Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: Racing Legends New and Old

ONE: Truex Wins

What a morale-boosting victory it was for Martin Truex, Jr. Sunday night. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy eviscerated the field, leading a whopping 392 of 400 laps – the most one driver has ever led in a NASCAR race at Charlotte. Truex has led laps in seven races this season but Sunday was his first win on the year and the fourth Cup win of his career in 378 attempts. “Just all in all, the whole weekend was really one of those fairy-tale weekends where it seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong, and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and the guys did a great job with the car obviously all weekend,” said an elated winner in the media center post-race. “It just seemed like everything was going the way we needed it to do, and then we come down to the end of the race and we’re out there leading, and I’m like, all right, when is the caution going to come out, and it didn’t.”

Judging by the reaction of the other competitors on pit road, many of whom came up and slapped Truex five it was very much a popular victory. The real question is can this driver and team now win the multiple races their form would suggest. If so, can they parlay their efforts back to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Raceway? One thing is for sure after Sunday’s celebration; there would be few more popular champions than Truex.

TWO: The 100th 500

Outside of the Daytona 500, there isn’t a race all year I enjoy as much as I do the Indy 500. This year was no exception as American rookie Alexander Rossi raced to an absolutely unexpected victory in the hundredth running of this iconic, incredible event. The 500 is a race with the moniker “the greatest spectacle in motorsports” and Sunday’s race certainly lived up to that lofty label. Rossi was racing on just his second ever oval in the IndyCar Series and only his sixth race overall. The 66-1 long shot, mired in midpack much of the day eked out his final fuel tank for a full 90 miles whilst everyone else had to stop for a splash of gas on his way to an improbable victory. Rossi was actually running out of gas on the final lap but he managed to nurse his car around to the yard of bricks and racing immortality. “I have no idea how we pulled that off,” said Rossi in Victory Lane. “The emotional roller coaster of this race is ridiculous. There were moments I was really stoked, really heartbroken, really stoked. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ll need to see a psychiatrist after this.'”

(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 victory was an emotional one for all involved — not just Martin Truex, Jr. (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)

THREE: Maiden 2016 Victory for the F1 Champ

Meanwhile, in the third (and by time, technically the first) race on the best day in motorsports, it was the champion Lewis Hamilton who finally made it back to the top of the podium for the first time this season. Hamilton is a three-time champion, winning in 2008 and then back-to-back in the last two years — 2014 and 2015 – a record that included a whopping 21 wins in 38 races. This season, things have not gone Hamilton’s way with his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg winning the first four races of the year. 18-year-old Max Verstappen won the previous race in Spain before Hamilton finally found his way to the front.

“I’m kind of lost for words,” said the champ in a post race interview. “I prayed for a day like this and it came through, so I feel truly blessed.” All told, it was a textbook display of defensive driving as Hamilton held off a hard-charging Daniel Ricciardo who led 23 circuits in the early going.

Often times, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix can feel a little bit “follow the leader” given the narrow confines of the street course but this race was a tremendous one to watch and a great start to an outstanding day in motorsports. Memorial Day Sunday 2017 can’t get here soon enough.

FOUR: Next Up, Pocono

For NASCAR, this weekend marks the first of two trips to picturesque Pocono Raceway and the two-and-a-half-mile tricky triangle. The snappily named Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 will be Cup race number 77 at Pocono, a continuous run that stretches all the way back to 1974 when the first race was won by none other than the King himself – Richard Petty. This race last year was won by none other than Martin Truex, Jr. – now in position to go back-to-back this weekend — whilst the second race of 2015 was won by Matt Kenseth. Denny Hamlin is the active driver with the most wins at Pocono (four) but his last came in 2010 before this track was repaved. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., looking for his first win of the year, won both races in 2014 and could be considered a darkhorse contender despite a difficult season. The uniqueness of the three turns – all have their own distinct characteristics – make a race at Pocono something of a wildcard event  and don’t expect that to change this time around.

FIVE: Mark Martin Forever

Finally this week, a quick word on Mark Martin, elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week. Martin is arguably the greatest NASCAR driver never to win a championship, but this recognition of his lengthy and sterling career was not before its time. Martin finished runner-up in the championship on no less than five separate occasions across nineteen seasons (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2009) to go along with his 40 Cup wins and 49 XFINITY Series victories. The driver was competitive well into his 50s before retiring at the conclusion of the 2013 season; however, it’s clear the veteran still has the itch to stick around NASCAR in some capacity.

“In the last two months, I’ve really noticed that I miss the fans, I miss the competitors and I miss the members of the media, the journalists and all that were around the racetrack and were my family,” said Martin in the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend. “This is a real cool opportunity for me to get back, connect with what was my family for 30 years.”

Believe me when I say it, Mark, seeing you back where you belong, the pleasure was all ours. Congratulations on your much deserved enshrinement alongside NASCAR’s legendary names.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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