karam: This is the story line with the potential for a Hollywood ending that could put Indycar on the map and connect the series to the ever so elusive Millennial demographic. An all American 19 year old high school kid with a unique name and movie star looks from Andrettiville, PA (aka Nazareth) making his first ever Indycar start in the 500 for the Chip Ganassi stable. It doesn’t get any better than that. And I’ve read something about a feud with the Andretti family? Brilliant. I hope he is the chosen one.
Marco Andretti: Is this the year Marco breaks through and ends the Andretti curse? It’s hard to fathom that from 1966 through this past year, the Andretti family collectively has one lone victory in the 500. Thousands of laps led yet only one win Marco comes in as the Vegas favorite to win. He’s bound to get one at some point.
Buddy Lazier: The ‘96 Indy 500 winner will start last and likely be the slowest car on the track, but seeing that name makes me nostalgic for early IRL shenanigans . Trivia question: What do Tony Stewart, Michele Alboreto, Racin Gardner, John Paul Jr, Danny Ongais and Lynn St James have in common? Answer: They all took part in the ‘96 Indy 500. Very peculiar if you ask me. Well done Tony George.
Grade C Intrigue
The Colombians! JPM, Seb Saavedra, Carlos Huertas and Carlos Munoz will start the race on Sunday representing Columbia. The only country to have more than 4 drivers in the race is the USA. I don’t know what the level of fervor is for these young gents at the moment in their homeland, but provided there is no soccer match on at the same time, the country will be glued to their television sets rooting these guys on. (Note to self- find a Colombian bar to watch the race in)
Helio Castro Neves: With a win on Sunday, Helio would have 4 Indy 500 wins matching AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr and Rick Mears for the most by any man or woman. I don’t know about you but that just doesn’t seem right. For the sake of proper records, early IRL wins should not be counted.
Anybody not in a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti car contending: Since Montoya’s win in 2000, only 3 drivers not in a Penske, Chipper or Andretti car have won the race. Best bets this year look to be Simon Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden. Don’t sleep on once a year driver Townsend Bell either. Or Justin WIlson. Or Oriol Servia. Or…….?
That’s the beauty of The 500!
Monaco Spoiler Alert
Mercedes finishes 1, 2 with Rosberg winning for a second year in a row! Okay that may only be the grid but the race in Monaco is won in Q3. Tomorrow is just the parade. Well played Nico! Way to park the car Schumi style and force Hamilton to abort his flyer. Very Professorial Prost like in application. But like Prost in ‘89, when your teammate has the pace, you have to resort to psychological tricks to win the war.
And Seb Vettel?? Wow, he is now the clear cut #2 with Kyvatt waiting in the wings to take his seat. Will he go down as a man who had to have a trick diffuser to win? I’m starting to wonder.
My TV plan of attack: Day starts at 6:45am with a recorded version of Monaco and I’ll try to time the crossover to live Indy coverage just as Jim Nabors is hitting the final notes of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” This way I’ll be able to catch the awkward command by Mari Hulman George to “Start Engines” and get my game face on. The Soda 600 will be watched in SC highlights brought to me, of course, by the great Stuart Scott.
Let’s hope we have a spectacular AND SAFE day on the couch!