Well Sunday sure ended up being an interesting day. For being considered the best day in racing, however, there was something that felt slightly peculiar. Perhaps the rain falling over Monaco set the stage, as the Formula 1 race then began behind a safety car. That’s never a great way to get things started.
The 100th Indianapolis 500 began in beautiful and spectacular fashion, with a capacity crowd and blue skies. The weather gods smiled down on that one.
And the Coca-Cola 600 got things going in typical fashion as the skies began to turn to amber, orange and cobalt.
But was the day one of the best, or is it that three crown jewel events happen on the same day?
If the Monaco Grand Prix showed anything, it’s that passing on the narrow streets is more difficult than it ever has been. The Indy 500 showed that careful driving and strategic execution can still win a race over outright speed. And the 600 showed that one car can still put a beatdown on the field at an oval race.
That each event may not have lived up to some kind of action-film fairytale ending, however, shouldn’t kill the enjoyment of the day. All told, it’s still 95 drivers doing dangerous things in racecars. We may have become numb to the speeds but that doesn’t make what they accomplish or the races any less of a marvel.
That’s the joy of racing.
Let’s get happy.
Happiness Is…Dominance. Usually when one driver rules a race like Martin Truex Jr did at Charlotte, the reactions tend to fall on the negative side. If Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, or lightning rod Kyle Busch had been the one running away with the event, the vitriol would have been exponentially higher. Was the racing good? Well, not really. Did Fox prevent us from seeing that actual racing was happening somewhere behind the leader? Yes, frequently. Those faults being noted, Truex crushed the race.
Many times excellence can be criticized. In this case, NASCAR has taken the brunt for again tinkering with a rules package that seemed to make the racing worse. But what Truex did was akin to throwing a no-hitter; or bowling a perfect game; or completing 90% of passes with 5 TDs and over 500 yards. It was more of a rare feat than anything, one person playing at a different level.
That Truex is one of the feel-good stories of NASCAR helps. He’s been a consistent and decent driver but has struggled to find a home that can provide him with upper-echelon equipment. Now that he’s got it, he seems to be coming into his own. His display on Sunday night, while boring to many, may have been his shout to let the acknowledged championship contenders know that he should be right there with them as the Chase heads to its conclusion.
Happiness Is…Owning It. The racing thus far this season has been some of the best at the Cup level in quite a while. Reducing aerodynamic drag and the lessening downforce has tightened the field, for most events, and brought about some rather decent finishes. That’s not to say that the stalwarts aren’t still cruising along and that their R&D isn’t going to find a way to hit on a set up, a la Truex at Charlotte, but they too still must navigate through discoveries. But the package used at Charlotte, and one the teams had known well, proved that at night, there’s some tinkering to be done as the result: A dud.
To NASCAR’s credit, they have come out and acknowledged that the moves they made didn’t work and that they were disappointed by the result. In fact, Steve O’Donnell, executive VP in NASCAR, came out and said that it’s back to the drawing board regarding the 1.5-mile tracks. The hope is that the race in two weeks at Michigan, where the cars will run a less skewed body and additional decreases in the splitter and spoiler — the same set up used at the All-Star race — will be what works. Good for them for tinkering. Good for them for acknowledging the issue. Now let’s just hope that Pocono isn’t a runaway like Charlotte.
Happiness Is…Fluky. A win is a win, right? Rain shortened? Yep, they happen. Fuel mileage? Not all that uncommon. So why is it that Alexander Rossi’s Indianapolis 500 win seems to be one that is both already ignored and somewhat forgotten? What should be a joyous moment is already put into the file labeled “Whatever”. It seems that many fans and pundits were looking for something more.
But it’s still a win right? When Ashley Judd chased Dario Franchitti down after he was declared the winner of the 2007 Indy 500, Franchitti enjoyed all the acclaim and people seemed to remember the victory. And perhaps that is it. Some newcomer to the series that barely anyone knew was not supposed to win the 500. No, this event is for the big guns who are supposed to barrel their way forward and further cement their status. Some rookie that sounds like he’s from Italy? Say what?! But Rossi’s win is actually a testament to the wonders and reasons of racing. That he wasn’t supposed to win is the backstory that makes his win rather incredible. Add in the fact that he used a strategy no one else did and the whole thing seems that much more remarkable. Sometimes “fluky” is a good thing.
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