Thursday, May 31, 2018

Track Walk: Belle Isle 2018

A doubleheader follows 500 miles
The seventh and eighth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes the series to the DW12-era traditional post-May hike to the Motor City and specifically Detroit's Belle Isle Park. Team Penske has won three consecutive victories and the organization is nine victories away from 500 victories across all series. The team could pick up three victories at Detroit this weekend and as many as five victories across the country. Team Penske has won six of 23 Belle Isle races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday June 2nd with green flag scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET. On Sunday June 3rd, coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever will be in the booth. Rick DeBruhl and Jon Beekhuis will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 11:20 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 3:10 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 10:55 a.m. ET
Race: 3:40 p.m. ET (70 laps)
Qualifying: 10:45 a.m. ET
Race: 3:40 p.m. ET (70 laps)

Championship Shuffle
A lot of points were on the table for the Indianapolis 500 and that has flipped the championship on its head.

Will Power went from seventh in the championship to the championship leader on 248 points. It is the first time Power has led the IndyCar championship since he won the championship in 2014. Alexander Rossi entered Indianapolis 500 practice second in the championship two points out of the championship lead and he exits the month of May second in championship two points out of the championship lead. Josef Newgarden dropped two spots in the championship but the defending champion trails his Team Penske teammate by only ten points. Scott Dixon remained fourth in the championship and is actually six points closer to the championship lead than he was prior to the Indianapolis 500. Dixon is 25 points behind Power. Ryan Hunter-Reay jumped from ninth to fifth in the championship but he went from 53 points outside the championship lead prior to the Indianapolis 500 to 57 points back after the famed race.

Graham Rahal is still sixth in the championship but he trails Power by 60 points. Robert Wickens is up two spots in the championship and the rookie is five points behind Rahal. Sébastien Bourdais dropped five spots from third to eighth and the Frenchman has gone from 26 points out of the championship lead to 75 points outside the championship lead. Simon Pagenaud is the only driver to enter the top ten in the championship after Indianapolis, as he went from 12th to ninth but astonishingly Pagenaud is 88 points out of the championship lead, the same margin he had prior to the Indianapolis 500. Despite not qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, James Hinchcliffe is still in the top ten but he dropped from fifth to tenth and he went 34 points back to 99 points behind Power.

Marco Andretti fell outside the top ten but he is still 11th and he is three points behind Hinchcliffe. Ed Carpenter's pole position and runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 has the American 12th in the championship on 118 points despite having only contested two of six races this season. Tony Kanaan is 13th on 106 points, five points ahead of Spencer Pigot with Takuma Sato and Gabby Chaves tied for 15th in the championship on 100 points.

Zach Veach sits on 98 points, one point ahead of Ed Jones and three points ahead of Matheus Leist. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top twenty on 84 points, ten points ahead of his Carlin teammate Max Chilton.

Honda's Hopes
Chevrolet has won three consecutive races and four of six races this season but Honda remains in the manufactures' championship lead with 480 points to Chevrolet's 449 points.

The two Honda victories have come on the only street course races this season and dating back to last season Honda has won six of the last seven street course races. Four different Honda teams have won the six street course races over the last two seasons with Dale Coyne Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport responsible for those victories.

Sébastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal are both responsible for two victories each but both won at the same track with Bourdais having won at St. Petersburg the last two years and Rahal sweeping the weekend last year at Belle Isle. James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi each won at Long Beach the last two seasons.

While being Chevrolet's backyard, Honda has made Belle Isle its playground winning six of 11 races since 2012. All five current Honda teams have won at Belle Isle. Last year not only did Rahal sweep the weekend but Honda swept the podium in race one, took both pole positions and had four of the top five starters in each race.

Scott Dixon has the best average finish at Belle Isle among active drivers at 7.2, which coincidentally is also his average starting position at Belle Isle. He has ten top ten finishes in 13 starts but only two podium finishes and since he led all 60 laps in the abbreviated 2012 Belle Isle race, Dixon has only led five laps in ten races at this track. Dixon is still looking for his first laps led of this season.

Alexander Rossi has the second best average finish among active drivers at 8.5 with the American having three top ten finishes in four starts at the track. The results for his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay have been a seesaw with the 2012 champion sporting an average starting position of 9.9, two podium finishes and six top ten finishes but Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top fifteen five times at this track. Marco Andretti has an average finish of 11.9 at Belle Isle.

James Hinchcliffe may have finished third last year in race one at Belle Isle but there might not be a worse place for the Canadian to go after his nightmare at Indianapolis 500. His average finish is 14.2 in nine starts and while he has three top ten finishes, Hinchcliffe has finished outside the top fifteen on five occasions. Ed Jones is another driver looking for a rebound. He has finished 20th or worse in four of six races this season. Takuma Sato finished 32nd in the Indianapolis 500 and he has three consecutive top ten finishes at Belle Isle and he won pole position for the second race last year.

While Chevrolet has won four of six races this season, the team did not have multiple cars in the top five of a race this season until Will Power and Ed Carpenter provided a 1-2 for the manufacture in the Indianapolis 500. Honda has scored 24 of 30 possible top five finishes this season.

Overall, Honda has won 12 of 23 Belle Isle races and Chevrolet has won seven Belle Isle races.

A New Nutmegger
The IndyCar grid will see a new face this weekend and for the second consecutive year Dale Coyne Racing gives a driver a debut in Detroit.

Twenty-year-old Santino Ferrucci will make his IndyCar debut driving the #19 Honda as Dale Coyne Racing shuffles its driver line-up in response to the injury sidelining Pietro Fittipaldi. Ferrucci hails from Woodbury, Connecticut and has spent the better part of the last four years in Europe.

In 2014, Ferrucci ran seven of 11 rounds of the FIA Formula Three European Championship. His best outing was at the Norisring where he finished fifth and fourth in two races finishing behind the likes of Esteban Ocon, Max Verstappen, Jordan King and Jake Dennis. He would finish eighth in the Macau Grand Prix that year.

He started 2015 in the Toyota Racing Series and Ferrucci only won one race in 15 starts but he had six podium finishes and finished third in the championship behind Lance Stroll and Brandon Maïsano. He would run the entire FIA Formula Three European Championship and he finished 11th in the championship with his lone podium finish being second at Spa-Francorchamps behind Dennis and he would return to Macau and pick up a sixth place finish.

The 2016 season saw Ferrucci move to the GP3 Series with DAMS and he signed a development deal with Haas F1. He scored 36 points that season, good enough for 12th in the championship and his best finish was a third at Spa-Francorchamps behind Jake Aitken and Antonio Fuoco. He returned to GP3 and DAMS for the 2017 season and he finished ninth and eighth in the first two races of the season at Barcelona but would not score another point in the next four races and despite the lack of scoring Ferrucci would move to Formula Two with Trident Racing. He scored on debut at the Hungaroring and he would pick up another points-paying finish at Spa-Francorchamps but he would go scoreless in the final seven races of the season. Despite only scoring four points, Ferrucci outscored his teammate Nabil Jeffri by two points.

Ferrucci returned with Trident Racing in Formula Two this season and through eight races his only finish in the points was sixth in the Baku sprint race, good enough for four points. His teammate and fellow Haas development driver Arjun Maini has scored 22 points this season and had a pair of fifth place finishes at Monaco.

Unfamiliar Territory
While Ferrucci is making his IndyCar debut, he is also one of six drivers making their Belle Isle debut this weekend.

Robert Wickens is seventh in the championship after four top ten finishes from the first six races of his career. He is coming off a ninth place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and it earned him the honor of Indianapolis 500 Rookie of Year. Wickens had started in the top ten of every race of his career before he started 18th in the Indianapolis 500.

Zach Veach has finished 23rd in the last two races but he finished fourth in the last street course race held, which was at Long Beach in April. Veach has been running at the finish of every race this season.

Matheus Leist is still looking for his first career top ten finish but he has finished on the lead lap in the last four races. In six street course starts between IndyCar and Indy Lights, Leist has finished outside the top ten five times.

Jordan King returns for his fifth and sixth starts this season. King has finished a lap down in three of four of his starts with the exception being his best finish this season, a 14th at Barber. René Binder returns for the first time since Barber. Binder has started second-to-last in each of his two starts this season and he has finished at least two laps down in each of his starts.

Belle Isle marks the final of two weekends where IndyCar and IMSA share the bill and for the sixth consecutive year the two series provide a satisfying doubleheader on Saturday afternoon. This year sees only the Prototype and GT Daytona classes compete at Belle Isle.

The Portuguese duo of Felipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa lead the Prototype championship with 119 points. The drivers of the #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac has won two of four races this season at Daytona and Long Beach. Ten points behind the #5 Cadillac is the sister car, the #31 Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr. Curran and Nasr finished second and third in the first two races of the season at Daytona and Sebring but finished outside the top five in the last two races.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande are third in the championship on 104 points. Wayne Taylor Racing has won the last two years at Belle Isle and has won four of six Belle Isle races. Hélio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor are fourth in the championship on 98 points after the #7 Acura won at Mid-Ohio the first weekend in May. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun are a point behind Castroneves and Taylor but a point ahead of the #7 Acura of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya. The #77 Mazda of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez are tied on 95 points with the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson.

