Sunday, November 11, 2018

Off-Season Sunday Musings

Don't be sad that there wasn't any IndyCar racing this weekend, just be happy that we are yet another weekend closer to the start of the 2019 season.

I was actually going to have this posted earlier this week with a plethora of topics, but lost my Internet at home for two days, and in that time frame many of those topics were already covered. But, thankfully, McLaren and Fernando Alonso bailed my butt out yesterday, and they will be one of the handful of things I'll talk about below.

Let's get started with that one:

Is #FredWatch officially over?

Maybe, maybe not, as McLaren and Alonso have not committed to their full 2019 plans yet, but they put a big piece into the puzzle Saturday when they announced an entry into the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Color me a little surprised, as recently McLaren announced they would not be competing in the IndyCar series next year, which seemed to have closed the door to a 500 run. What is even more surprising is that they are coming in as their own standalone team, as opposed to working directly with Andretti Autosport in 2017.

Andretti will still be on board for some technical help, but McLaren principal Zak Brown said that said McLaren shareholders wanted to race under the McLaren banner. He also remarked that personnel won't come from the Formula 1 team, but through "relationships" they have built in the past.

No doubt that means #FredWatch is still alive! I don't believe McLaren would be investing this kind of capital into IndyCar unless they were hoping to expand the team to a full-time effort at some point. And if that happens, will Fred be behind the wheel?

That remains to be seen, but let's keep our fingers crossed that maybe a couple of other races in 2019 may be on the horizon.

As for Fernando Alonso, I'm thrilled he will be coming back to Indy. Like many, I thoroughly enjoyed 2017, it was a lot of fun to have him run the 500. Having spent the week in Gasoline Alley with Lazier Racing, there was most definitely a buzz around the garage area and up and down the pits when he was around.

And of course, he brought it on race day, leading 27 laps and still in contention before his Honda cut loose with about 50 miles to go. I'm a fan of racing -- and of course, of racers -- so I thought it was super cool having him in the field, and it will be super cool next May as well.

Since its inception, the Indy 500 has always been an all-comers race. Three of the first six winners of the 500 were from Europe, and where would the "Golden Age" of the 1960s be without the European rear-engine revolution, Grand Prix drivers Graham Hill and Jim Clark, NASCAR's Wood Brothers changing pit stops forever, and the participation of NASCAR drivers during that era as well?

I welcome any and all racers to the 500, because that's what the race is about. Having Alonso in the field again just continues that legacy.

Many would say that having him here doesn't "move the needle". Welp, given the fact that I'm not responsible for moving needles -- at least not yet -- I honestly don't care about it. Racing to me is about competition, and if you add the best racers in the world to make the race more competitive, all the better. Anyone who is a competitor would say they not only want to beat you, they want to beat you when you are at the top of your game. No excuses.

Many current IndyCar drivers expressed that they were happy to have Alonso back, and while some of it stems from the fact he's a good dude that seemed to get along with everyone, they want to compete against him as well. If you don't, you shouldn't be racing!

Of course, someone also asked if McLaren would be fielding a second car, about which they declined comment, but if they do, can I make a suggestion?

A.J. Allmendinger. If he's still available. Even though he has run close to 400 races in the various NASCAR series, he's an open wheel driver, and someone needs to bring him home.

Just saying. If I had a one-off car, he'd be my guy.

Godspeed Mari Hulman George

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway lost a monumental member of its family last week when Mari Hulman George passed away at age 83. Mrs. George had been involved with IMS since her father, Tony Hulman, purchased the track in 1945, and from 1988-2016 served as its Chairman of the Board.

Mrs. George certainly led an interesting life. During the 1950s and 60s she owned cars that raced in the AAA and USAC series, and later even entered cars in the 500 itself. She later played a role in helping Willy T. Ribbs become the first African-American to race in the 500 in 1991.

As a woman in racing, she was certainly a trailblazer for many reasons, but her contributions to the sport may have paled in comparison to her desire for philanthropy. Among her many endeavors, Mrs. George was involved with the Special Olympics, and especially had a very soft spot in her heart for animals.

I think her passing is as good a time as any to commend the Hulman-George family for their contributions to auto racing, and their role as stewards of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's from their efforts that the IMS is a cherished place to hundreds of thousands of people and that the 500 is the greatest race in the world.

