NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: The Greatest Day in Motorsports

ONE: Sunday Funday

For the motorsports aficionado, it doesn’t get too look much better than the slate for this Memorial Day Sunday. We start early, way early when you live on the West Coast, on the streets of the Principality of Monaco with the sixth race of the 2017 Formula One season.Then it is the turn of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and the 101st running of the Indy 500. These two races, combined with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, form the unofficial Triple Crown of Motorsports. 17 drivers have competed in all three events and won at least one of them, while Juan Pablo Montoya is the sole owner of a pair of wins although Fernando Alonso can equal that in the 500. Only one driver, however, has managed the hat-trick and that wheel man was two-time F1 champion and British gentleman — Graham Hill. The day concludes with 600 hard miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s longest event and 12th race of the season, exactly one third of the way through the arduous schedule. All told, that’s about eight and a half to nine hours of racing. Not bad, not bad at all.

TWO: The Monaco Grand Prix

As I mentioned above, Sunday begins with the Monaco Grand Prix. Much of the finishing order will be defined by qualifying given the tight confines of the street circuit. Despite the difficulties passing, there are few more iconic venues for racing than the Circuit de Monaco. This will be the 66th race in the second smallest country in the world – Monaco is a shade under two square kilometers — and it’s a streak that runs all the way back to 1936. That inaugural race was won by a German, Rudolf Caracciola, who won ten of the 24 total Formula One races he entered – not a bad clip, that’s for sure. This weekend, in a mirror of the season, may very well come down to four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and three-time champion Lewis Hamilton. Each of the veteran drivers has a pair of wins in 2017 with the other race this season won by Valtteri Bottas – the Finn’s first ever Formula One victory. Vettel is ahead by six markers in the overall standings but given the way this title fight is shaping up; my guess is we’ll not know the champion until the final race of the season in November.

THREE: The 101st Indy 500

The big story ahead of the 101th running of perhaps the most famous race of them all was the decision of Fernando Alonso to forego the Monaco Grand Prix to race instead in the 500. “The Indy 500 is one of the greatest events in the sport.” Said Alonso in an article he penned for the Player’s Tribune website. “Drivers all over the world know this. I belong there. Because I’m a racer…I always have been, and I always will be.” https://www.theplayerstribune.com/fernando-alonso-indy-500-mclaren-honda-andretti/ — Alonso has looked smooth in practice, adapting well to the unique challenges of oval racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and qualifying a very respectable fifth for the big race. He certainly will be fun to watch this Sunday afternoon. One driver who won’t be taking the green flag is open wheel veteran Sebastien Bourdais. His huge hit in qualifying left him with multiple fractures of the pelvis as well as a fractured right hip. Bourdais is recovering after surgery with the medical director of the IndyCar Series Dr. Geoffrey Billows noting that the Frenchman was “doing even better than I expected.” Here’s to his quick return to a race car and here’s to an amazing race this Sunday. I can’t wait for this one.

NOTE: Bourdais tweeted this update, among other pictures with his crew.

FOUR: The Coca-Cola 600

Well, folks, no other way to put this but the third of the three big races this Memorial Day Sunday could be a real snoozer. Judging by the lack of passing and the quickly strung out fields following a restart in the All-Star stages last Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, any kind of long green flag run might feel almost interminable. Plus, don’t even get me started on the additional stage (and bonus points) which make this race more valuable than the other 25 regular-season races.

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Will this No. 78 Toyota lay waste to the field in Charlotte again Sunday night? (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

That’s just not right, especially when you make the change right before the race itself and not before the start of the season. This time last year Martin Truex, Jr., absolutely eviscerated the field leading an incredible 392 laps of the possible 400. Given the way he’s started the season on the mile-and-a-half circuits — winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway and a pair of eighth place runs at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway – I’d expect the number 78 Furniture Row Chevy to be amongst the cars to beat this weekend. That is, of course, if you can stay awake to find out. The great thing here though is my low expectations for the longest race of the season can only be exceeded — I think, right?

FIVE: Option Tires

And finally, a quick word on the green wall option tires from Saturday night’s All-Star race. As it turned out on the night they seemed little more than a gimmick but given more chances this is an idea that I cautiously think could actually work. The key is making the tires that much faster than the usual ones. There simply wasn’t enough of a difference for the All-Star race participants. But as the old adage goes it’s better to have tried then not to have tried at all. Yes, this time around it was a failure but in different circumstances this could be a concept that could catch on. I hope it’s an idea NASCAR revisit at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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