Big day for race fans
Nevada Appeal Motorsports columnist
Race fans, start your remotes! Ah, yes – Memorial Day weekend, one of the high holy days of the racing religion, with the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 keeping race fans glued to their seats for nearly the entire day.
Festivities will start an hour later than usual, 9 a.m. here in the Pacific Daylight time zone. I’m not sure what Indy Racing League Czar Tony George was thinking when he moved the start of the race back an hour, thus making it impossible for any driver to do the “double” at Indy and Charlotte. In recent seasons this has been one of the most exciting aspects of the Memorial Day Sunday, to see who would attempt the feat and how they would fare in such a marathon of racing. John Andretti, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon all made the attempt, but no one will be doing so this year.
When the green flag waves at Indy there will be a full field of 33 cars. One car was actually knocked out of the field on Bump Day last Sunday, in a bizarre scenario that saw Felipe Giaffone getting a call while shopping for baby items and a few hours later bumping Arie Luyendyk, Jr. out of the starting lineup. The whole fishy incident was apparently engineered by Tony George in an attempt to bring some excitement back to Bump Day, once the most fraught and anxious event in Motorsports.
Of course, that was back in the days when 45 or 50 cars would show up in May to try and get into the Indy 500 field. The most ironic thing was that a young American driver, who came up through the Infiniti Pro Series, the IRL farm system, was bumped by a Brazilian. What was one of the founding principles of the IRL again, Tony?
Giaffone qualified an A.J. Foyt spare car, with a bewildered Foyt professing ignorance of just how the whole deal happened in a TV interview before the car went out on its qualifying run. Some on the scene opined that it was a “grudge bump,” as A.J. and Luyendyk’s father Arie, Sr. have a history. A.J. punched the elder Luyendyk out in Victory Circle at Texas Motor Speedway a number of years ago in a dispute over who won the race (a scoring review gave Luyendyk the win).
However, Foyt sought out Arie, Sr. after the gun sounded, telling him, “I just wanted to say you got a lot out of your kid and I want you to know I’m sorry. But all those idiots who think there’s a grudge between us, that’s a bunch of bull…. and I wanted you to know that.”
Gasoline Alley scuttlebutt has it that the Luyendyk camp will receive last-place starting money, further proof that the entire bump was a PR move orchestrated by George.
That said, sit back and enjoy the race. There are some genuinely interesting stories this year. One such is young Danica Patrick, the first female driver with a top team, competitive car, and realistic chance of getting her face on the Borg-Warner trophy. Patrick set fast time (225.597 mph) in “Carb Day” practice on Friday.
Another is the comeback of Kenny Brack, replacing Buddy Rice, the driver who replaced him in 2004. Rice, the defending Indy 500 Champion was sidelined with an injury two days before Pole Day. Brack set the fastest qualifying time in the field, but will start 23rd because he did it on the third day of time trials. I don’t know what the odds on Brack are at your local sports book, but he might be worth a bet.
Rocket Ryan Newman is on the pole for today’s Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Newman shattered the old qualifying speed by more than four miles per hour, turning a blazing 192.988 mph lap! Newman will start alongside Jeff Gordon, who has won a few races at the Lowe’s track.
And be prepared for a different look to Bobby Labonte’s Chevy. With Jason Leffler failing to qualify, FedEx bought out the Interstate Batteries sponsorship of the No. 18 for this race. Interstate is short on sponsorship dollars for the season, FedEx wanted the exposure, and a deal was struck.