Through the years, IMS has also been a leader in the advancements of safety, and drivers who hit a wall with a SAFER barrier protecting it owe them a debt of gratitude.

Imagine spending seven decades of your life tending to something that so many people love, and that you love even more than they do. That's the huge legacy that Mrs. George leaves to racing and its fans. My thoughts to out to the entire Hulman-George family.

Pitfall of the Week

Ok, with the blessing of Host Mike Joachim I'm going to steal a segment from the awesome IndyCar podcast Pit Lane Parley. If you don't listen to PLP, why? It's a great podcast done by folks who have a huge passion for racing, and that flows through on their pod.

Pitfall focuses on, well, let's just call it, a "DOH" moment from someone in the world of racing. So I'm going into the NASCAR world and giving mine to Stewart-Haas Racing and it's incredible dive into the world of stupid regarding its post-race penalties in the aftermath of last week's race at Texas.

While the car passed all inspections at the track, further inspection at the R&D center showed the car had a rear spoiler that was offset between .2-.3 inches to the right. The result of that creates more downforce to the right-rear of the car, of course thereby helping it turn better.

As a result, Kevin Harvick's race win was declared "encumbered", which meant he lost his automatic spot in next week's championship Final Four, 40 of the 60 points he earned in the race, and his crew chief and car chief for the rest of the season.

Given SHR didn't appeal the penalty, they knew they went into a very charcoal gray area of the rulebook. And, in the end, it didn't cost them a run at the championship, as Harvick's fifth-place finish at Phoenix today locked him into the chance to race for the championship anyway. Still, the penalty made it a lot more difficult than it should've been, as the point-counting in the pits went on almost until the final few laps.

As a very competitive person, I get the fact that teams look for every edge they can get, even if it means going into those gray areas. That's just part of sports, I did the same thing as both a competitor and a coach. If I discovered an edge that was at the far end of the rules, I took it.

That happens, but this was beyond that, it was just blatant cheating. How in the world did they even think they wouldn't get caught? What takes this to an insane level of stupid is the fact that Harvick has been one of the most dominant drivers in the series this year with eight wins.

Harvick spent all year doing what he had to do: he won races and stages, and during the playoffs was piling up enough points that he was going to probably get in, barring something unforeseen happening. So why take the chance and do something like that to put it all in jeopardy? It makes absolutely no sense, unless, of course, they had been doing it all along.

It's just a really bad look for everyone involved, and in the risk versus reward argument, was about the dumbest thing they could do.

Veterans Day

Finally, 15 Days In May would like to take this opportunity recognize our veterans for all that they have done in service to our country, and to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to make our country, and our world, safe.

Family members who have traced our genealogy can confirm that a member of our family has served since at least World War I, where a great-uncle of mine was killed in battle in Europe. My dad, Dan, served in the Air Force during Korea (spending his 18th birthday at the top of a mountain as part of a radio crew there), and I have had many other family members serve, including my niece, Cindy, who has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the military police, and has one more deployment to Kuwait coming up as she wraps up her military career.

It certainly takes a special kind of person to do what they do, and I salute all of them. Our world isn't perfect, but it's run by human beings, who weren't wired that way. Still, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have fought in the name of peace and freedom.

I've been very fortunate to have traveled to several places around the world, including France, Monaco, Italy and Singapore, and just last week returned from my third trip to Dubai. All of those places are awesome in their own ways, and all the people I've met along the way have inspired me and changed my outlook on life and the world.

That said, this is my home, and no matter what, I believe in our country and the people that live here. The sacrifices made by those who look after us is a big reason why I feel this way.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Born Racer Movie Review

When you are as good at something as Scott Dixon is at racing, you don't magically become that good at some point, you are born that way.

That's why Born Racer is a perfect title for the movie that followed the five-time IndyCar champion and 44-time IndyCar winner through the 2017 season.

Starting with his pole position and horrible crash at the 2017 Indy 500, and literally fading to black the last time he walked off the track to close out that season, the movie is an outstanding look behind the curtain of one of the greatest open wheel drivers in history and the team that has helped propel him to all of his championships and all but one of his wins.