Sebring winners Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek are ninth in the championship on 89 points in the #22 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan with the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Robert Alon and Simon Trummer and the #52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier of Sebastián Saavedra and Gustavo Yacamán tied on 84 points. Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp sit on 80 points in the #2 Nissan.

Harry Tincknell is back in the #55 Mazda with Jonathan Bomarito after missing Mid-Ohio because of FIA World Endurance Championship duty. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac is back after missing the last two races because of crash damage from the 12 Hours of Sebring. Tristan Vautier and Matthew McMurry will share that car.

In GT Daytona, the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow lead the championship on 95 points after a third, a first and a third at Daytona, Sebring and Mid-Ohio respectively. Katherine Legge was a late addition to the grid in the #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura. She is second in the championship on 87 points and she will share the Acura with Mario Farnbacher after Álvaro Parente was her co-driver for the first three races. The #33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating are third in the championship on 80 points.

The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Alessandro Balzan and Cooper MacNeil are tied with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus of Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson on 76 points. Jeff Segal will replace Balzan in the #63 Ferrari this weekend. The #93 Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach are on 70 points, two points ahead of the Mid-Ohio winner #14 3GT Racing Lexus of Dominik Baumann and Kyle Marcelli. Andy Lally and John Potter of the #44 Magnus Racing Audi are on 64 points.

Kenny Habul sits on 63 points and Bernd Schneider joins him in the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes. Christina Nielsen and Patrick Long are tenth in the championship on 61 points in the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche. Michael Schein and Wolf Henzler are back in the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche. Bill Auberlen will be in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW with Robby Foley.

The 100-minute race will start at 12:40 p.m. ET on Saturday June 2nd.

Fast Facts
Saturday's race will be the ninth IndyCar race to take place on June 2nd and first since Simon Pagenaud picked up his first career IndyCar victory at Belle Isle in 2013.

Pagenaud is one of three drivers to pick up their first career victory at Belle Isle with the other two being Hélio Castroneves and Carlos Muñoz.

Mario Andretti won at Milwaukee on June 2, 1985 and Michael Andretti won on June 2nd in 1991 and 1996 with both races at Milwaukee.

Sunday's race will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on June 3rd. Last year, Graham Rahal won the first race of the Belle Isle doubleheader on June 3rd.

Last year, Rahal became the first American to win at Belle Isle since Michael Andretti in 1996. He also became the first American to win a pole position at Belle Isle since Scott Pruett in 1996.

By sweeping last year's races Rahal became the third driver to win consecutive races at Belle Isle joining Hélio Castroneves in 2000 and 2001 and Sébastien Bourdais, who won the second race in 2015 and first race in 2016.

This is the first Belle Isle race not to feature Hélio Castroneves since 1997.

Will Power will be attempting to become the first Indianapolis 500 winner to win the succeeding race since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000.

Last year, Takuma Sato became the first Indianapolis 500 winner to finish in the top ten of both Belle Isle races.

Since Belle Isle became a doubleheader in 2013, each year has had at least three drivers score a top ten in each race with the most drivers to score top ten finishes in both races being six in 2013, 2014 and 2017.

Last year, Rahal became the third driver to finish on the podium in both Belle Isle races joining Mike Conway in 2013 and Will Power in 2014.

Since 2012, eight of 11 Belle Isle races have had one podium finisher start outside the top ten and three of those eight races have had the winner start outside the top ten.

The average starting position for a Belle Isle winner is 5.73 with a median of four.

The average number of lead changes in a Belle Isle race is 4.26 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Belle Isle race is 4.34 with a median of four. The average number of cautions laps is 15 with a median of seven.

Last year's second Belle Isle race had one caution for two laps, the fewest cautions and fewest caution laps in event history.

Four consecutive Belle Isle races have had single-figure caution laps after only one of the prior 19 Belle Isle races had single-figure caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
If he takes the green flag for Saturday's race, this will be the 350th start of Tony Kanaan's career.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 170 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 91 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 33 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 28 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon split the weekend but sweep the weekend for Honda. A Team Penske car finishes second in both races but two different drivers finish second. At least three drivers get their first top ten finishes of the season this weekend. Neither race has more than two caution periods. There will not be a first lap incident in either race. Santino Ferrucci qualifies outside the top fifteen in both races but he finishes at least two positions better than his starting position in both races. Sleeper: Zach Veach.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: May 2018

Man, where did this month go? How is May already gone? Every year it seems to go quicker and it sucks. If you are 21 years old or younger and love the Indianapolis 500, qualifying weekend and everything that comes along with it from daily Trackside shows and The Talk of Gasoline Alley to concerts on Carb Day my only advice to you is to soak it in while you can. Enjoy the nights that last three hours longer than expected because you fell down the rabbit hole of watching Indianapolis 500 highlights from the 1980s on YouTube. Enjoy it while you can because you will not have nearly as much time when you get older.

Monologue aside let's go over what was a busy month of May in the news department. Besides Indianapolis you had Formula One start the European portion of its season, NASCAR reached its halfway point of the first 13/18ths of the season, sports cars are getting ready for Le Mans and a handful of series finally got underway.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We have got way too many headlines this month from way too many series but surprisingly IndyCar isn't one of them somehow. This will be a quick hit version, organized by series. Enjoy.

NFL Draft Prompts F1 Off-Season Rethink
I got to admit that I read this one but all I can remember from it is Formula One wants a major event in the offseason to get the attention of race fans. I got bad news for them; it isn't going to work. What does Liberty Media have in mind? Preseason testing is boring and it is tough to make a day of ten cars making installation laps all morning with teams doing various runs on different fuel levels and different tire compounds with varying degrees of wear into an event worth a damn.

Do you really think a video game competition with all the drivers will work? It probably would knowing the current generation we have but even that will probably not be as good as Formula One thinks it will be.

And this goes to all motorsport series, stop trying to copy the NFL. A lot of people watch the draft but most don't and most don't care. Great, my team got a new cornerback. It doesn't matter until training camp in August. It is a bullshit event. It gets people to believe bullshit. Either their team is going to the promised land or it is doomed. It is an injection of hype for almost four months. Formula One can't do that. We know how the season will play out and maybe we are slightly surprised but there is nothing that will take Sauber from the back to championship contender in one offseason.

Hamilton Offers to Help Redesign Miami GP Track
How is he going to help? Does he know the roads of Miami that well? It is very easy to look at a map and draw a street course in any city but the issue with looking at Google Maps is it doesn't tell you how wide a street is or that there is a light rail line that runs perpendicular or there are potholes deeper than swimming pools.

Maybe Hamilton has been in Miami more than I realize and maybe he has a deep understanding of the infrastructural issues around the city and that downtown area where the proposed course is located. I doubt it but perhaps he does.

The one thing about Miami that a buddy of mine brought up is if this race is in October it is bound to have a hurricane disrupt the festivities. Then what? It sounds great and it makes sense to pair it with Austin but American Formula One events have collapsed every possible way. A natural disaster sinking an event just seems inevitable.

Is Kubica the Answer for Williams?

Latifi: Dad's McLaren investment paints wrong picture
But it didn't stop him from making the investment. Nicholas Latifi isn't Lance Stroll. Young drivers have money; a lot of them do at least. It is the state of motorsports and it has always been the state of motorsports. Upper-class aristocrats have been making up grids for over a century. Yes, there have been plenty of gear heads who came from nothing and scratched for everything and became legends but everyone needs money to make it at some point.

Do I think McLaren is putting Latifi in the car next year when Fernando Alonso sprints to IndyCar? No, because Lando Norris is in waiting. Daddy Latifi knows racing is a business and while his son may never race in Formula One he sees a chance to make a buck and reap something from this. I can't blame the man and I don't think we should crucify him or Nicholas Latifi nor should we discredit all the hard work and any future accomplishments of Nicholas Latifi because of his father's decision or his family's wealth. Not every kid with financial backing should be automatically disqualified.

Hamilton calls for "different format" for Monaco GP
What do you have in mind? And why was this year the breaking point? Monaco has been shit for 50 years. It is more of a street exhibition than a race. It is a fuck you to the rest of the motorsports world that Formula One can close down a principality and a Mediterranean harbor.

Take off the wings, get rid of all the downforce, make these cars dance around and Monaco could be an interesting race. It sounds pretentious but look at what IndyCar did. Force these guys to drive the car. Force these guys to work. That will improve Monaco. Not some crappy split race or inverse grid or whatever. Maybe even extend the race. Make it 100 laps again. Make it the one race that requires a fuel stop and make it so it isn't a safety concern and require re-fueling prior to the tires being changed. Try something different but not completely radical.

On to Formula E.

Agag makes €600m bid for full FE ownership
This guy is either a genius or steering the thing into the iceberg and I think he is closer to the latter. He comes off as confident but I think he doesn't have a clue how larger is following is and while he thinks he has the future of motorsports in his hand I think he is bound to be crushed by the masses and be remembered as a loudmouth while everyone else passes him by.

I could be wrong and Formula E is drawing manufactures but give it time before some type of major technical regulation has to be decided and regardless of the decision two or three manufactures will throw up their hands and walk away. That is when we find out how strong a series is but we will have to wait and see.

