The best day in auto racing gave us two differently distinct types of races, but the final results brought about similar feelings. There was awe in how a rookie could save so much fuel, snookering several top-notch IndyCar teams and competitors down the stretch. The awe we felt with Martin Truex, Jr. reaching Victory Lane was connected to dominance; have we ever seen a car in NASCAR’s modern era quite that good over 600 miles?
Even if you aren’t a Martin Truex, Jr. fan, and even maybe if you disliked him just a bit, there’s a part of you that just has to feel good for him and his girlfriend Sherry Pollex after Truex won the 600-mile event at Charlotte Sunday night. Truex had been close to winning on three or four occasions this season, even dominating in a couple of those events only to have something go wrong in the latter stages. Usually, those mistakes were no fault of the driver but this Colorado-based team pulled together and finally flexed their muscle over the full race distance. Pollex has also had a well-publicized battle with cancer and that she gets to share in the joy, in attendance near NASCAR’s home base just makes victory all the sweeter for this Furniture Row Racing organization.
NASCAR’s low downforce package has certainly seemed to work well in its first full year of use, leading to good and entertaining races through the first third of the season. Well, maybe it was because of Truex’s dominance, maybe it was the transition into night racing but the overall action at Charlotte Sunday just didn’t match the level of most of the 2016 season. If it had been a Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson running up front, whipping the field we’d be hearing about the lack of excitement from this event.
Dipping into the IndyCar Series for a moment, the Indy 500 was once again a very entertaining race, continuing a trend we’ve seen for several years. There were regular changes for the lead, drama in getting on and off pit road and then, at the end strategy played a key role in deciding the winner. It had everything you can ask for in a race, including rookie Alexander Rossi giving us a lesson on how to save fuel so you can reach your destination. Rossi was going so slow on that final lap, averaging over 30 mph less than race pace that it looked like you could take a regular street vehicle out there and go faster. But sometimes it’s not about how fast you go; it’s about figuring out a way to get the finish line before the everyone else.
One of the key pieces of information missing late in the Indy 500 broadcast was knowing just when each of the leaders pitted last and how many laps they had run on a full tank of fuel. Some type of list with, say, 20 laps to go would have been helpful and it’s a trick that’s been managed before on racing broadcasts. Once it was obvious that Rossi was going to go for it on the fuel run, it made for great drama; but without all the information at hand, that drama reached a certain limit. It would have been interesting to see who had lasted the longest on a full tank during other parts of the race, giving the viewer a better idea of Rossi’s chances to make those final 36 laps without stopping.
While this is something that we all expect on Memorial Day weekend, it’s also something we should never take for granted. That would be the way IndyCar and NASCAR honor veterans for their service. IndyCar gave Pearl Harbor survivors the red carpet treatment Sunday and it was well deserved. NASCAR honored fallen veterans, too by putting their names on car windshields in the spot where drivers’ names normally go. The FOX broadcast also regularly mentioned those fallen veterans during the broadcast. Just good stuff all around and thank you once again to all veterans.
The mystery of mediocrity continues for Kasey Kahne. If he wasn’t on a top team that had top equipment and technology available, maybe it would be easy to give him a pass. And if this last race wasn’t at one of his best tracks, maybe we could look the other way. But Kahne, running the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports finished 22nd, five laps off the pace Sunday. He now sits 20th in points, 19 behind 16th-place Ryan Newman for the final spot in this year’s Chase. That’s not an insurmountable deficit, for sure, but the fact there’s a deficit at all for this team leaves a lot more questions than answers.
Prediction: Before Sunday night’s dominance, I was all ready to pick Martin Truex, Jr. to win at Pocono this week. After it? That just gives me more ammunition to pick him. The deep sleeper, super underdog, someone you might not think of pick this week is Kyle Larson. OK, so he might not be a real deep sleeper, but Larson is looking for his first career win and has shown some signs of life the last few weeks. 38 points out of the final Chase spot, this third-year driver will likely need a win to make the Chase. Larson does have two top-10 finishes in his last four races at Pocono; will May’s month of momentum continue as the calendar turns to June?
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