I won't give away any spoilers, I'll just say that this was a really freaking good movie. It wasn't as mind-blowing as say, Senna, but it is the perfect match to Dixon's personality. The movie was calm, passionate, calculated, determined -- all in all it captured who the man is and how he has been able to position himself as a Rushmore-level driver on the track.

As a long-time IndyCar fan, I didn't really learn anything new about Scott Dixon, but to talk about what makes him successful, and to actually see it are two different things. We know the guy is all-in -- he has been his whole life -- but to see the dedication he puts towards his craft just solidifies why he is who he is.

Dixon's life and success is built on a synergy and a balance between himself and the people around him who are tasked with putting him in a position to succeed. It's almost like a glacier, we know what he does when he gets in the car every weekend, but that's just the tip of it. The rest that sits underwater is 90 percent of the gig.

Like a starting pitcher in baseball, the four days between his starts are just as vital and important to his success as the fifth day when he gets the ball and goes to work. That's part of Dixon's brilliance: he has figured out a balance between his family and his job, he knows how to compartmentalize and when each task in his life needs to be executed.

That synergy starts at home with his wife, Emma, and extends to the people of Ganassi Racing. As a former elite athlete herself, she knows when he needs to be pushed and when to give him space, all the while walking the racing spouse tightrope between letting them follow their passion, and the fear and the constant worry that you are going to be the "next one".

The movie also spends a lot of time focusing on the team, and what needs to be done to get Scott (and then-teammate Tony Kanaan) on the track each weekend. The working relationship between Dixon, Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull is very reminiscent of the relationship that Rick Mears shared with Roger Penske during his driving career (and that Hull and Ganassi had with Dario Franchitti). It's that combination of and elite-level driver and elite-level personnel that makes everything work.

One thing the movie shows is that at the end of the day, success is a complete team effort. I'll explain more about my observations of professional sports on my podcast this week, but the success of a team is everyone doing their job and being accountable for it. Understanding their role and how that role affects the well-being of everyone else.

It leads to a lot of emotional highs and lows, and we see all of that in the movie. Racing lends itself to passion and emotion, which we see as the team absolutely pours everything it has into each race weekend. By the end of the movie, you will be pretty invested in all of it as well.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

15 Days in May Rides Again!

Back in December, 2010, I started this blog as a way to connect with what was then a much smaller group of IndyCar fans.

At the time, I was having trouble getting (back) into IndyCar, just because I had no one to talk about it with. This blog, as well as Twitter, helped me connect with a lot of people, and I made some friends that I look forward to seeing whenever I would go to a race.

The blog also paid off in another way, as in May, 2012 I was invited to be a part of the Social Media Garage, which was a great experience that I'll never forget.

15 Days in May has provided me a forum to air my thoughts, opinions, grievances, and any other ideas my whirlwind of a brain comes up with. It's been a great thing.

At some point, though, I started looking for newer and shinier things. ADHD -- can't live with it, can't shoot it. The posts came fewer and fewer, and my interest in IndyCar kind of dwindled as well.

It kind of all came to a head this year. In my quest to become involved in IndyCar in some sort of capacity, I suffered through a good deal of rejection and frustration. I know I have ideas that could make a difference...I know it! I'm good at this stuff, and I couldn't understand why no one wanted to take a chance on me.

Another thing I did was I chased a couple of rainbows that didn't pan out. They seemed like great ideas at the time, but in the end weren't for me.

As a result, for the first time in a long time, I didn't really care all that much about the start of the IndyCar season. I mean, I watched the races and followed a little bit, but my excitement level wasn't where it had been in the past.

Just recently, I chased another rainbow. I listened to what sounded like the greatest pitch of all time, and as of now, it's fizzled off into oblivion.

Going through all of this made me realize something:

I need 15 Days in May.

I have realized that my little blog, whether one person or one hundred people read each post, is my lifeline to the sport. In my quest to become a member of the IndyCar community, I lost sight of the fact that I was already a member of the IndyCar community! It would be nice if someday I could be paid to be part of said community, but for now I just want to be back in the fold.

I'm bringing back the blog, and I'm also making a huge commitment to a 15 Days in May podcast. Like, really, really huge. Like, in your face until y'all recognize huge.