Why Formula E is racing in Saudi Arabia
Because Saudi Arabia could throw a shit load of money at Formula E because it is constantly printing money from oil sales and this event allows the country to be seen as progressive but it is really moving at a glacial pace when it comes to societal change.

Speaking of glacial pace to societal changes, NASCAR...

Truex says Fords have "an unfair advantage" as Harvick wins again
And which manufacture went 1-2-3 and led 386 of 400 laps (96.5% of the laps)? Toyota. How about Kevin Harvick is just that damn good? How about when you were kicking ass Mr. Truex you were just that damn good? How about when Kyle Busch wins three consecutive races it is because he is that damn good?

It isn't always the manufacture. A lot of it comes down to drivers and right now the best drivers are winning in NASCAR. Ford drivers aren't just stumbling into victories. It is not like everyone is getting a victory and even Matt DiBenedetto is pulling into victory lane while leading a Ford sweep of the top ten at Chicagoland. Ford hit the nail on the head early in the season and Stewart-Haas Racing in particular got it right the most. It is a long season. Toyota is going to have momentum swing into its favor. Chevrolet might even have blips of success. NASCAR isn't favoring anyone.

Penalties make fans "think everyone is cheating" - Truex
I also think we fans are idiots at times. Not every violation is blatant cheating. If James Neal gets a tripping penalty in game two of the Stanley Cup Final because he was reaching for the puck and it got caught up in the skates of Alexander Ovechkin doesn't mean he is cheating. Shit happens and the same goes into NASCAR.

I can't believe all these cars pass inspection and then teams are trying to skate under the line for a minor advantage. Yes, I know that is the lore of motorsports but eventually the penalty is not worth the crime. Minor things happen. Contact with another car or a barrier could through a car off; the wear and tear of a 500-mile race could be another reason for failing technical inspection. There is a difference between blatant cheating and accidentally not being in compliance of the rules and it is not clear to determine that but assuming everyone is trying to get away with something is a terrible way to go through life.

Bowman feels disrespected after All-Star Race
Tough. What do you want me to say? And, it was the All-Star Race. It doesn't matter. Get over it. Move on.

I got one FIA World Endurance Championship headline...

Stoneman dropped from Manor LMP1 line-up for Le Mans
Don't worry Dean, the team is either not going to make it or it would be lucky to get either car through more than two hours of the race. It was unlikely you would get in the car during the race any way. It sucks for Dean Stoneman and I hope he gets some type of opportunity in a major series soon.

And we are heading to Germany.

Glock defends expletive-filled Mercedes radio message
Good because it was the best thing DTM has had in probably a decade. And I don't want people to get upset about this because it is probably the same group of people who complain that drivers don't show enough emotion. Emotion isn't going to meet the censors. It isn't always going to be clean and kid-friendly. It is raw. It may make you uncomfortable and that is good thing. That is what speaking your mind looks like at times. What else could you ask for?

Zanardi to join DTM grid for Misano one-off
Great! Alex Zanardi never amazes me and he probably won't win either race and he likely will not even contest for points. It is an unfamiliar car, these drivers will have thousands of more miles behind the wheel than Zanardi who will likely have next to no testing and I doubt BMW is going to give him one of the best cars on the grid and potentially take points from a driver in the championship fight.

But, I kind of wish the DTM manufactures did this more and each had a guest driver at every round or every other round. I want to see Lucas di Grassi run an Audi. I would love to see Nico Rosberg run a race with Mercedes-Benz. Why couldn't BMW give long-time driver Bill Auberlen a shot?

Let's get creative people. Let's make each race something you can only see once. You do that and you will draw more people out because it will be one weekend only and you will never see that grid ever again and I think that is what motorsports is missing. The consistent grids do not give fans enough of a reason to show up. Get a few big names that turn heads and force people out. The manufactures should call Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie Whincup and get these guys into cars for one event because it will make it an event fans will want to be at to say they were there and saw it first hand. Give those guest drivers cars without weight restrictions and let them go. Let them mix it up with the big boys of DTM.  Make it something people will be talking about for decades.

I end May hopefully giving you goosebumps over the thought of a DTM grid that had Nico Rosberg in a Mercedes-Benz, Jeff Gordon in an Audi and Alex Zanardi in a BMW. If June is anything like May it will feel like I am recapping that month in week's time.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: The Subtle Changes

Will Power won the 102nd Indianapolis 500 and that wasn't the only great result for Australia on Sunday. Team Penske is nine victories away from 500 victories as an organization across all forms of motorsport. Charles Leclerc's homecoming did not go as planned. The Brits could not defend their soil in World Superbike and Jonathan Rea will have to wait another two weeks for another shot to become the most successful rider in World Superbike history. Pirelli World Challenge has two GT Sprint-X races and two GTS Sprint-X races today! Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Subtle Changes
Remember when we were dying for someone to do "The Double" and bounce from Indianapolis to Charlotte in the attempt to complete 1100 miles in two separate races? I didn't hear anyone calling for it, which is kind of odd considering last year Kyle Busch made it known he had a deal pieced together and was then told no. And then there is Kyle Larson, who to some is race car Jesus and born to compete "The Double." However, neither name spun around the rumor mill during the winter. Before we had reached spring the mill was shut down.

Maybe we have been spoiled over the last few years and we know it. We had Kurt Busch attempt "The Double" in 2014 and last year we had Fernando Alonso and though not an attempt at "The Double" it was the even rarer Monaco skip. We have gotten what we have wanted and can be satisfied for a while. Or maybe there are no superstars any more and though we are tickled over the idea of multi-discipline drivers jumping from one car to the next, nobody has our interest any more.

Ten years ago, Randy Bernard and Bruton Smith were talking about a $20 million prize to any driver that could win both races of "The Double." I am not sure the powers that be could muster together $2 million for a similar prize today. I am not sure the powers that be want to work together for such a prize because both have interests going in separate directions. They probably could but seven-figures isn't enough. It isn't about the size of the cheque. At the top level of motorsports nobody races for a bonus. They will only take guaranteed money.

Besides "The Double," remember when we were dying for the return of the apron at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and weren't we supposed to get it in 2013 or was it 2014? Wasn't it supposed to return with the NASCAR race in mind? It hasn't and IndyCar and the fan base do not seem to mind. It only took a handful of Indianapolis 500s with the DW12 chassis to show the issue for the better of two decades was not the width of the racing surface but the aerodynamics of the race cars.

Now we can live without the apron and maybe it shows how we are changing. Maybe the only reason we wanted the apron was to get back to a time period we once heralded as the golden era for IndyCar. We wanted to shake the memories of the late-90s and start of the 21st century and the only way we could cope was try to set everything to how it was before it all went wrong. Of course, we didn't do that and even if we did the scar would still be under the bandage and every time it would need to be re-dressed we would be reminded of the nightmare.

The good news is we haven't tried to recreate the times of cigarettes, methanol and bad haircuts. We let IndyCar evolve and despite anger over how the series got to its current state we have reached a state of comfort with IndyCar. It took a while and it took a lot of missteps and mistakes. Despite the positivity around IndyCar the series is nowhere near where it once was. For every Indianapolis, Long Beach and Road America with full crowds there are Phoenix, Pocono and Sonoma with quite a bit of elbowroom. Television ratings are rough and while making microscopic gains overall the Indianapolis 500 is flying at a much lower altitude than it once did.

But there are reasons to feel positive. IndyCar turned Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama into a great spring event. Gateway went from ghost town during the days of the IRL to a healthy atmosphere. Pocono is my home race and the crowd seemed better last year and the racing there has been great, something we have seen at all the big ovals IndyCar has gone to during the DW12-era. We are hopeful NBC will take IndyCar up to another level. It is hard to see because motorsports around the globe have been struggling for he last decade but you got to feel good about something every now and then.

Growth, success, improvement, whatever you want to call it isn't a straight diagonal. It is full of peaks and valleys. There are going to be challenges and some will be easy to overcome, some will require more attention or require an uncomfortable change. It isn't easy. It isn't magic. It is unlikely IndyCar will make a few moves and all of a sudden have two million people watching every race on television and 100,000 people at each track.

The golden era ended long ago. IndyCar is not as rich as it once was and while everyone is wearier of the financial perils that lurk around the corner there is a happiness and level of constructive engagement I have never seen in this series. We are no longer fixated on the little things such as "The Double." We know those things aren't going to revive the series and true improvement isn't one successful day but long-term and incremental gains. There is a level of acceptance of what IndyCar is and acceptance of what IndyCar isn't and ultimately that is the healthy place where IndyCar needs to be.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Daniel Ricciardo won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Artem Markelov and Antonio Fuoco split the Formula Two races from Monaco.

Colton Herta won the Freedom 100, his third consecutive Indy Lights victory. Parker Thompson won the Pro Mazda Freedom 90 from Indianapolis Raceway Park. Kyle Kirkwood won the U.S. F2000 Freedom 75.

Kyle Busch won the Coca-Cola 600. Brad Keselowski won the Grand National Series race.

