Danica is the hot topic at Indy

By Roger Diez

Nevada appeal motorsports columnist

I'm kind of glad that the weather this weekend is semi-crummy. That way I don't feel so bad sitting in front of the tube watching racing all day. And there is a lot to watch.

Unless you were sitting on the front porch waiting for your newspaper carrier, the Monaco Grand Prix is probably over as you read this. But those of us with a DVR are going to get our Formula 1 fix before the hoopla starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And as soon as Indy is over, the green flag will wave on the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowes Motor Speedway for NASCAR Sprint Cup's longest race of the year. For a real race fan, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is heaven on earth. The Indy 500 and Coke 600 are the longest races of the year for their respective series, while the F1 race at Monaco is the shortest (and slowest) on the schedule.

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a conference call earlier in the week with the ESPN on ABC announcing team of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever. This will be ABC's 44th year of broadcasting the Indy 500. This will be Reid's third year in the lead announcer seat while Goodyear is marking eight years on the broadcast and Cheever is a rookie. Goodyear addressed the balance that he has to maintain between the casual fan who is technically unaware and the hard-core racing aficionado who is knowledgeable about the inner workings of race cars and race strategy. As one of the latter, I have to say that I sometimes find his explanations a bit tedious.

The team acknowledged that the two big stories at Indy this year are reunification and Danica Patrick. Given the unification situation, I asked Reid why the expectations of a large field and lots of bumping hadn't been met, and wondered if it was due to shortage of chassis and parts. He said that Dallara parts issues had been more of a problem in the earlier races, but that the Indy field was primarily limited by engine availability. Honda told the IRL that it could only support a maximum of 39 teams for Indy, and 37 actually made qualifying attempts. Cheever chipped in with the opinion that the reunification had upped everybody's game, adding new racing "DNA" to the IRL from the Champ Car side.

But the major issue on the minds of the press types on the conference call was whether Danica Patrick could win the 500. There was a good deal of discussion among the announcers, with Goodyear saying that there were mixed feelings about the Danica press hype in the garage area. On the one hand, some drivers were unhappy about the attention given to one driver; on the other, many of them felt that it raised awareness of the sport among potential new fans, and that can only be good for everyone involved.

There was some discussion of the fact that three of the 33 starters are female. Asked to rate the three, the consensus was that Milka Duno was just thrilled to have made the field (and in my opinion is in way over her head), while Sarah Fisher is now a car owner and a competent journeyman driver with no real chance of running up front.

Danica, on the other hand, is a fierce competitor who, in Goodyear's words, "will run right over you to win a race."

She also has the advantage of driving for a top-flight team with one of the best-prepared cars in the race, coupled with the coaching and support of champions like Michael Andretti and Tony Kanaan. Cheever was cautious when asked to predict a winner though, citing the thousands of variables that can make the difference in drinking the milk in victory lane and going home early. Even so, all three members of the team thought that the winner would come from the Ganassi, Penske, or Andretti Green teams. Dark horse picks were Thomas Scheckter and Vitor Meira.

So grab the remote and your favorite beverage, strap yourself into your favorite chair, and prepare for a marathon of racing today. Gentlemen (and ladies), start your televisions!

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