I've also decided that I'm happiest when I'm myself. I've gotten pretty stale and corporate because I didn't want to offend any potential employers, but that's over too. I'm going to be myself, and if that's not for you, it isn't.

In the end, I love to write and I love to talk. I love to share, and collaborate. It's who I am. Racing is my passion, and I want to pursue that passion, regardless if there is a payoff down the road.

I've always thought that everything in our lives could be fit into two categories -- who we are or what we do. I believe there is a difference between the two. Writing and creating is who I am, and doing that for racing is next level stuff to me. Not doing it left a pretty big void in my life, and I realized I didn't like it.

So here we go again...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

102nd Indianapolis 500 Wrap-up

The roar is over, but what a roar it was! Sunday's 102nd Indy 500 was one of the hottest races on record, but from the SW Vista it was all worth it as we were entertained by another great show. While I will admit it wasn't as "thrilling" as the last several, I will never see a race in person and complain about it being "boring".

If you go to watch racing in person and find it boring at any level, you probably can't be helped. Anyway, as in the past, let's run through the Top 10 finishers and other notable topics.

Winner -- Will Power: Anyone who has followed the series for any length of time knew this day would come. Power has consistently been one of the best driver in IndyCar for close to a decade, and being employed by Penske Racing is a big help too. Power's experience at Indy has always been a bit mixed. Since 2009 he's always started in the top nine, and this year marked the fourth time he has started on the front row. Yet, before 2018 he'd only recorded two Top 5 finishes. Still, he's always been fast and had a strong car, it just hadn't been his "day" before Sunday.

Runner-up -- Ed Carpenter: Like Power, Carpenter has had a weird relationship with the Speedway. He's a three-time polesitter of course, and one of the bravest guys out there, but the results haven't always been stellar. In fact, his only Top 5 finish came in 2008 and he hadn't recorded a Top 10 in the last eight races. He showed he had come to play when he took the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the first 30 laps, part of the race-high 65 laps he led on the day. Ed's a guy you think will have his day too, but on Sunday Power was just faster down the stretch.

Third place -- Scott Dixon: Dixon is one of the most consistent drivers in 500 history, and he used a little bit of fuel saving magic to pull off his seventh Top 5 finish. Dixon pitted several laps earlier than the leaders to get more track time, and while several other drivers who did the same thing had to come in for fuel in the closing laps, he was able to stretch his fuel to the finish.

Fourth place -- Alexander Rossi: Easily the most entertaining driver in the field Sunday, Rossi charged from his 32nd starting position to his second Top 5 in three races. What was even more impressive is there was no off-strategy moves involved, the 2016 champ simply raced his way through the field. His outside moves on restarts will be talked about by fans for a long, long time.

Fifth place -- Ryan Hunter-Reay: Since winning the 500 in 2014, race day hadn't been very kind to RHR before Sunday. Over the last three years he had led laps by eventually finished P15, P24 and P27, dropping out of the race last year when his engine let go with 150 miles remaining. He's always a threat at Indy, just got a little bit of luck to go with it this year.

Sixth place -- Simon Pagenaud: Simon was really, really quiet Sunday, as his run was solid if not spectacular. Still, he ended up with a career-best finish, topping his eighth-place effort in 2013.

Seventh place -- Carlos Munoz: I don't know what it is, but Indy just brings out the best in this guy. Well, I do know because it fits his aggressive driving style, but he's just one of those guys that got comfortable very quickly and knows the fast way around. In his six races, he completed all 1,200 laps of competition, five total Top 10 finishes. Though it's unfortunate he probably won't sit in an IndyCar again this season, he's always a good bet to find a seat for the 500.

Eighth place -- Josef Newgarden: Honestly, I'm a bit disappointed in Newgarden's finish. He was fast all month and while he did lead three laps Sunday, you just never heard his name called the rest of the day. It's kind of strange to think that in his Indy 500 career, he's led a total of just 17 laps and one Top 5 finish.

Ninth place -- Robert Wickens: This year's Rookie of the Year has just been so impressive. His finish Sunday was more of a workman-like effort as opposed to much excitement, but it was a good start to his 500 career. After watching him finish second and Phoenix, it seemed like a good run at Indy might be in the cards. I also want to give props to my friend Jeff Campbell, who is a part of Wicken's crew.