Michael van der Mark swept the World Superbike races at Donington Park, the first two World Superbike victories of his career. Sandro Cortese won the World Supersport race, his second victory of the season.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula race from Sportsland SUGO.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has its only doubleheader of the season at Belle Isle.
IMSA joins IndyCar in Detroit.
MotoGP makes its pre-summer trip to Mugello.
NASCAR carries on to Pocono.
The DTM heads east to the Hungaroring.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

102nd Indianapolis 500: First Impressions

1. It was Will Power's race to lose. There are days when one driver and team aren't going to lose. It doesn't matter if hell starting raining down and that was the case today. Team Penske had four horses; none that you were concerned about and Power was going to be the strongest one. He showed it from the start. Simon Pagenaud had a good day but when was he mentioned? Josef Newgarden took a slightly different strategy and found himself in the conversation but when was he mentioned? Hélio Castroneves was having an Hélio Castroneves-esque day running in fifth and sixth until he spun exiting turn four but before that, when was he mentioned?

It was Power's race to lose. His crew nailed pit stops today. They had him not only leapfrog two or three cars after stops but leapfrog two or three cars and then have a two-second gap on the drivers he leapfrogged. When it was go time after the final pit stop Power was gone. He ran down Dixon, who hoped to stretch fuel for the final 40 laps and took the race victory. The same thing happened with the three cars ahead of him who hoped to stretch fuel. Power wasn't going to hope everyone else was going to run out of fuel. He made the passes when they needed to be made and sure enough he pulled away from the rest of the field. 

We have become accustomed to Indianapolis 500s coming down to three cars with less than a second covering them entering the final lap. That wasn't the case today. When Power had clear track ahead of him there was no catching him. Power could only beat himself in this one and he didn't. We had a period where Power did throw races away and in turn threw championships away. Some were out of his control but most weren't. It took a few years for Power to break that. He was plenty quick but the bad days had the worst timing. 

Those days are behind him. This is Power's 34th IndyCar victory. He is tied for seventh all-time with Al Unser. Jr. Power has four more victories than Hélio Castroneves. Since joining Team Penske ten years ago Power has won 31 times while Castroneves picked up only ten victories in the same time period. Also, Power won a championship. This was his fourth 500-mile race victory, tied for the sixth most all-time and he is the eighth driver to win at least four 500-mile races in a career. While only seven of his 34 victories have come on ovals, six of his last 16 victories have been on ovals.

Power was always going to be considered one of the greats. He will likely clear 40 victories and he is already on 51 career pole positions, third all-time. He has a championship. I don't believe an Indianapolis 500 should vault your career a significant amount but it definitely is a boost. People can't say, "Well, he never won Indianapolis." Power has that. He is the only driver to win at Indianapolis on the oval and the road course, granted the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is only five years old. Power might one of the fastest drivers we have ever seen in IndyCar. He is quick. He might not win the fuel-mileage races. He might not turn a 14th place start into a victory but it comes to ball out racing not many are beating Power.

2. I rarely feel bummed for a driver after a race. Ed Carpenter is one of a few drivers I feel bummed for. The one year he wins the Indianapolis 500 pole position and doesn't have something go against him he is only good for second. He didn't put a wheel wrong but Power was better today. Come to think of it, rarely has Carpenter had a good day at Indianapolis even when he didn't start on pole position. This was his 15th Indianapolis 500 and there are fewer Indianapolis 500s ahead of him then are behind him. While Ed Carpenter Racing has that magic for Indianapolis, days like these will be harder to come by for Carpenter. What sucks the most is he wasn't close enough to challenge Power. Carpenter could not get by Scott Dixon when he had to make a pass. There was no chasing Power. Second is good but it could have been better.

3. Mike Hull must have said, "fuck it" prior to the restart with 39 laps to go. He knew who his driver was, Scott Dixon and with most teams getting about 32-35 laps on fuel he must have saw the difference and thought, "yeah, Dixon can make it." And of course he did because Scott Dixon has that special touch and nothing surprises you. We all knew Dixon was going to make it but this was the day when speed beat sophistication with the throttle. Third is a great day for Scott Dixon. He wasn't really in the conversation all race but how many races has Dixon won where he wasn't at the point for the first half of the race?

4. Alexander Rossi should be the championship lead because nobody has been better than him through the first six races of the season. He had the best car at St. Petersburg and Phoenix and unfortunately won neither. He thrashed the field at Long Beach and got the victory he deserved. Barber was the one odd weekend with the changing conditions over two days. He wasn't the best at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but was strong and had a fifth place finish. Rossi isn't scared of the outside and he passed at least half a dozen cars on the outside. If he didn't have a puncture on his qualifying run and wasn't starting 32nd he would have challenged Power for the victory. He probably would have been leading before halfway if he started on row four or five. He went from 32nd to fourth. He trails Power by two points in the championship. This guy is going to be in the championship conversation until Sonoma. 

5. Ryan Hunter-Reay finally had a good day, especially at Indianapolis but it seems he can only have good days or bad days. He hasn't had that wondrous day in a while and when he has those days going they all go to hell at some point. He was up front for the entire race. He was the best Honda for most of it and he was giving the Team Penske cars and Carpenter a run for it but he didn't have that little extra. It is a good day and something to build from but I want to see Hunter-Reay close out a great day again.

6. Simon Pagenaud gets a career best finish in the Indianapolis 500 in sixth and he was up front for the entire race but he wasn't the best Penske car today. Oddly enough Pagenaud has not had a top five finish this season in what has been an ok year for him. If he can put together some results he might be a championship contender but I think that will be tough when considering two of his teammates already have two victories this season.

7. Carlos Muñoz should be a full-time driver. He finished seventh, another top ten finish in the Indianapolis 500 and his average finish in this event is 7.5. Out of 250 drivers who have made at least five Indianapolis 500 starts Muñoz has the sixth best average finish all-time behind only Bill Holland, Ted Horn, Jimmy Murphy, Harry Hartz and Dan Wheldon. It is a shame Muñoz has been forgotten. 

8. Josef Newgarden looked as if he might have been in position to win this race had it remained green with about 60 laps to go but a few cautions negated that strategy and he finished eighth, where he probably deserved to be. This was another solid day but it dropped him to third in the championship after the results for Power and Rossi. I wouldn't be concerned though. He trails Power by ten points and I don't think he is going to fade. 

9. Robert Wickens had a good car and he salvaged a ninth place finish after what was a rough two weeks for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He should be Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, barring injury, suspension or a massive change of form from another rookie he will be IndyCar Rookie of the Year. He is seventh in the championship. I am not sure where SPM stands after these last two weeks but if this was just a blip I think Wickens will win a race this year.

10. Graham Rahal rounded out the top ten in what is another impressive result from a shitty starting position. Rahal was in the same boat where it appeared he could have been in contention for the victory if the race remained green for the final 60 laps. That didn't work out but Rahal, along with Rossi, were two drivers who could pass people all race long. If he can start qualifying better I think he will win a race before this season is out. 

11. Another year, another box score J.R. Hildebrand can superglue to John Barnes' front door. Eleventh is solid for Hildebrand and like Muñoz he is another guy who should be full-time in IndyCar. It is unfortunate he lost his ride after one year with Ed Carpenter Racing. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has been talking about returning to full-time competition. Hildebrand would not be a bad driver to build around. 

12. Marco Andretti finished solidly in 12th but he was in the top ten for most of this race and unfortunately each year he has a really good car here but when push comes to shove we haven't seen Andretti make an improvement and put himself into the discussion for the victory. This has been a good season for Andretti. He is a solid driver but he is missing something. 

13. Matheus Leist had a solid day and finished 13th. He wasn't in the conversation for the victory, he really wasn't in the top ten much but he was always on the lead lap and was never in the way. Good for him and in some other year he would have been Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year but not this year. 

14. Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing get a respectable result for the pair's sophomore year together at Indianapolis in 14th. Last year was a bit of a fortunate result with ninth but this is just as good. The team ran all 500 miles and gains a lot of information to build on. 

15. The second guy I feel bummed for is Stefan Wilson. With four laps to go he had to pit for fuel from the lead. He had no business winning this race but man did it seem like a fairy tale. I never thought Wilson was going to make it but to be fair to Wilson he has been solid all month. He never looked off the pace. He wasn't ever in the lead group but he was respectable. Wilson is one of these drivers who unfortunately hasn't had the pieces fall into place for a real career to form. The history book will not tell a full story for him. I wish he could get a few races a year in IndyCar. I wish he could get a shot at a few road courses, a few street courses and another oval. It likely won't happen but I do hope Wilson helped his chances of getting a ride for next year's race.

16. Jack Harvey was in the same boat as Stefan Wilson but I think completing all 500 miles is good enough for him and Meyer Shank Racing. This team has pieced together a solid part-time schedule and the team is working its way to full-time. Harvey is an underrated driver but it is nice to see there is a group behind him that believes in him.

17. Oriol Servià was the third of the trio with Wilson and Harvey who were at the front but couldn't conceivably make it to the end. At the same time, this was another good showing for a new team with Scuderia Corsa partnering with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. This would have been a feel good story for the diehards. 

