SPECRacing: Why Sunday night’s races matter

May 28th, 2013 | By
| Category: Columns, SPECRacing

Every year, nothing rivals the Sunday before Memorial Day in the world of sport like racing. All day, the top racing drivers in the world compete in some of the biggest races on the planet.

The start of the day features the Grand Prix between the houses at Monaco, where F1 drivers try to battle a tricky track – and each other – in a race that can be defined as utter lunacy among the social elite.

From there, we travel to Indianapolis and the greatest sporting event on the planet – the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race – where the fastest 33 drivers in the world compete around a 2.5-mile oval for 500 miles of action.

After that’s done, we travel over to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola World 600, the longest stock car race of the season.

Every race in this Race Day 2013 will be remembered for its own particular nuance, for better or for worse. Monaco will be remembered for the balls-to-the-wall style of Sergio Perez that got him positions – and into trouble – on more than one occasion, and the incident involving Pastor Maldonado and Max Chilton that knocked out a wall, stopping the race.

Indianapolis will be remembered for being probably the greatest Indianapolis 500 run ever and an event that was so quick, it might have been over before we knew it. It’ll be remembered for the insane competition between most of the field, and for the very well-deserved and incredibly popular victory for Tony Kanaan, who finally scored his first 500 after twelve tries, and a great deal more misfortune than he’d like to recall.

Charlotte will be remembered for a cable-cam malfunction. It’s kind of funny, really: For being the biggest name in American motorsports, NASCAR tends to put on some incredibly underwhelming – and sometimes disappointing – shows. Especially after the first two races that were held Sunday. The event was, for the most part, lacking in competition, with the most notable event coming when FOX’s cable-cam malfunctioned. A cable fell onto the track and into the stands, damaging several cars and injuring a few fans. Ideally, Charlotte would be recalled for some incredible action between some of the top stars in NASCAR, but that was not to be. In fact, the only real action came from idiotic driving from some of the top drivers in NASCAR, leading to a number of big accidents that took out a large number of cars.

In twenty years, however, not many people will recall anything about the race, but might recall the dropped camera cables.

It’s a true anti-climax, especially after what might have been the greatest Indy 500 – and maybe even the greatest auto race – ever held; even if the race didn’t finish under green-flag conditions. More on that in a bit.

What the 500 turned out to be Sunday was a day of fast, intense racing. A leading driver could not hold the lead for more than two laps before the drivers behind him would pull up and shoot on by like the leader was standing still, and this went on all day. Officially, the lead changed hands 68 times – the most in the history of the great race, and that wasn’t the only record that got shattered Sunday.

The record for the fastest Indy got broken, as well, a record that virtually everyone thought was unbreakable. That record, 185.981 mph for a 500-mile distance, had stood since May 27, 1990. That record was broken on Race Day 2013, as the 500 miles were completed this year at an average speed of 187.433 mph. Will it take another 23 years for that record to be snapped? Possibly.

Incredibly, despite the intensely close competition, the accidents were few and were more caused by a driver’s simple mistake rather than two drivers getting together.

It was a fantastic performance by virtually the entire field, and the field of 33 should be commended by all for not looking like idiots on their grandest stage, something that NASCAR’s field of 43 could not do later that night.

And then there was the matter of the winner, Tony Kanaan. Few drivers have deserved Indy glory more than he has, after his years of misfortune at the world’s greatest sporting event. While having a competitive ride capable of victory virtually every year, something would happen that would keep him from reaching the top of the mountain. One year, it would be a wreck. Another year, he would just get beaten. On other years, some set of circumstances ruined his competitiveness.

This year was different, however. A friend of mine who was at the race said “just about everyone lost it” when his victory was assured this year.

“Someone in the seats below ours actually released confetti in the air,” he also said.

Indeed, the race ended under caution, which annoyed a few people.

“Looks like Indy needs to follow the Motorsports leader #NASCAR and adopt G-W-C Awesome finish Dull finish!” tweeted former NASCAR crew chief and FOX sports analyst Larry McReynolds.

How arrogant. There’s a few things wrong with this statement. Let’s go through them:

1.) The Indianapolis 500 is a 500-mile race. Period. It’s not 505 miles (despite what 1995 winner Jacques Villeneuve or team owner Barry Green would tell you). It’s not 512.5 miles. It’s not 507.5 miles. It’s 500 miles. In a sense, it’s comparable to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

“Thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out.” -Monty Python

In a sense, this counts for the Indianapolis 500. Thou must count to 200 laps. 201 shalt thou not count. 202 is right out, excepting that thou hast made up two laps on the track of racing.

2.) McReynolds seems to forget that he was the beneficiary of a similar victory in 1998 at Daytona. The driver was Dale Earnhardt, who had tried for 20 years and failed to win the Daytona 500, often losing in ludicrous circumstances even more insane than Kanaan. With two laps to go, Lake Speed and John Andretti spun on the back-straight, ending the race under the yellow flag. Suppose NASCAR had green-white-checker rules for the Winston Cup series back then. In fact, Earnhardt would probably not have won the race. Rusty Wallace or Jeremy Mayfield might have been in victory lane that day. It’s funny how Larry Mac conveniently forgot that fact when putting this in.

3.) McReynolds arrogantly called NASCAR the “motorsports leader”. Really now? What about the series that runs around the world and had all the A-list Hollywood celebrities on hand this morning? Oh well. That last part is so idiotic, it’s not even worth analyzing. That “motorsports leader” produced one hell of a race too, in spite of the fact that one driver led the whole race, and that the Circuit de Monaco is not exactly considered conducive to great racing.

Mexican driver Sergio Perez actually proved that statement wrong with some incredibly bold maneuvers, specifically in the chicane just past the tunnel. Perez forced the issue on a number of drivers when they probably weren’t wanting it to be forced, and this wound up biting him later on, when Kimi Raikkonen shut the door on him, putting Perez in the wall and putting paid to his chances.

Oh well. It wasn’t the most idiotic move pulled during the race. That one goes to Max Chilton for slamming the door on Pastor Maldonado going into the Tabac corner, apparently not even checking his mirrors. Maldonado took flight, lost any semblance of control, and slammed into the wall, bringing out a red flag. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and Chilton apologized for his stupidity.

F1 fans will remember that race for the idiocy of Chilton and the daring moves of Perez, while IndyCar fans will remember the 500 for the insane competition and NASCAR fans might not remember the 600. Some will remember the arrogance of NASCAR even as it puts on an underwhelming and borderline-embarrassing show instead.

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