Tenth place -- Graham Rahal: Rahal may have been the second-most exciting driver in the field behind Rossi Sunday as he improved 20 spots from his 30th starting position. It's kind of surprising to discover that this was just his third Top 10 finish in 11 races.

15th place -- Stefan Wilson: To be honest, when Wilson moved to the point on the Lap 193 restart, there was a good part of me hoping that somehow he would make it to the finish and win the race. He drove a great race and is proof of good things happening to good people.

24th place -- Jay Howard: I was really excited when I discovered my John Cummiskey Racing boss was part of Howard's crew, so I was watching that car with a lot of interest. They didn't have an easy day, as John mentioned to me in a text after the race, but at the flying of the checkered flag the car came home running and in one piece, which isn't bad either.

27th place -- Helio Castroneves: Prior to his crash on the Lap 145 restart, I thought Helio looked great. He was almost always above the white line in Turn 1 (pretty much everyone else was down to the grass), and was consistently in the Top 5 all day long. I know he started lobbying for a 2019 ride as soon as he got out of his car, and given how he is still competitive he should get that chance.

30th place -- Danica Patrick: I could probably write a couple of blog posts about how I feel about Danica, because I have a lot of conflicting viewpoints about her. Now that her career is over, looking back I would've liked to have seen how Danica would have done if racing were her passion.

Of course I don't know her personally, but I've always thought that she looked at racing as a job, and there is nothing wrong with that. Racing made her a lot of money and it opened up a lot of doors that helped her build a brand that made her very, very rich.

She had talent, you don't get to where she was without it. However, I don't think we ever saw a person that lived and breathed racing, that wanted to be successful at racing like her life depended on it. That person would have been just as successful off the track as on, that person would have built a true legacy than just lasting in the sport longer than the women that had come before her.

I doubt we will see her at a racetrack much after this. She is moving on with her life, and that's her right. But when I look back at her career I see a lot of wasted talent and opportunity. Racing with passion is high art, she just never seemed interested in it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bump Day Thoughts

The return of Bump Day was a little more interesting than we thought, wasn't it?

When the 34th and 35th entries were announced a couple of months ago, making bumping possible for the first time in a while, I wasn't all that enthused. I thought it would just be a couple of one-off or back-marker cars going at it at the end, and when the day was over it would all be pretty much a ho-hum affair.

I'm not saying that to demean any of the drivers or teams that put everything on the line yesterday. If there were 35 entries a year ago, I would've been in the thick of Bump Day as part of Buddy Lazier's team. I know how hard everyone works to get a car onto the track, I just didn't think Bump Day would be the excitement needle-mover a lot of other people thought it would be.

In quick summary, I was wrong. When 5 p.m. rolled around Saturday and things had shaken out, we had three of the most popular drivers in IndyCar fighting it out for two spots.

Yep. Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were our bumping candidates. Amazing.

Conor later put himself solid in the field with an incredibly ballsy run, and then there were two.

High drama ensued. Pippa couldn't find speed, Hinch went out and had to come right back in due to a vibration, and Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal added to the fray when they decided to run back out to try and improve their times.

When 5:50 rolled around, Pippa was on her final run and Hinch was left sitting next in line. We all know how it ended up.

Mercy.

Like all of you, I was pretty gutted by the end result, but it was also some of the most thrilling theater I've seen at Indy qualifying in a long time. This was 1995-type stuff. You know, the year Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi didn't make the field.

My stomach hurt during those final 30 minutes, and afterwards I needed to decompress a little bit. It was that incredible.

It was everything all of us had waited for, and what we had wanted. Bumping was back!

The problem is, this is 2018. Thanks to social media, no one goes quietly in 2018. While Pippa and Hinch handled themselves with as much grace as possible given the circumstances, the rest of the racing world melted down.

Indy Star racing writer Jim Ayello called it a "mess". Whatever, dude. Turn your tape recorder off.

Other people decried the fact that qualifying ended at 5:50 instead of its "traditional" 6 p.m. Forget the fact that 5:50 had been the finishing time since at least 2014. Others blamed Rossi and Rahal for going out and burning time with their futile efforts. And finally, people blamed Mann for repeatedly going out when it was clear she didn't have the speed to bump James Davison.