18. Charlie Kimball had a good race going and was in the top ten for a good portion of it but pit strategy did not go his way at the end and he was the final car on the lead lap. The good news is for Carlin, this is a good result and something to build on because these two weeks were positive for the new team. Max Chilton didn't have it today and it seemed like he was a lap down for most of it. He finished two laps down in 22nd but for Carlin, this isn't a bad day and at least he didn't tear up equipment.

19. Zachary Claman De Melo led laps in the Indianapolis 500. He is a solid driver. I don't know if he is going to be a great driver but he gets the jump done. He showed good pace and I think he could be full-time next year.

20. Spencer Pigot had a pit lane speeding penalty ruin his race. He never recovered after being in the top ten early and he was competitive. I don't know if he was going to win but he was at least going to be fighting for a top ten finish.

21. After what was a frantic qualifying weekend, Conor Daly finished 21st one lap down. This was as good as it was going to get for Daly and another dubious note for Daly, of drivers with five Indianapolis 500 starts (even though he failed to take the green flag one year but what the hell) he has the worst average finish at 27. 

22. Zach Veach will be remembered for exiting the pit lane in a ball of fire. He finished two laps down in 23rd. 

23. Jay Howard completed 193 laps but I don't know what caused him to be so many laps down. He was never a factor in this one. 

24. Tony Kanaan looked good before he suffered a tire puncture not long after a pit stop. He got himself back into the top ten but one spin took him out of it and it is a shame. 

25. The third driver I feel bummed for is Sage Karam because he worked his way to seventh and looked to at least be in the top ten. Then his rear end steps out exiting turn four and he clips the wall just enough to end this race. Like Muñoz and Wilson, Karam needs more than one race a year. Karam is fast and while he might tear up equipment he hasn't been given enough time. Sixteen starts over five seasons isn't enough to form a picture of a driver. I wish Dreyer & Reinbold Racing could return full-time with Karam and Hildebrand as drivers but that is asking a lot. Karam is in a similar boat to Daly. In five Indianapolis 500 starts, his average finish is 25.4, the sixth worst of drivers with at least five starts in this race. 

26. Hélio Castroneves' one-off ended with an unfortunate spin exiting turn four. He wasn't going to win this one but he was set up for an Hélio Castroenves-esque day in fifth or sixth.

27. Sébastien Bourdais just lost it when running up on Rossi. He was in the picture for a top ten finish. It has been a solid year, he has lost some ground in the championship but he could win a few more races this year and get himself back into it.

28. I am going to wrap up four drivers in quick succession. Kyle Kaiser's race ended because of a mechanical issue but at least he didn't tear up a race car. However, his four-race Indy Lights scholarship is up and it is a shame this appears to be it for him. Juncos Racing will continue as it has René Binder and Alfonso Celis, Jr. scheduled to be in the car but neither is as inspiring as Kaiser. Ed Jones had a hard hit exiting turn two. It has been a rough first year with Ganassi. If he keeps it up it will be his only year with Ganassi. Takuma Sato ran into James Davison but neither driver did anything wrong. Davison held his line but he was struggling with a jammed anti-roll bar. Sato drifted up a bit and with how difficult these cars were to handle Sato couldn't just pull the wheel and avoid Davison. If Sato had done that he was going to spin anyway.

29. I end with Danica Patrick. It is disappointing it ended this way. A victory was always going to be unlikely and she deserves praise for the career she had. She isn't one of the all-time greats. She isn't the best never to win the Indianapolis 500 but she was a damn good driver with six top ten finishes in eight Indianapolis 500 starts. Her average finish in this race was 11.375. She definitely made it hard to root for her. It was always about her and she lacked awareness at times. Maybe she catches the bug and wants to come back down the road. I would be happy to have her back. I doubt it but you never know how much you are going to miss it until it is gone.
30. Let's talk about the car. This wasn't the slingshot, draft-happy races we saw the last six years in the Indianapolis 500. It was difficult to pass, not impossible. It was frustrating to watch at times but when passes were made they were earned. I would love to see a tweak made for next year especially if it means we don't see so many accidents with drivers all by themselves. It was different and different doesn't mean bad. If the temperature was five to ten degrees cooler maybe the race would have been more similar to what we have seen the last six years. It is a delicate balance but this wasn't the worst race. However, after treating people with slingshot passes and forcing them to use the edge of their seats it is hard to get them to sit back and watch a chess match.

31. ABC's coverage. There were hits and misses. I am glad they brought the live driver introductions back after completing fucking it up last year however the pre-race show made no sense. It went from a preview to talking to Ed Carpenter to talking to a driver not even in the race to the Snake Pit to glamping. Other than Carpenter, who had no idea what to expect or what the championship looked like.

This has me thinking that the pre-race show is not long enough to cover it all and that is fine but it is something to consider with NBC taking over next year. The Kentucky Derby coverage went from 2:30 p.m. ET until 7:21 p.m. ET. The race didn't start until 6:48 p.m. ET. There were other races sprinkled in but a lot of the coverage is features and bouncing around Churchill Downs. The Indianapolis 500 is just as big of an event when it comes to the auxiliary features but the race isn't going to have a five-hour pre-race show. Maybe NBC starts coverage at 10:30 a.m. ET or maybe even 10:00 a.m. ET if it wants to have Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir in the Snake Pit and The Today Show people on the red carpet and then also have actually pre-race features on drivers, team owners and crew members but I cannot see that happening. It comes down to what do we want to see and what is important to the race. Plenty of race fans don't care about the Snake Pit or the red carpet or glamping but that is part of the event and part of what makes it interesting. How many other sporting events have a concert with 30,000 to 40,000 people? It can't be ignored but how can you give it the time it deserves? We will have to wait and see. 

I liked Nicole Briscoe as host and I am glad she got to do it. She knows what it is like to cover this race and she knows what it is life to have a personal connection to this race. She brought multiple perspectives and got to show them in this broadcast. The booth wasn't terrible but it just seemed ABC never knew what it wanted the Indianapolis 500 to be and that goes back to the pre-race coverage. Nothing ever seemed flushed out. The pre-taped features were off. What the fuck was that Oliver Platt crap? Nothing against Oliver Platt but it was a waste of a 90-second or two-minute part of the pre-race that didn't really add anything. 

32. The championship is interesting now. Power has 243 points and leads Rossi by two points while Newgarden is ten points back. Dixon is only 25 points back but then the gap grows to 57 points between Power and Hunter-Reay. Rahal is 60 points back with Wickens 65 points back. Bourdais dropped to eighth in the championship and trails by 75 points. Pagenaud finds himself 88 points back in ninth and despite not being in the race James Hinchcliffe is still in the top ten, 99 points behind Power with Andretti three points outside the top ten and Carpenter is 12th on 118 points. 

Honda dominated the first two street course races this season and Rahal swept the weekend last year at Belle Isle. Chevrolet has won the last three races and it will be a great opportunity for Honda to retake control of the championship.

33. 364 days until the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Morning Warm-Up: 102nd Indianapolis 500

The day is here
The Indianapolis 500 is here and the 102nd edition of this race will be the first with the universal aero kit gracing the 33 Dallara DW12 chassis in this race. Hondas outnumber Chevrolets in this field 17-16 but Chevrolets occupy eight of the top ten and ten of the top fifteen on the grid. Chevrolet enters having won three of five IndyCar races this season including the last two races and Team Penske is responsible for all three victories. Chevrolet has won every oval race in IndyCar since last year's Indianapolis 500.

The Starting Grid
Row 1:
Ed Carpenter
This will be Carpenter's 15th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 5th (2008).
Car #20 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times but not since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989.
Twenty times has the pole-sitter won the race, most recently Hélio Castroneves in 2009.
A victory for Carpenter would set the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts before winning the race.
No Indianapolis 500 winner has won the race in his 15th start.
Carpenter would be the third Illinois-born driver to win the Indianapolis 500 joining Billy Arnold and Floyd Davis.
Last year was Carpenter's third time finishing 11th in the Indianapolis 500. The only driver to finish 11th more in the Indianapolis 500 is Lloyd Ruby, who finished 11th four times.
Carpenter needs to lead 26 laps to have led 100 laps in the Indianapolis 500.

Simon Pagenaud
This will be Pagenaud's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 8th (2013).
Eleven times has the winner started second, most recently Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000.
The last Indianapolis 500 winner to finish eighth in the race prior to the Indianapolis 500 was Rick Mears in 1988.
Eighth is Pagenaud's best finish this season.

Will Power
This will be Power's 11th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2015).
Car #12 has won the Indianapolis 500 once. Peter DePaolo won in 1925 driving the #12 Miller.
Eleven times has the winner started third, most recently Dario Franchitti in 2010.
Power could become the first Indianapolis 500 to win the race prior since Dan Wheldon in 2005.
Only one Penske driver has won the race prior to the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis 500 and that was Al Unser, Jr. in 1994.
This is Power's seventh consecutive top five start dating back to last season and this will be his 16th consecutive top ten start dating back to last season.
Power needs to lead 24 laps to have led 100 laps in the Indianapolis 500.

