The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Jimmie vs. Matt And The Best Day In Motorsports by Danny Peters -- Tuesday May 21, 2013

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ONE: Jimmie vs Matt

Who will it be? Both Johnson and Kenseth are lined up to snare the 2013 Sprint Cup.

The way the 2013 season is shaping up right now, we’re looking at a down-to-the-wire battle between two former champions for this season’s big, wavy silver Cup trophy.

In one corner you have the Robot, Matt Kenseth, the man some say made the Chase with his one win/top-10 the competition to death championship season of 2003. And in the other corner you have Jimmie Johnson, a driver seemingly tailor-made for the heat and drama of a 10-race playoff who rattled off five straight championships between 2006 and 2010. Of course, the great thing about making a declaration such as, it’s all about Jimmie vs. Matt is that there’s still time. But based on the evidence so far, it does look as if this year’s champion will have to finish above both the veteran drivers.

Johnson, who picked up a record fourth All-Star victory to add to his two regular season wins and his average finish of 6.7 is looking relentless this year. However, Matt Kenseth is arguably looking even stronger, and that’s saying something given Double J’s stats on the year so far. Kenseth has won three times and led a series-best 781 circuits.

As of now, for your 2013 champion, don’t look further than the man who made the Chase and the man made for the Chase.

TWO: The Greatest Sunday in Motorsports

We see a lot of hyperbole in motorsports, some of which is undeserved and the rest of which is unmerited. This Sunday is, however, something of an exception with three of the most historic and storied auto races.

We kick off proceedings with the Monaco Grand Prix in the morning, the 97th Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon and then finally the Coke 600 — NASCAR’s longest race — in the evening. If you’re a fan of Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR, it is truly a Sunday to savor and even if you’re only a fan of one of those disciplines, it’s still pretty special. It’s also the perfect crossover weekend for NASCAR fans to dip into IndyCar or indeed Formula One, especially if you’ve not sampled open-wheel racing much before.

This Sunday’s F1 Monaco Grand Prix will be the 71st running of the race on the 2.075-mile, shortest and slowest circuit on the schedule.

“Monaco is one of my favorite races of the year and I love driving the streets there,” says Lewis Hamilton, the British F1 star. “As a driver, you know that you have to perform on every single lap and it’s a challenge that I really enjoy… I love the fact that the fans can get so close to the track, making for a great atmosphere.”

THREE: The Indianapolis 500: A Truly Great Race

All of which segues nicely into Sunday afternoon and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” — the Indy 500.

This year will mark the 97th running of an event that first began all the way back in 1911. If you think today’s drivers are brave, then those pioneers of motor racing were on another level of bravery altogether. The first ever Indy 500 race, on May 30th, 1911, was won by Ray Harroun in the “Marmon Wasp,” a car you can still see at the speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum. Harroun is also credited with the invention of the rear-view mirror – controversial technology back in the day – and this event was the first race in which it was used.

One hundred years later and we’re still running, which is a tribute to the enduring tradition and legacy of a great race. This year, both Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves are looking for a record-tying fourth victory to put them up there with the three other legendary four-time winners: Rick Mears, Al Unser and the irrepressible AJ Foyt. Those are just two of the many storylines of the 33 drivers who are entered for the race. If you’ve not watched IndyCar before, don’t miss the opportunity: this is the one you should watch.

FOUR: The 2013 Coca-Cola 600: NASCAR’s Longest Night

Finishing things up this Sunday evening is the 2013 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. At 600 miles, the race is the longest and most arduous on the schedule.

First held in 1960, the inaugural 600-mile race was won by Joe Lee Johnson, one of just two races he won in his 7-year, 55-race career. The race was also the first one held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, just a few weeks after construction was finished on the track built by NASCAR legends Curtis Turner and Bruton Smith. Turner, a future inductee in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was a hugely colorful character who has the epitaph, “The Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing” on his tombstone: high praise indeed. I can’t help but feel he’d enjoy the huge speeds the Sprint Cup cars travel the circuit some fifty-plus years later.

This year’s 600 is the 12th race of the 2013 season, one away from the halfway point to the Chase. So by the time we come back here for the playoffs, in October it will certainly be interesting to see how things have changed up as drivers and teams truly get to grips with the Gen-6 car.

FIVE: First-Time Winners

Finally this week, on the subject of the Coca-Cola 600, it’s a race that has marked a first NASCAR victory for quite a collection of drivers including four Cup champions: David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), and Matt Kenseth (2000). In addition to that august group of wheelmen, in 2007 Casey Mears won his first race in his 11-year, 355-race career to date while in 2009 David Reutimann did the same – albeit in a rain-shortened event. You have to go all the way back to Watkins Glen in 2011 to find the last first-time winner, so it’s about time we had another. Perhaps Aric Almirola can step up and get it done this time around?

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Steve K
05/21/2013 02:33 AM

For the past several years the fiancee and I have awoke early Memorial Sunday for some Champagne and OJ while we watch the baddest racing machines on the planet rush by Casino Square, down to the Station Hairpin, through the tunnel, by the pool, and then around La Rascasse. It makes for a wonderful morning.

This year we will be at her Mother’s place in NC. We will then rush to get ready as we are attending the 600 (for the second year in a row) this year. Watching the Indy 500 on the worlds largest HD TV is different but no less exciting. The gasp from the Charlotte Motor Speedway when Taku spun in turn one on lap 200 last year was chilling. The motorsports world feels united on this day. It makes the six hour drive back up I-77 the next day well worth it.

05/21/2013 08:13 AM

Thank goodness the ridiculous penalties against Gibbs were overturned or Jimmie would be so far ahead there would almost be no contest to watch.

Of course we’re not done yet…Nascar is still ticked about that.

Watch for when “debris” cautions come out and pit road penalties. Things like that can not be overturned. Sneaky but effective.

Carl D.
05/21/2013 01:15 PM

I used to spend every Memorial Day weekend in the infield at Charlotte, and the weekend of the October races as well. I quit going after having to sit outside the track in 2006 the whole Friday night because they were having the premier of the “Cars” movie in turn two. I figured if hosting movie premiers was more important than accommodating the race fans, I was spending my money at the wrong place.

I did have some good times, though. Watching Bobby Labonte win his first race there was particularly memorable, as was seeing Jamie McMurray win his first race subbing for Sterling Marlin. After Jeff Gordon won his first race, he actually walked around the infield with then-wife Brooke talking to fans. I watched a lot of wagon races in turn 2 (you had to be there) and met a lot of great people. I quit going about the time Jimmie Johnson started dominating the races at Charlotte, so I guess the whole movie thing was a blessing in disguise.

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