People, it's time to give this all a rest. While you may not agree with the end result, it was all done fair and square and within the rules.

I'm going to sound like a soon-to-be-49-year-old man yelling at a cloud, but one thing I dislike about a current trend in our society is that if the outcome isn't what you wanted it to be, something wasn't "fair" or that rules need to be changed.

I know I'm a traditionalist when I say this, but racing is still a competition. Somehow over the years we were given the impression that it was entertainment, which is part of the package of course. But in the end, it's people competing with one another.

The end result should be that we as fans are entertained, but the rules shouldn't be shaped in a way to fit it to exactly what we want it to be. I know I'm in the minority here, but it's not about us! We go to races to be entertained, but at its core we are just people showing up to watch other people compete.

That's sports!

The drivers and teams went into the day knowing what the rules were, and those rules were followed with integrity. As a result, we should accept the outcome. The two participants most affected are somehow able to do that, why aren't we?

It makes me think back to the 2000 Super Bowl, when Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped The Titans' Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone on the game's final play.

I didn't hear any outcry that the Rams should have gotten one more play, I didn't hear people complaining that a football game is 60 minutes long, or that the rules needed to be changed to "fix" it for next year. Time ran out, the game ended. Rams win.

That's exactly what happened yesterday. Time ran out. While the delays for rain didn't help matters, the fact is that the rules stated and end time to qualifying, and when time was up we had our 33 qualifiers. If you didn't want to be one of the two cars left on the outside looking in, the remedy was simple.

Go faster.

I'm going to be honest, I didn't like the end result. Hinch is one of my favorite drivers, and I know Pippa personally and know the passion she has for the 500. I'm gutted for them. It will be hard to watch the race next week if they aren't in the field.

I imagine business decisions will be made and one -- or both -- of them will be racing next Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, and even if they are two of my favorite drivers, I still accept what happened yesterday, because that's competition.

I get the idea that it's not 1995 and sponsorship money is harder to come by, but that isn't any reason to change the rules. It's not a reason to expand the field, and it isn't a reason to lock in all of the full-time entries.

It's competition, and at the top levels of professional competition, it's hard. I've seen that firsthand following professional baseball for the last 18 years. It's so hard.

Then again, it's supposed to be. If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the greatest track in the world, and the Indianapolis 500 is the fastest and most prestigious race in the world, it should be the hardest thing these drivers have ever done.

It should be hard to go 230 mph, it should be hard to qualify, and the hardest thing should be to win the race. There should be winners, and there should be losers. The people who participate in this sport aren't 12-year-old kids, and they shouldn't be treated that way.

What happened yesterday didn't create a "mess". What happened yesterday was competition. The "mess" would occur if IndyCar changed the rules and let 35 cars run, or made other rule changes to accommodate the bumped drivers.

No, yesterday wasn't a "mess". It was crazy, it was dramatic, and it was everything good about sports and competition.

On other words, it was perfect.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Color Me Shocked!

No, not really.

It was confirmed today that Danica Patrick has decided to retire from racing full-time and only run two races in 2018, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. It seems that at age 36 that it might be a little soon to be walking away from racing, but with no significant ride opportunities on the horizon, it's not really a bad time, either.

It's a little weird to think about Danica walking away from the sport at age 36, but at the same time, when you look at the life she leads, it's not really that surprising. She has a lot of off-track ventures that she seems happy to be involved in, like her cookbooks, clothing line, fitness and philanthropy, and those will keep her busy -- and provide her with a lot of income -- for years to come.

Plus, it wouldn't surprise me if she and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. decide to start a family in the next year or so. For a woman who races, that has to really be a tough decision. First, because it keeps them out of the car for a significant amount of time, and second, because once the baby comes, do they really want to get back into a car again? Sarah Fisher is a good example of that, once she started her family in 2011, she took her life in another direction.

If this is indeed the end of the road for Danica, it will close out one of the more polarizing careers in racing history. She was definitely a topic of conversation, and most people had an opinion, usually a very strong one.

Some people saw Danica as a trailblazer, a woman competing with the men at some of the highest levels of racing in the world. Others saw her as an overhyped driver who only had her job because of her gender and the ability to draw in a gob of money in sponsorship.