Row Two:
Josef Newgarden
This will be Newgarden's seventh Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2016).
Car #1 has won the Indianapolis 500 seven times but not since Al Unser in 1971.
Takuma Sato became the seventh driver to win the Indianapolis 500 from fourth position last year.
Since 1946, eight reigning IndyCar champions have won the Indianapolis 500.
The last reigning IndyCar champion to win the Indianapolis 500 was Dario Franchitti in 2012.
The last reigning American IndyCar champion to win the Indianapolis 500 the following year was Al Unser in 1971.

Sébastien Bourdais
This will be Bourdais' seventh Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 7th (2014).
Car #18 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Seven times has the winner started fifth, most recently Buddy Lazier in 1996.
Bourdais has three top five finishes in the first five races this season, including a victory at St. Petersburg.
Bourdais has led a lap in every race this season.
Bourdais could become the third driver to win at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. The other two drivers to do it were Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.

Spencer Pigot
This will be Pigot's third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 18th (2017).
Car #21 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Five times has the winner started sixth, most recently Dan Wheldon in 2011.
This is Pigot's best starting position in his IndyCar career. Pigot has started 29th the last two years in this race.
Pigot could be the seventh youngest winner 24 years, seven months and 28 days.

Row Three:
Danica Patrick
This will be Patrick's eighth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2009).
Car #13 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Five times has the winner started seventh, most recently A.J. Foyt in 1961.
This will be the fifth time car #13 has been used in the Indianapolis 500. The other four were George Mason in 1914, Greg Ray in 2000 and 2001 and E.J. Viso in 2009.
Patrick could become the first Wisconsin-born driver to win the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick has finished 50 consecutive IndyCar starts.
Car #13 has never won an IndyCar race.

Hélio Castroneves
This will be Castroneves' 18th Indianapolis 500 start.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2001, 2002, 2009).
Car #3 has won the Indianapolis 500 eleven times, the most victorious car time in this race.
Castroneves' 2009 victory is the most recent victory for car #3.
Twice has the winner started eighth, most recently Kenny Bräck in 1999.
Castroneves could become the 15th driver to win the Indianapolis 500 the year after finishing second in the race.
If Castroneves completes all 500 miles he will be the first driver to complete 500 miles in seven consecutive Indianapolis 500s.
If he completes the first 168 laps he will set the record for most consecutive laps completed in the history of this event.
Castroneves could become the third driver to lead a lap in 13 Indianapolis 500s.
Castroneves could be the sixth oldest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 43 years and 17 days old.

Scott Dixon
This will be Dixon's 16th Indianapolis 500 start.
2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #9 has won the Indianapolis 500 four times with Dixon's 2008 victory being the most recent.
Only once has the winner started ninth and that was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993.
Dixon could become the second driver to have at least ten Indianapolis 500 starts between victories. A.J. Foyt had ten starts between his third and fourth victories in 1967 and 1977.
Dixon won the Carb Day Pit Stop Competition for the third time. He will attempt to be the seventh driver to win that and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. The most recent driver to do it was Hélio Castroneves in 2009.
If Dixon leads 61 laps he will become the seventh driver to lead 500 laps in Indianapolis 500 history.

Row Four:
Tony Kanaan
This will be Kanaan's 17th Indianapolis 500 start.
2013 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #14 has won the Indianapolis 500 six times, most recently with Kenny Bräck in 1999.
Twice has the winner started tenth, most recently Gil de Ferran in 2003.
The only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in his 17th start was Gordon Johncock in 1982. It was Johncock's second Indianapolis 500 victory.
Kanaan is the only driver in the 21st century to win the Indianapolis 500 in a double-digit start. His 2013 victory came in his 12th start.
Kanaan could be the sixth oldest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 43 years, four months and 27 days old.

Matheus Leist
This will be Leist's first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #4 has won the Indianapolis 500 five times but not since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993.
Three times has the winner started 11th, most recently Alexander Rossi in 2016.
Leist is one of two drivers who could become the youngest winner in the history of the Indianapolis 500 at 19 years, eight months and 19 days.

Marco Andretti
This will be Andretti's 13th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2006).
Car #98 has won the Indianapolis 500 four times, most recently Alexander Rossi in 2016.
Twice has the winner started 12th, most recently Tony Kanaan in 2013.
Andretti could match Sam Hanks for most starts before first Indianapolis 500 victory.
Andretti's most recent victory came 114 starts ago at Iowa in 2011. He won that race from 17th on the grid.
Andretti could become the first Pennsylvanian driver to win the Indianapolis 500 since Bill Holland in 1949.
Andretti needs to lead 59 laps to have led 200 laps in the Indianapolis 500.

Row Five:
Zachary Claman De Melo
This will be Claman De Melo's first Indianapolis 500 start
Car #19 has never won the Indianapolis 500 start.
Four times has the winner started 13th, most recently Hélio Castroneves in 2002.
Claman De Melo is one of two drivers who could become the youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 20 years, one month and seven days.
This is Claman De Melo's best starting position of his career.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
This will be Hunter-Reay's 11th Indianapolis 500 start.
2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.
His 2014 victory is the only Indianapolis 500 victory for car #28.
Only once has the winner started 14th and that was Bob Sweikert in 1955.
Hunter-Reay could become the first driver to win in an 11th Indianapolis 500 start since Rick Mears in 1988.
Hunter-Reay's average finish in the Indianapolis 500 since his victory is 22.
Hunter-Reay needs to lead 38 laps to have led 200 laps in the Indianapolis 500.

Charlie Kimball
This will be Kimball's eighth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2015).
Car #23 has won the Indianapolis 500 twice but not since Floyd Roberts in 1938.
Four times has the winner started 15th, most recently Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015.
This is Kimball's third time starting on row five in his career and his second best starting position in his career in the Indianapolis 500 after starting 14th in 2012 and 2015.

Row Six:
Takuma Sato
This will be Sato's ninth Indianapolis 500 start.
He is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #30 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Arie Luyendyk 1990.
Twice has the winner started 16th, most recently Dario Franchitti in 2012.
Sato could be the sixth repeat winner in Indianapolis 500 history. He would be the first to win consecutive Indianapolis 500s with two different car owners.

Kyle Kaiser
This will be Kaiser's first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #32 has won the Indianapolis 500 twice but not since George Souders in 1927.
Twice has the winner started 17th, most recently Eddie Cheever in 1998.
Kaiser could become the second youngest Indianapolis 500 winner. He is two days older than Troy Ruttman when Ruttman won the 1952 Indianapolis 500.

Robert Wickens
This will be Wickens' first Indianapolis 500 start.
Car #6 has won the Indianapolis 500 five times, most recently Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006.
The best finish for the 18th-starter is second, which occurred in 1920 by René Tomas and in 2009 and 2010 by Dan Wheldon.
Wickens will be the first Canadian to drive car #6 in the Indianapolis 500 since Scott Goodyear in 1997.
This is the first time Wickens has started outside the top ten in his IndyCar career.

Row Seven:
James Davison
This will be Davison's fourth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 16th (2014).
Car #33 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Twice has the winner started 19th, most recently Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014.
This is Davison's best career starting position in the Indianapolis 500.

Max Chilton
This will be Chilton's third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 4th (2017).
Car #59 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Three times has the winner started 20th, most recently Al Unser in 1987.
Car #59 has never won an IndyCar race.
The last time a driver finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and then won the following year was Hélio Castroneves in 2009.

Carlos Muñoz
This will be Muñoz's sixth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2013, 2016).
Car #29 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Only once has the winner started 21st and that was L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer in 1924.
The only time car #29 has won an IndyCar race was on August 14, 1965 at Milwaukee with Joe Leonard.
Muñoz could become the eighth driver with three runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500. Hélio Castroneves became the seventh driver with three runner-up finishes last year.
Muñoz is one of seven drivers with multiple runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500 but not have a victory in the event. The other drivers are Harry Hartz, Rex Mays, Dan Gurney, Roberto Guerrero, Scott Goodyear and Vitor Meira.

Row Eight:
Gabby Chaves
This will be Chaves' fourth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 9th (2017).
Car #88 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
Twice has the winner started 22nd but not since Kelly Petillo in 1935.
The only time a car numbered in the 80s won the Indianapolis 500 was 1965 with Jim Clark in car #82.
The only American open-wheel series victory for car #88 was in the NASCAR Speedway Division on June 8, 1952 at Langhorne Speedway with Al Keller.
Chaves could be the ninth youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 24 years, ten months and 24 days.

Stefan Wilson
This will be Wilson's second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 28th (2016).
Car #25 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Al Unser in 1987.
The best finish for the 23rd-starter is second by Wilbur Shaw in 1933.
Wilson won twice in Indy Lights at Toronto and Kentucky in 2011.

Sage Karam
This will be Karam's fifth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 9th (2014).
Car #24 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Graham Hill 1966.
The best finish for the 24th-starter is fourth on five occasions (Denny Hulme in 1967, Mel Kenyon i 1969, Sammy Sessions in 1972, Eliseo Salazar in 1995 and Townsend Bell in 2009).
Like Andretti, Karam could be the first Pennsylvanian to win the Indianapolis 500 since Bill Holland in 1949.
Karam could be the fourth youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 23 years, two months and 22 days.

