The Greatest Day in Motorsport

Well, maybe. I’m a huge racing fan, and really there isn’t much better in the racing world than what happens on Memorial Day weekend. While the 24 Hours of LeMans does offer it’s own style, I think the variation of what you find on Memorial Day weekend is what really sets it apart from the others. You start off your morning with the Grand Prix of Monaco for the Formula 1 cars. Then you head to Indianapolis for the afternoon and the Indianapolis 500. The night then wraps up with the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. It’s like a buffet of racing goodness.

And I did start my day with the GP of Monaco. Watching Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who has been one of my favorites since he ran with Toro Rosso, battle it out for the win. For awhile I thought Jensen Button and his McLaren crew was on the right strategy to win it, however a late race safety car messed all of that up. There were some late race shenanigans that went on that I missed because I was at church, but it didn’t really impact the running order much. However, I assume that things would have gotten interesting had Fernando Alonso decided to try to make a move on Vettel. In the end a red flag happened, all the teams changed their tires, and then they were three equal cars as they ran to the finish.

In Indianapolis, it was a fairly boring race until fuel strategy came into play near the end. Danica Patrick got a chance to lead but was short on fuel. Then it seemed like it could be Dario Franchitti, but once again he was short on fuel as he handed the lead to rookie J.R. Hildebrand. Hildebrand was one of the few Americans that still has a realistic shot at winning the Indy 500, simply because his Panther Racing team had finished second the last three years.

Hildebrand was fine until he reached the lapped car of Charlie Kimball in one of the absolutely worst places on the track. Hildebrand had two options, lift and pray that the second-place car of Dan Wheldon wouldn’t run him down in time, or try to go around Kimball to the outside in turn 4. Hildebrand chose the latter and slid up the track and slammed the wall on the exit of turn four. Wheldon, who had driven for Panther Racing the last two years, was able to slip past Hildebrand’s limping car for the victory in the final 200 yards, leaving Panther Racing once again runner-ups in the Indy 500.

For Wheldon it was the first Indy 500 win that many people will remember. His first Indy 500 win in 2005 was overshadowed by the debut of Danica Patrick who was the one who got the Sports Illustrated cover following the race. The media latched onto Danica’s fourth-place finish while Wheldon received less recognition in comparison to previous Indy 500 winners. Prompting Wheldon, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, and second-place finisher Vitor Miera to sport t-shirts making light of the situation before the next race. Wheldon’s read “Actually won the Indy 500,” Rice’s read “Danica’s teammate,” and Miera’s read “Danica’s other teammate.”

In the final race of the night, I was torn about whether to watch or not. The two races I haven’t watched this season have been won by my favorite driver, Matt Kenseth. I knew Kenseth was going to have a shot at winning this one too because he was driving the same car he won at Texas in. By lap 150, I couldn’t resist and flipped the television to the race where Kenseth was, lo and behold, leading.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stay that way. A caution flag in the middle of a green flag pit stop cycle jumbled up the field and Kenseth never made it back out front. Near the end, the race looked to turn into a fuel mileage race. Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the front runners as the race looked to finish up before the yellow flag came out to set up a green-white-checkered restart to the race. Biffle decided to pit because he couldn’t make it, leaving Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. to duel it out on the restart. The green flag waved and Kahne was out of fuel as the field stacked up behind him, Earnhardt Jr. drove off into the sunset.

Cars were bouncing off of each other and Jeff Burton’s Chevrolet got turned sideways, but he slid off the race track. NASCAR kept the race green rather than throwing the caution flag, leading conspiracy theorists around race tracks everywhere to unite that they were conspiring to give Earnhardt Jr. his first win in almost three years. White flag flew and still no caution, all Earnhardt Jr. had to do was make it around the track one more time to win. It looked good too, until in the middle of turn four he began to slow heavily, allowing Kevin Harvick to slip past him for his third win of the season. Harvick has led a grand total of about 8 laps in those three races.

It was an exciting day. It was a bad day to be a National Guard car, both Hildebrand and Earnhardt Jr. are sponsored by them. I enjoy Formula 1 the most out of all the races, so I have to put that race at the top. The heart break of both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 elevates those two races out of what had been a fairly boring set of races. Because of the wreck and the surprise of it, I have to put the Indy 500 second on the list. J.R. Hildebrand is very lucky ABC doesn’t do their “Agony of Defeat” segments any more or that finish would live on for decades.

Wedding is now 4 days away!