Sunday, May 29, 2016

The 100th Indianapolis 500

So about three hours after the race ended, the boys and I arrived back at our hotel and I turned on ESPN. A few seconds later, I saw the following on their crawler:

"Alexander Rossi wins the 100th Indianapolis 500"

It REALLY did happen, didn't it? Truthfully I'm still trying to get what he did today wrapped around my head. In only his sixth IndyCar race -- and second oval -- the 24-year-old California native won in his maiden voyage around the Speedway.

If you did a little research on Rossi, like I did for my "I Hate Alexander Rossi" post, you'd know the guy is the real deal. Still, I don't think any of us expected him to do what he did on Sunday, drive from the middle to the back of the field back up front, and finally stretching his fuel 85 miles until the end of the race, and coasting across the finish line in an emotional, live-changing moment.

Rossi was surprised, and so were the rest of us. But in the end, a race isn't to see who is the fastest, it's to see who can navigate the race distance and cross the line better than anyone else, which is what he did.

I'll go into a lot more detail in my podcast later this week, but let's go through the first few finishers and some other notable storylines from the race.

Winner: Alexander Rossi. Many are calling him the "biggest surprise winner" in the first century of the Indy 500, and that may be true. But he had driven well since getting in the car two weeks ago, almost made the Fast Nine and qualified a solid 11tth overall. He ran a good race, stayed out of trouble, and trusted Bryan Herta on his final push to the finish.

Speaking of Herta, he's now won twice as an owner, and both of those came in underdog fashion. He had a nice career as a driver but has shown that when he has a capable car and driver he is pretty good at this owner thing.

Second place: Carlos Munoz. You had to be a little gutted for Carlos, as he drove a near perfect race and certainly deserved to win. With two seconds and a fourth in his four races, the Speedway and Munoz are an absolute fit for each other, and he will win someday.

Third place: Josef Newgarden. See Munoz, Carlos. Even though he has won races since coming to IndyCar, I thought Sunday was the best race Newgarden has driven in his career. Fast and aggressive all day, he and Munoz looked to have taken the race by the horns to set up a great shootout, but both had to pit for a splash of fuel in the closing laps. We'll have to wait for that shootout for another day, but it will happen.

Fourth place: Tony Kanaan. As always, TK gave it everything he had but luck didn't fall his way. Still he moved up quickly from his 18th place starting position and showed he was a true player when he went to the point for the first time on Lap 109. For as much as the Ganassi cars struggled during the month, they showed up on race day.

Fifth place: Charlie Kimball. Per his usual, Charlie was solid but not really spectacular. He was able to stay on the lead lap and take advantage of opportunities. Not much more to say about that.

Sixth place: JR Hildebrand. JR just continues to get it done at the Speedway. Sunday's result gives him four Top-10 finishes in six starts and he has completed all 200 laps five times. He even led four laps on the day, the first time he had led laps since 2011.

Seventh place: James Hinchcliffe. Like Newgarden, even though his P7 wasn't the best finish of his career at Indy, Sunday was his best drive. He and Ryan Hunter-Reay waged an awesome battle at the start of the race, swapping places several times, and his 19 laps led was a career high. Like Newgarden and Munoz, put Hinch on the list of guys whose day will come.

Eighth place: Scott Dixon. Dixie had a day a lot like Kimball's, he just kept plugging away and turning laps and at one point down the stretch found himself in the Top 5 late in the race. He didn't lead a lap for the first time since 2010, but finished on the lead lap for the 10th time in the last 11 years. Amazing.

Ninth place: Sebastien Bourdais. Another guy who just kept at it all day. Crazy as it sounds, SeaBass has never led a lap at Indy, but this was his second Top 10 in three years.

Tenth place: Will Power. Bad Will showed up Sunday, as a stupid mistake coming out of the pits on the first round of stops sent him to the back of the field, and he was never really a factor all day long. He looked like he might have figured stuff out after a very impressive runner-up finish to Juan Pablo Montoya last year, but having a clue isn't a permanent function of his.