Row Nine:
Zach Veach
This will be Veach's second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 26th (2017).
Car #26 has won the Indianapolis 500 twice including last year with Takuma Sato.
Only once has the winner started 25th and that was Johnny Rutherford in 1974.
Veach could be the sixth Ohioan to win the Indianapolis 500 joining Frank Lockhart, Mauri Rose, Sam Hanks, Bobby Rahal and Sam Hornish, Jr.
Veach could be the fourth youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 23 years, five months and 18 days.

Oriol Servià
This will be Servià's tenth Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 4th (2012).
Car #64 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 26th-start is third by Don Freeland in 1956 and by Paul Goldsmith in 1960.
Car #64 has never won an IndyCar race.
Servià's only IndyCar victory came on August 28, 2005 at Montreal. If Servià were to win it would be the third-longest gap between victories in IndyCar history at 12 years, eight months and 29 days.
Servià is the oldest driver on the grid at 43 years, ten months and 14 days old. He could become the fifth oldest driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

J.R. Hildebrand
This will be Hildebrand's seventh Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 2nd (2011).
Car #66 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Mark Donohue 1972.
Only once has the winner started 27th and that was by Fred Frame in 1932.
Hildebrand picked up two podium finishes last year in IndyCar, both on ovals.
Hildebrand has finished on the lead lap in six of seventh Indianapolis 500 starts.
This is his worst starting position in the Indianapolis 500.

Row Ten:
Jay Howard
This will be Howard's third Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 30th (2011).
Car #7 has won the Indianapolis 500 twice but not since Bill Holland in 1949.
Twice has the winner started 28th, inaugural winner Ray Harroun in 1911 and Louis Meyer in 1936.
This will be Howard's 14th IndyCar start since he made his debut over ten years ago. His best finish is 13th on two occasions.
An IndyCar race has never been won from worse than 28th on the grid.

Ed Jones
This will be Jones' second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2017).
Car #10 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Dario Franchitti 2010.
The best finish for the 29th-starter is second in 1911 by Ralph Mulford and in 2002 by Paul Tracy.
Jones could become the first sophomore to win the Indianapolis 500 since Buddy Rice in 2004.
Jones could be the ninth youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 25 years, three months and 12 days old.

Graham Rahal
This will be Rahal's 11th Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 3rd (2011).
Car #15 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, most recently with Buddy Rice in 2004.
The best finish for the 30th-start was fourth in 1936 by Mauri Rose.
Only once has a driver picked up their first Indianapolis 500 victory in their 11th Indianapolis 500 start. That was Jim Rathmann in 1960.
Like Zach Veach, Rahal could become the sixth Ohioan to win the Indianapolis 500.

Row Eleven:
Jack Harvey
This will be Harvey's second Indianapolis 500 start.
Best Finish: 31st (2017).
Car #60 has never won the Indianapolis 500.
The best finish for the 31st-starter is fourth in 1951 by Andy Linden.
Car #60 has never won an IndyCar race.
Harvey could be the ninth youngest winner in Indianapolis 500 history at 25 years, one month and 12 days old.

Alexander Rossi
This will be Rossi's third Indianapolis 500 start.
2016 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Car #27 has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, most recently with Dario Franchitti in 2007.
The best finish for the 32nd-starter is second in 1957 by Jim Rathmann and 1981 by Mario Andretti.
Rossi could be the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 after finishing seventh the year before since Dario Franchitti in 2010.
This is the first time Rossi has started outside the top twenty in his IndyCar career.

Conor Daly
This will be Daly's fifth Indianapolis 500 appearance and hopefully fourth start.
Best Finish: 22nd (2013).
Car #17 has won the Indianapolis 500 once, Dario Resta 1916.
The best finish for the 33rd-starter is second in 1980 by Tom Sneva and 1992 by Scott Goodyear.
Daly has never finished on the lead lap in the Indianapolis 500 but he has finished on the lead lap in his last two oval starts.

ABC's coverage of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 begins at 11:00 a.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 12:21 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Popularity Predicament

Let's get this out of the way... This is about bumping for the Indianapolis 500 and James Hinchcliffe and why despite his stature in the series his stature is one of the reasons why he shouldn't be in the Indianapolis 500.

Let's start with the basics... Nobody should get into the Indianapolis 500 because of how popular they are. That is a dangerous precedent to set and a controversial topic for years to come.

None of us should want drivers, regardless of who they are, what they have won or how many Twitters follows they have to get in the race because of their popularity and I am saying this because of the children. Do you really want the message to be to children don't worry about ability as long as you are popular you will get taken care of? It is bad enough now we have a generation of people obsessed with what they say in 280 characters and looking like fools in bullshit YouTube videos. The last thing we need is to say don't worry about work ethic, don't worry about problem solving, don't worry about failing because as long as people like you and retweet you everything will be taken care of and you will get everything you want.

Nobody wants life to be like that and life shouldn't be like that. You should be forced to take failure on the chin and re-evaluate every decision made. People should be broken when things don't go their way. This is a way how better people are made. Some will rise and make sure it never happens again and do everything in their power to learn from this. Other won't and will continue to crumble.

This year it is James Hinchcliffe but who is it next year? If Kyle Busch says he is doing the Indianapolis 500 next year do you want Kyle Busch, to be locked into the field for because of how many Twitter followers he has? Should Arie Luyendyk, Jr. be gifted a spot in the field in 2019 because he was on a reality show? Imagine if Fernando Alonso was bumped from last year's race and the outcry had he been added to the field solely because of the notoriety he brings to the race. Drivers are a big part of the Indianapolis 500 but no driver is bigger than the race.

James Hinchcliffe is a beloved driver in IndyCar and he is a good thing for IndyCar but that should not lock him into the field. Who else should be locked into the field? Should Max Chilton expect to be taken care of if it is him on the outside next year? What about Kyle Kaiser? The last thing IndyCar should want to do is alienate drivers and play favorites.

Nobody should be penciled in. Duke isn't penciled into the Elite Eight of every NCAA Tournament. The New York Yankees isn't penciled into the American League Championship Series each year. Everything is earned. Have a bad regular season? You don't make the playoffs. Have an off night and can't make a three-pointer if your life depended on it? Well, you better hope your opponent is having a worse night than you. Hinchcliffe had his off night in the form of a green racetrack, successful qualifying runs by Oriol Servià and Conor Daly and a tire pressure sensor rattling around while heading out for a qualifying run with less than ten minutes on the clock. Everything that could have gone against him did and those are the worst days in sports.

But we should not get hung up on James Hinchcliffe not being in this race. IndyCar shouldn't want one guy to parade around and specifically this reason. Spread those crumbs around. It is a chance for someone else to step up and make a name for himself or herself and there are plenty of capable people. Josef Newgarden, the defending champion and championship leader, is still in this race. Alexander Rossi, second in the championship, is still in this race. Marco Andretti is still in this race. Graham Rahal is still in this race. Robert Wickens has been the darling of this season and he is still in this race. Ed Carpenter has a chance to be a great story. Scott Dixon and Will Power both have chances to add to their highly successful careers. Simon Pagenaud has a chance of making himself a household name. Sébastien Bourdais could complete the comeback story meant for Hollywood. Ryan Hunter-Reay could end up becoming a two-time Indianapolis 500 winners. Fan favorites Tony Kanaan and Hélio Castroneves are still in this race. Castroneves could become the fourth driver to win four Indianapolis 500s! And Danica Patrick is back in this race.

We cannot focus on who is not there especially when there are many others in this race capable of carrying the torch.

Hinchcliffe aside, bumping should remain at Indianapolis Motor Speedway strictly because of the humbling moment of seeing a beloved figure brought down to earth. It is sports, it is competition and the beauty is we should go in having no idea what could happen. There is nothing better than going to a sporting event without a clue of what will occur and then being able to say for years to come "I was there!" Sports shatter our preconceived notions of what is possible. Just when we think we have saw it all another unexpected moment occurs and we have to redefine what we think is possible.

We need those moments. We need to leave an event repeating to ourselves "James Hinchcliffe isn't going to be in the Indianapolis 500" because we can't believe it to be true. That is the magic of sports; going in thinking we know what will happen and exiting stunned by what previously was thought to be unfathomable.

Track Walk: 102nd Indianapolis 500

We are down to the final days prior to the Indianapolis 500
The sixth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be the 102nd Indianapolis 500. Josef Newgarden enters as the championship leader with 184 points and he holds an eight-point lead over Alexander Rossi after Newgarden picked up six points for qualifying fourth in this year's race. There are six previous Indianapolis 500 winners in this year's race while 27 drivers look to become the 72nd driver to win the Indianapolis 500. Seven different drivers have won the last seven Indianapolis 500s

Time: Coverage begins at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday May 27th. Green flag at 12:21 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

Indianapolis 500 Weekend Schedule
Carb Day:
Practice - 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. ET (1 hour). NBCSN will have live coverage.
Pit Stop Competition - 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET (2 hours). NBCSN will have live coverage.
Race- 12:21 p.m. ET (200 laps).

Carb Day Practice
The traditional Carb Day practice takes place on Friday May 25th and once again it will be the final time for teams to work on their race cars before race day on Sunday.

