Roger Diez: Monaco, Indy and Charlotte, oh my!
May 25, 2018
Sunday is perhaps the biggest racing day of the year. The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, Formula One's most glamorous race at Monaco, and NASCAR's longest race, the grueling Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Unfortunately, Sunday's scheduled race at Fernley 95A Speedway has been canceled due to a combination of weather and low holiday car count.
Formula One qualifying took place early this morning, so results weren't available by deadline. Ed Carpenter is on the pole for the Indy 500, the third time he has accomplished this feat. He will have two Penske drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, starting alongside and defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden right behind him. And Kyle Busch will start the Coke 600 at Charlotte from the pole with Joey Logano starting alongside. The F1 race will be televised on ESPN at 6:05 a.m., the Indy 500 will air on ABC beginning at 9 a.m., and NASCAR's longest race can be seen on FOX with a start time of 3 p.m.
Monaco is a tough race to handicap, because it's run through the streets of this tiny European principality with guardrail lining the course and no room for error. There are also few passing opportunities, so starting up front is key to winning. Previous winners among current drivers include Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and 2011; Lewis Hamilton in 2016 and 2008, Fernando Alonso in 2007 and 2006, and Kimi Raikkonen in 2005.
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The Indy 500 is another race almost any driver can win, given the right circumstances. There are 5 previous winners in the field, including Helio Castroneves with three, Takuma Sato (2017), Alexander Rossi (2016), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Tony Kanaan (2013) and Scott Dixon (2008). Perhaps the most motivated driver in the field is Power, who feels he has been denied in years past. But Danica Patrick, in the final race of her career, is starting inside row three and also has lots of motivation.
Winners of the Coke 600 among active drivers include Austin Dillon (2017), Martin Truex Jr. (2016), Jimmie Johnson (2014, 2005, 2004, 2003), Kevin Harvick (2013, 2011), Kasey Kahne (2012, 2008), and Kurt Busch (2010). If I had to pick a probable winner, it would have to be Harvick, who has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. With five wins so far, plus a million-dollar victory in last week's All-Star race at Charlotte, you probably won't get long odds on Harvick at the sports books, though. Yes, he's starting in the last row Sunday in the first full 40-car field in a while. But it's a 600 mile race. Speed and strategy can definitely overcome a poor starting spot, as has been proven many times in the past.
Finally, congratulations to the recently selected NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2019. A four-time champion, a pair of team owners, and two standout drivers who are no longer with us will be enshrined early next year. They're Jeff Gordon, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, Alan Kulwicki, and Davy Allison. Great selections all.