11th place: Helio Castroneves. With 100 miles to go it appeared Helio might be in the mix to win his record tying 4th 500, but contact with Hildebrand bent up one of his rear tie guards and a 35 second stop for repairs ruined his day. I chalk the contact up to a racing incident, but Helio was just one of several drivers who were victims of bad luck.

The Bad Luck Club: This year, Hunter-Reay is the poster boy. RHR led a race-high 52 laps but a weird incident with Townsend Bell in the pits knocked him off the lead lap and he finished 24th...A lap 64 crash where the car just got away from him meant Montoya went from first in 2015 to last this year, becoming the first driver to achieve that since Johnny Rutherford in 1976-77...The race was coming to Marco Andretti when his crew put the wrong tires on his car, leaving it so loose he had to make an unscheduled stop for new kicks. He was able to stay on the lead lap and placed 12th...Conor Daly was running well but got caught up in Mikhail Aleshin's wreck and was done for the day at 115 laps.

Rookies: All in all, the first-timers did well. Beyond Rossi, they all drove smart races and finished, which is always a good goal for your first race. Max Chilton finished on the lead lap in 15th, Matt Brabbham was one lap down in 22nd place, Spencer Pigot kept his nose clean and would have had a better result if he hadn't run out of gas late in the race to fall five laps off the pace, and Stef Wilson was doing well until he had to retire from the race with electrical problems. Good job guys!

Sunday was my 19th Indy 500, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The place was full, the racing was exciting and we had a finish for the ages. I know there are some that are worried whether or not the excitement of the 100th running will carry over into the coming years, but for me, I don't really care. I just feel really blessed to have been able to have been at the Speedway Sunday, and it was certainly a day I'll never forget.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Carb Night Burger Bash

Hey everyone, it's Indy 500 weekend!

Are you excited yet? I hope so, because I know I am. And even better, I'm already in town, which hasn't happened since, well, I actually lived here 20-plus years ago. Since Kevin had his last final exam today, we were unable to make it here for Carb Day, which I heard was pretty insane, but we got down here in time for the Carb Night Burger Bash.

Started by Indy Star racing writer Curt Cavin nine years ago, the Burger Bash has grown steadily over the years, and for the first time, moved downtown to the Pan Am Plaza. It's a great chance to see some drivers, and really get into the spirit of race weekend.

This was our first Burger Bash, but certainly not the last, as we had an great time. As you can see from the photo, we had a lot of company!

We got there a little early, so it was kind of slow for a bit, but Curt Cavin finally took to the stage and the rest of
the night was just a parade of drivers who made it up onto the stage, with part of the night serving as an episode of Curt and Kevin Lee's popular radio show "Trackside".

In all there were at least 15 drivers who will participate in Sunday's race at the Burger Bash, including Graham Rahal, whose main sponsor, Steak N' Shake, which had a huge presence at the event, serving shakes (the chocolate shake was outstanding), burgers and fries.

The greatest thing about the night? It raised a boatload of money for charity, and that might be the best aspect of the Burger Bash, is that it is a great thing for the fans but goes a long way towards helping people too.
Since it's after midnight and I am getting up early for Legends Day, I won't go into a ton of detail about the event, but to me the best part of the night was being able to interact with the drivers in a relaxed setting and get some photos and autographs.

As you can see from the photo of my program from last year, I had a good night! Of course, the one I was most excited about was polesitter James Hinchcliffe's.

I've met Hinch a couple of times before and even gotten some photos with him, but never really had the chance to talk to him, and to get his autograph.

While he was signing I said to him, "Hinch, I am beyond excited for you.", and he replied, "Thanks, I really appreciate that". One thing that makes Hinch so popular is that you can tell he is being totally sincere when he says stuff like that. I think this month has meant so much to him.

The great thing about getting here on Friday is that is reminds me of the days when I used to live here, when I was going to the track a lot and feeling the energy build as the month goes on. It's hard to explain this weekend to people who haven't been a part of it, but there is nowhere else in the world I'd rather be right now.

Here are a few more photos from tonight. Enjoy!