Last year, Hélio Castroneves and Takuma Sato were the top two drivers in the Carb Day practice session and in the race Sato would beat Castroneves to the finish line for the victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500. Three other drivers who were in the top ten of that Carb Day practice session would finish in the top ten in the race with those three drivers being Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Fernando Alonso and Ryan Hunter-Reay were both in the top ten on Carb Day but had engine failures, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden each retired because of accidents and Graham Rahal finished 12th.

In the post-qualifying Monday practice, Sage Karam was the fastest driver at 226.461 MPH, almost a quarter of a second ahead of Tony Kanaan. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the fastest Honda in third, 0.2901 seconds behind Karam. Charlie Kimball had an impressive session and was fourth fastest with Alexander Rossi, who suffered a tire puncture on his qualifying run that left him 32nd on the grid, fifth in the session.

Will Power was the top Penske driver in sixth with Hélio Castroneves right behind him in seventh. Marco Andretti found himself in the top ten for another session with Pennsylvanian in eighth. Zachary Claman De Melo's first Indianapolis 500 continues to be swell and he was ninth fastest on Monday while Scott Dixon rounded out the top ten ahead of Sébastien Bourdais.

Stefan Wilson and Kyle Kaiser had a respectable Monday in 12th and 13th both within a half-second of Karam's top time with pole-sitter Ed Carpenter in 14th with J.R. Hildebrand in 15th.

A few other notable drivers in Monday's practice session was Graham Rahal in 17th after a rough qualifying weekend, Danica Patrick was 19th with Takuma Sato in 23rd and Robert Wickens in 25th after having an accident in the middle of back straightaway after completing only three laps during the session. Josef Newgarden was 28th while Simon Pagenaud was the slowest driver on Monday.

In last year's Monday practice Max Chilton and Ed Jones were the top two drivers and Jones and Chilton finished third and fourth in the race. Sato was fifth fastest in last year's post-qualifying Monday practice.

Can Honda Repeat Its 2012 Performance?
Chevrolet took the top four positions in qualifying and the American manufacture had nine of the first 12 positions. Andretti Autosport was shut out of the Fast Nine for the first time since 2011. The best Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car and the best Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car are both on row six. The final six cars on the grid are Hondas. After two consecutive years with Honda entering as the favorite, it appears the pendulum has swung to Chevrolet.

However, in 2012, Chevrolet took eight of the top nine and had nine of the top 12 times. The best Chip Ganassi Racing entry was 12th. The best Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was in 19th. It appeared the race was set to be a battle between three Chevrolets from Team Penske and three Chevrolets from Andretti Autosport. In the race, the Ganassi Hondas of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were first and second at the halfway points. Marco Andretti did lead a race-high 59 laps but Honda teams led a combined 112 laps and the next highest number of laps led by a Chevrolet entry was 15 laps by pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe. Nine of the 16 lead lap finishers that year were Honda entries. In the closing laps it was a three-car battle between Franchitti, Dixon and Takuma Sato for the victory. Dixon led 53 laps in the race while Sato led 31 laps and Franchitti led 23 laps on his way to victory.

Ganassi took the top two positions in thnexte race in 2012 with three other Hondas from two additional teams also making it into the top ten. Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson finished seventh with Ganassi's Charlie Kimball in eighth and Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports' Townsend Bell coming home in ninth. All five of Honda's top ten finishers in that year's race started on row four or further back.

Freedom 100
The Carb Day tradition of the Freedom 100 continues and the 16th edition of the race features eight entries.

Patricio O'Ward enters as the championship leader with 145 points, one ahead of his Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta. O'Ward will be the fourth Mexican driver to attempt the Freedom 100 and a Mexican driver has never finished in the top five in this race. Herta made his Freedom 100 debut last year but his race did not make it through the first lap after contact with teammate Ryan Norman. Norman is back for this year's race. He is fifth in the championship on 105 points. Dalton Kellett has finished third the last two years in the Freedom 100. The Canadian is seventh in the championship on 87 points.

Santiago Urrutia returns for his third Freedom 100 start. He finished fifth last year and he is third in the championship on 139 points. Aaron Telitz is coming off a pair of podium finishes in the IMS road course races and he finished second last year in the Freedom 100 behind Matheus Leist. Telitz is sixth in the championship on 98 points. Victor Franzoni finds himself fourth in the championship on 119 points. Davey Hamilton, Jr. will make his Freedom 100 debut driving for Team Pelfrey. It is his first Indy Lights appearance since the 2016 season finale at Laguna Seca.

Eight different drivers have won the last eight Freedom 100s. Four different teams have won the last four Freedom 100s. This will be the smallest grid in the history of the event. The previous smallest grid size was 11 cars in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The Freedom 100 will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday May 25th.

Carb Night Classic From Indianapolis Raceway Park
After a year off, the Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 series are back at Indianapolis Raceway Park for races during the Carb Night Classic.

Through six Pro Mazda races Exclusive Autosport's Parker Thompson leads the championship with 150 points with the Canadian having two victories, two runner-up finishes and two fifth-place finishes. Juncos Racing's Rinus VeeKay trails Thompson by 22 points and VeeKay is eight points ahead of teammate Carlos Cunha. RP Motorsport's Harrison Scott has won two of the last three races and the British driver heads into his first oval race fourth in the championship on 106 points. David Malukas rounds out the top five on 105 points while reigning U.S. F2000 champion Oliver Askew sits on 102 points in sixth.

Askew won last year in the only U.S. F2000 oval race at Iowa ahead of VeeKay while Cunha finished third in the only Pro Mazda race on last year's schedule at Gateway.

Kyle Kirkwood and Alexandre Baron each have two victories and a runner-up finish this season but Kirkwood holds the championship lead on 106 points as he has a fifth place finish to Baron's 22nd, leaving the American 13 points clear of the Frenchman. José Sierra has two podium finishes this season but he is 42 points behind Kirkwood in the championship. Igor Fraga and Julian van der Watt round out the top five on 55 points and 54 points respectively.

Darren Keane is a point outside the top five with Calvin Ming on 49 points in seventh. Lucas Kohl and Kory Enders are tied on 45 points while Rasmus Lindh rounds on the 41 points.

One storyline to check out in the U.S. F2000 race is Aaron Telitz, who will compete only hours after he will have run the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Telitz will drive the #14 Mazda for ArmsUp Motorsports.

The U.S. F2000 race will lead off the night at 6:05 p.m. ET on Friday May 25th and the race is scheduled for 75 laps. The 90-lap Pro Mazda race will take place at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Fun Facts
This will be the eighth Indianapolis 500 to take place on May 27th (1972, 1979, 1984, 1990, 2001, 2007 and 2012). The winners of those races are Mark Donohue, Rick Mears, Rick Mears, Arie Luyendyk, Hélio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Dario Franchitti.

Two other IndyCar races have been held on May 27th. Tom Kincaid won the Prestolite Trophy Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1910 and Gil de Ferran won at Nazareth in 2000.

Last year's Indianapolis 500 was the first to average under 160 MPH since 2009.

Last year's race was the first to have the final lead change not occur in the final four laps since 2010.

The last six Indianapolis 500s have had the six most lead changes in the event's history.

This year's grid features...

14 Americans.

Four Britons.

Three Brazilians.

Two Frenchmen.

Two Canadians.

Two Australians.

Two Colombians.

One New Zealander.

One Japanese.

One Spaniard and...

One Emirati.

Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Gabby Chaves, Jack Harvey and Matheus Leist could become the first driver to win the Freedom 100 and the Indianapolis 500.

Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Sébastien Bourdais, Marco Andretti, Ed Jones and Kyle Kaiser look to join Alex Lloyd, Jack Harvey and Dean Stoneman as the only drivers to win both on the oval and road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The pole-sitter has failed to win the last eight Indianapolis 500s.

The only time the driver who led the most laps has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 in the DW12-era was Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014.

The average starting position for an Indianapolis 500 winner is 7.58 with a median of five.

Last year, Takuma Sato became the first Indianapolis 500 winner in the DW12-era to win the race from inside the top ten on the grid. Sato started fourth in last year's race.

The average number of lead change in the Indianapolis 500 is 13.227 with a median of ten.

The average number of cautions in the Indianapolis 500 is 7.79 with a median of eight. The average number of caution laps is 44.418 with a median of 44.

This will be the 69th Indianapolis 500 victory for Firestone.

This will be the 18th Indianapolis 500 victory for Dallara. Dallara is the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 victories for chassis manufactures.

If Honda wins it will be the manufacture's 13th Indianapolis 500 victory, breaking a tie with Miller for second all-time in engine manufacture victories.

If Chevrolet wins it will be the manufacture's tenth Indianapolis 500 victory, putting it level with Cosworth for fourth all-time.

Possible Milestones:
Hélio Castroneves is one top five finish away from moving into sole possession of fourth-most top five finish all-time.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 170 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 92 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 33 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 40 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 90 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

I normally don't pick a winner for the Indianapolis 500 but this year I will make an exception because I will take Danica Patrick to win the race because if she does win I look good, she is at 20/1 odds so that could be a good pay day and if she doesn't win it now then she will likely never win it... because she is retiring. There will be over 24 lead changes. Caution laps will be less than the average. Alexander Rossi finishes at least 20 points better than his starting position. At least two Penske drivers finish outside the top ten. Fewer than three Honda teams will suffer engine failures. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.