Memorial Day weekend was a historic one for racing. Records were set at both Indianapolis and Charlotte as the NTT IndyCar series and the NASCAR Cup series both staged their longest races of the year.
The 105th running of the Indy 500 saw the running of the fastest race in the event’s history, an average speed of 190.690 mph over the 500-mile distance. It also saw the crowning of the fourth four-time champion in its history as Helio Castroneves once again performed the fence-climbing celebration he inaugurated 20 years ago when he first won the May classic.
It was a popular win, celebrated by his fellow competitors and racing legends Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, the first man to score four 500 victories. The 46-year-old Castroneves outdueled Spaniard Alex Palou, just 24, proving yet again that age and treachery will overcome youth and skill every time. It was also Helio’s first win without the Penske organization behind him, racing for the first time for Meyer-Shank Racing in their first two-car assault on the 500.
The team would be well-advised to keep him on for a few more races if not the rest of the season. There were only two caution periods in the race — one for the first of several pit road incidents and the other for a lost wheel from Graham Rahal’s car as he exited the pits. Rahal hit the wall and the errant wheel landed on the nose of Conor Daly’s car. Daly continued, but the incident ruined his otherwise excellent race. IndyCar is idle this weekend.
More records fell at the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte. Kyle Larson became the first NASCAR Cup driver to win all four stages of a race (yes, they added another stage for this one), scoring a perfect 70 points.
His win was also the 269th of the series for Hendrick Motorsports, breaking the record previously held by Petty Enterprises. And it was Chevrolet’s 800th victory in NASCAR’s top series.
And if not for Kyle Busch, the Hendrick organization would have scored their second 1-2-3-4 finish of the season. Busch stuck his Toyota in between second-place Chase Elliott and William Byron in fourth. Alex Bowman come home fifth.
This is a road-racing weekend for NASCAR, with Xfinity at Mid-Ohio Saturday and the Cup cars at Sonoma on Sunday. I always enjoy watching Cup Sonoma, my home track in my racing days. Not surprisingly, the favored driver is COTA winner Elliott (9-4) with 2018/2019 Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. at 9/2 (there was no 2020 race).
Kyle Larson is at 6-1, followed by Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin at 8-1 and 10-1 respectively. Kevin Harvick is the first Ford driver on the list at 18-1.
Interestingly, only four drivers in the field have won at Sonoma with Truex winning three, Kyle Busch two, and brother Kurt and Kevin Harvick one apiece. The Sonoma race airs on FS1 at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Formula 1 returns to action this weekend, racing in Baku, Azerbaijan. It will be only the fifth race at the venue as there was no event there last season.
Niko Rosberg’s Mercedes won the inaugural race in 2016, Daniel Ricciardo won there for Red Bull in 2017, and Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton, and Valtteri Bottas in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In Monaco two weeks ago Ferrari showed surprising strength while Mercedes struggled, and Red Bull won. Baku promises to be a different proposition with a 1.4 mile straight that will see cars top 230 mph. McLaren has good top end speed and could challenge Red Bull and Mercedes this weekend. The race will air on ESPN at 5 a.m. Sunday, so get up early or DVR it.