ONE: Thanks, Danica
In the end, it was not the glorious finish Danica Patrick would have scripted to end her long and trailblazing racing career. An unexpected spin and wreck on lap 68 saw her final race, the 102nd running of the Indy 500, end with a violent collision in the outer wall.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Patrick post-race. “Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want for your last race, but I’m grateful for all of it. Wish I could have finished stronger.”
And so that’s that for Danica as she moves on to a life post-racing – a life in which I’ve no doubt she’ll succeed. The final tally in 2018, her last two races, will note a 35th-place, wreck-induced finish in the Daytona 500 and a 30th-place DNF in the Indy 500. As she said herself, that’s not how Danica would have written it up. But results alone don’t tell the story of a hugely important role she has played in both open-wheel racing and also in NASCAR.
All told, Danica finishes as the only woman ever to start the Daytona 500 on the pole (2013) and lead laps on two separate occasions (five in 2013, two in 2014). She also owns the highest ever finish in the 500 (eighth in 2013), a record number of Cup top 10s (seven) and a career-best effort of sixth (Atlanta, 2014). That sixth place stands as the second-best finish in NASCAR history for a woman and the best in the sport’s modern era.
In fact, that run is bettered only by a fifth place secured by Sara Christian in a 23-car field at Heidelberg Raceway, the seventh race of the 1949 season – just NASCAR’s second year. In addition, Danica is the only woman ever to lead laps in the Indy 500, secure seven podium finishes, and the only woman to win an IndyCar race, doing so at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi Superspeedway in 2008.
This past week, none other than Bob Pockrass wrote an article suggesting Danica could be a potential Hall of Fame candidate and it got me thinking. Yes, there is a case for Danica being in the Hall of Fame given the record-breaking marks she has hit as a female driver. But the real legacy for Patrick might just be in the next generation of female racers her efforts will undoubtedly have inspired.
Despite those successes, rarely have I seen an athlete like Danica get bashed as much as she does in the vicious cauldron of social media. The countless negative nicknames and the vituperative abuse has rained down from all sides to the point that it’s hard to hold a neutral point of view about the Roscoe, Ill. native. So often in life, it’s easy to be the critic – the tormentor. To point out failure in others while ignoring the faults in our own lives. The Bible notes to worry about the plank in your own eye before the speck in your brother’s eye, yet it’s a model rarely followed with Danica.
Despite that negativity, somewhere out there today, I’ll be willing to bet there’s a young girl promising herself she’ll win a MENCS race, multiple races, a MENCS title and the Indy 500. Danica, plain and simple, will be the reason why. We might not be able to quantify it yet but rest assured we’ll be hearing about her impact in Victory Lane one day soon.
Best of luck with what comes next, Danica. You made your mark.
TWO: Power’s Raw Emotion
Congratulations IndyCar veteran Will Power on a massive victory in the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the Indy 500. The raw and practically explosive emotion from Power on the radio post-race, pulling into Victory Circle, and then between Power and his wife Liz when they see each other for the first time, told you everything you need to know about what it means to win this most illustrious of races.
“I just screamed like I’ve never screamed before. It was just amazing. The last two laps, the last lap, seeing the white flag, the checkered, I mean, you can’t explain it,” said Power of his win.
Before the drop of the green flag, I wrote down four names to keep an eye on: Helio Castroneves, Danica, Marco Andretti and Power. In the end, it was the final name that got it done, prevailing during a difficult day to pass. Pit strategy reigned supreme while wrecks claimed some of the sport’s biggest stars. Now, perhaps Power will get the credit he’s due after an outstanding career which had been missing this one large spot on the resume.
“It’s what I needed so badly, what I wanted so badly, and it came true,” said Power. “Anyone here knows how that would feel. You want something so much, it comes through to you through hard work and determination.”
THREE: A Sluggish Summer
And as we head into the warm summer months, chances are those respective win totals will tick inexorably upward. In short, we might be looking at something of a tedious summer – a long, hot, predictable slog toward the start of the playoffs.
So much for the coming of the youth moment that was so heavily touted coming into the new season. In fact, we’ve seen barely a whimper from the new kids on the block as veterans have dominated nearly all of the statistical categories.
Could that change this weekend? A year ago, the first Pocono race saw a memorable first Cup victory for Ryan Blaney. Sadly, judging by the evidence this year, so far it doesn’t seem likely. Perhaps the stability at the top of NASCAR’s ladder might be causing some of the recent ratings declines.
FOUR: Next Up, Pocono
Next up, it’s Cup race number 81 at picturesque Pocono Raceway and the first of two trips in 2018 to the Tricky Triangle. The 2.5-mile flat track is one of the few independently held circuits, run by the family-owned Mattco, Inc. which was started by track founders Dr. Joseph and Rose Mattioli.
Amongst active drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leads the way with four wins. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch have three apiece while Kasey Kahne has a pair. Brad Keselowski has the best average finish (minimum five starts) among active drivers at 10.5 while Johnson has led the most laps (738).
Since 2012, the two Pocono races have been 400 miles long (and not 500 miles). In 2017, the two races were won by Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch.
FIVE: Ricciardo’s Redemption Victory
Finally this week, it wasn’t quite the statistically perfect weekend for the 28-year-old Daniel Ricciardo. But in every other aspect, it was a redemptive win a long two years in the making.
The Red Bull Racing wheelman, in a milestone 250th Grand Prix for the team, led the way in Monaco. He captured all three practices, all three rounds of qualifying and every lap of the race for his second win in the first six races.
The only thing he didn’t manage was running the fastest lap. Back in 2016, a botched pit stop cost Ricciardo the victory. But on Sunday on the streets of Monaco, he wasn’t to be denied. You’re never owed anything in racing; plenty of drivers can attest to victories that slipped away, never to be recaptured.
That said, there was a huge element of redemption for the amiable Australian wheelman in this victory. His post-race dive into the swimming pool proved to be a picture perfect photographic moment.