The funny thing about both people? They always paid attention to how she did.

Time has a funny way of measuring people. In the here and now, tied to emotions, we might think of people one way, but down the road we change our opinion. Today, one win in 13 years of combined NASCAR and IndyCar competition isn't all that impressive, but in the years to come I think Danica will take a place in history.

Whether we like it or not, women have a difficult time competing with men in racing. I don't blame that on gender, of course, because there are a lot of great racers out there who just happen to be female, but most of them never really got the chance they deserved due to some leftover opinions that still exist in some factions of the sport.

Danica was one of the few that got a real, legitimate shot. She had the funding, the equipment, and the sponsorship, and while the results didn't follow, the fact that she held her own in competition and showed women can be legitimate competitors in racing will pay dividends for another woman somewhere down the road. I actually look forward to the day a woman has a significant amount of success in racing, winning races, finishing on the podium and even contenting for a championship. That will be really cool.

That's the thing about opening doors: the person who opens the door doesn't always reap the most rewards. People like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James got the door open, and people like Sarah Fisher, Simona De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Danica Patrick opened it a little wider. Thanks to them, somewhere there is a girl racing a kart or in a junior series who is going to bust it wide open.

So enough about her career, for now, what about the Indy 500? I'm going on record as stating she has the opportunity to do very well. There is no doubt that she will find the sponsorship and find her way to a good team, most likely, I'd say, Andretti Autosport.

When it comes time to race, past history speaks for itself. Though maybe the "era" she ran in wasn't as competitive as it is today, she still had two Top 5 finishes and six Top 10 finishes, and in six of her seven starts she completed every lap of competition. She's also led 29 laps, and if you don't think of that as significant, check out this list of all of the drivers who have led laps in 500 history. Danica is in good company.

I'm not going to go super out on a limb and say she is a contender to win, but a finish in the 10-15 range isn't out of the question.

At the end of the day, Indy is really a good place for Danica to finish her career, because that's where it all got started. I think it's a good deal, and I will be rooting for her -- unless she is going head-to-head with my driver for the win of course! Hopefully she has a great month and goes out on her terms, which is what we should hope for for any athlete who is walking away from their sport.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Indy 500 Wrap Up

As I sit in my kitchen typing this out and reflecting on the last couple of weeks, the same thought goes through my mind over and over.

Best. May. Ever.

As many of you know, I worked for Lazier Racing Partners on Buddy Lazier's 500 effort. It was an incredible experience to say the least, and a post on that will be forthcoming. I'm very appreciative of the people who helped make that happen, and forever in their debt. Hopefully if all goes well and Buddy's back in the car next year I will be a part of a fun group of people again.

As for the race? It went as advertised...again. I watched the first 60 laps of the race in the pits then went to the Southwest Vista. and watched the rest with Matt and Kevin as part of our usual traditions. This was my 19th 500, it was Matt's seventh (already!) and Kevin's third.

The race was what we have become accustomed to over the last few years: lots of passing, several lead changes and a lot of late-race drama. So, as usual, let's go through the Top 10 and some other notables.

Winner -- Takuma Sato. Taku's mantra of "No attack, no chance" has not always served him well, but when you are in the mix to win the Indianapolis 500 in the closing laps, it's a good one to have. Five years and one day after trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the win but instead hitting the Turn 1 wall, Sato made his Lap 195 pass of Helio Castroneves to stick and held on to become the first Asian driver to win the 500. Like Alexander Rossi last year, Sato's win came as a bit of a surprise given his best 500 finish before this year was 13th, but like Rossi, he will prove to be a popular champion and a great representative of the 500.

2nd -- Helio Castroneves. When Castroneves moved to the point with six laps to go, it seemed like he was on his way to picking up his fourth 500 win. The universe had other plans, of course, but all-in-all the 42-year-old drove a phenomenal race, overcoming a drive-through penalty and working his way up from his 19th starting position to once again find his way into the mix at the end. Helio now has three runner-up finishes to go with his three wins and will always be a factor at Indy as long as he his in a Penske.

3rd -- Ed Jones. OK, let's get this out of the way -- he got absolutely stiffed out of the Rookie of the Year award. But truthfully, Ed's driven like anything but a rookie since his car rolled off the track at St. Pete. This is his first podium and third Top 10 finish in six races so far this season, and he gave Dale Coyne Racing its best-ever finish at Indianapolis. Just 22 years old, he looks as if he's ready to stick around for a while.

4th -- Max Chilton. Quick, who led the most laps in Sunday's race? It was Chilton, who paced the field for 50 laps, or one-quarter of the race's distance. This may have been the best car he ever had and was certainly the best drive of his career.

5th -- Tony Kanaan. As always, the 2013 champ drew the biggest cheers all day (and month) and was his usual entertaining self during the race. He paced the field from Laps 6-27 and was in the mix all day long. This was the sixth straight year he led a lap and he now has eight Top 5 finishes in 16 starts.

6th -- Juan Pablo Montoya. This race typically brings out the best in JPM, but he was unusually quiet this year. He wasn't the only one, though, as the parity between the top 20 cars or so was so tight it was difficult for many to move up, and having so many yellows in the last 80 laps (7 yellows for 31 laps) meant there weren't any long runs like we have seen in the past where drivers have been able to make moves.

7th -- Alexander Rossi. The defending champ drove a great race, running at or near the front all day, but got shuffled back on his last pit stop due to a fueling issue. I thought for much of the race he had the best car, and with this performance he certainly backed up his win from last year.

8th -- Marco Andretti. Certainly not the finish or effort he was looking for, as an unscheduled pit stop put him back in the field and he couldn't recover. It's hard to believe that this was his 12th 500, I'm convinced he is going to win someday, but then again, I felt the same way about his dad, too.

9th -- Gabby Chaves. Gabby is a solid driver who always makes the most of his equipment. He drove a great race on Sunday -- stayed out of trouble, stayed on the lead lap and took advantage of the mistakes of others. It's tough, in today's IndyCar there are more capable drivers than seats, but I'd like to see what he could do in a really decent car.

10th -- Carlos Munoz. We didn't get the typical, drive to the grass and use every inch of pavement type of drive that we know and love from Carlos, but he did a great job moving up from his 24th starting spot, especially falling a lap down at one point. A great stat is that after Sunday he has finished the race on the lead lap in all five of his starts, making him 1,000/1,000 in laps completed.

20th -- James Davison. There was a lot of shade thrown to Dale Coyne Racing when Davison was chosen as Sebastien Bourdais' replacement after Seb's brutal crash in qualifying, but after starting 33rd he was up there in the mix until being involved in a four-car crash on Lap 184. We can talk all day long about who "deserves" a ride and who doesn't, but the only thing that matters is what you do when given the opportunity, and he stepped up and got the job done.

24th -- Fernando Alonso. I was a little shocked to open up the box score and find there were 32 other drivers in the race -- how'd that happen? All joking aside, Alonso came here to race and did a pretty amazing job, leading four times for 27 laps and was in the mix for the win until his Honda blew up on the front straight with 50 miles to go. I hope he comes back next year.

29th -- Buddy Lazier. This team was near and dear to my heart this month, of course. A crazy set of circumstances led to my getting the chance to work with this group, and it couldn't have been a better experience. Leading up to the race, everything was going so smoothly, and the team truly felt we had a good, competitive car. Losing two laps after running out of fuel before the first pit stop set us back, but Buddy only lost one lap over the next 250 miles before crashing in Turn 2 on lap 122. I'll get more into things with a separate blog post here over the next week or so, but I do want to thank Mitch Davis, Corey Krause and Bruce Bohlander for such a wonderful opportunity.

32nd -- Scott Dixon. What an up and down month for Scotty D. Wins the pole, gets robbed at Taco Bell, then is running great in the race before running into Jay Howard's disabled car and flying several hundred feet into the South Chute inside catch fence in what my boys called the scariest thing they had ever seen. Call these cars whatever you want, and the DW12 has a lot of detractors, but the thing is an absolute tank when it comes to safety. The fact that Dixon climbed out of the car and walked away is such a testament to the safety of the car and the series.

Just when you think you see a great race, like we thought we had each year from 2011-16, the next edition is always better. This year's race was, in one word, incredible. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 33 drivers put on a show that we will always remember.

But now, as Steve McQueen once said, we are waiting. Is it May, 2018 yet?