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Busy weekend for racing

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

It’s Memorial Day weekend, a day when we honor our fallen warriors, military men and women who gave their lives for our freedom and our way of life.

For readers of this column, that way of life includes racing, and there is plenty of it on tap – the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, the most glamorous Formula 1 race of all at Monaco, and NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.

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Monaco will be televised on SPEED at 5 a.m. Sunday. It is the most amazing race to watch, winding through the public streets of the tiny municipality at over 100 miles per hour. Drivers are unbelievably busy, negotiating hairpin corners, bouncing over curbs, all the while making 55 gear changes per lap and managing up to 32 different steering wheel functions including the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) and the Drag Reduction System (DRS). Pole speeds at Monaco have climbed from 87.86 miles per hour in 1980 to 101.79 mph last year. This morning’s qualifying session will determine if the new super-soft Pirelli tires will set a new speed record.

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There was no new track record at Indy this year, but there were some surprises in qualifying.

Alex Tagliani had a good qualifying performance, beating out the dominant Penske and Ganassi teams. Bump day was a nail-biter with Marco Andretti bumping teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay as qualifying ended, setting the 33 car field. Well, maybe not. The Andretti team later negotiated to buy the A.J. Foyt car qualified by Bruno Junqueira and put Hunter-Reay into it to start at the back of the field.

Indianapolis Star writer Bob Kravitz penned a caustic indictment of the transaction, but it is by no means the first time it has happened. In fact, Foyt did the same thing 30 years ago, selling George Snider’s qualified car to Tim Richmond. However, to quote Eddie Cheever in his response to a question I asked him in a conference call on Tuesday, “What I would have liked to have been is a fly on the wall when the Andretti clan got together and somebody came up with the idea of ‘let’s go ask Foyt if he’ll sell us a car’. I would have paid $100 to hear the first response to that one. It was a very good move, a brilliant move.”

Coverage of the race on ABC starts at 8 a.m. Sunday.

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And if F1 and Indy aren’t enough racing for you tomorrow, tune into the FOX broadcast of the Coca-Cola 600 at 3 p.m. Sunday. The front row is occupied by two young guns, Brad Keselowski on the pole and A.J. Allmendinger alongside with his second consecutive front-row start. Right behind them will be 2011 All-Star race winner and new millionaire Carl Edwards. It is NASCAR’s longest race, a full 100 miles longer than anything else on the circuit. This puts a strain on drivers, crews, and most of all, machinery. Engines that are built to go 500 miles might not last for 600, particularly with Joe Gibbs Racing, which has had engine issues all year.

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Speaking of Carl Edwards and the All-Star race, it was surprisingly trouble-free, given all the pre-race speculation about feuds possibly boiling over. Even Kyle Busch maintained his decorum, although that went by the wayside later in the week when he was apprehended doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone outside Charlotte in a high-powered Acura LFA. He faces a big fine and possible loss of his driver’s license. However, I’m sure he’d prefer the court appearance to the meeting he’s sure to have with coach Gibbs.

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Finally, Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen acquitted himself well in last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World truck race, finishing 15th after a brief run in the top 10. He will start today’s Nationwide race in the No. 87 car fielded by Joe Nemechek with help from Busch, and may also drive a Cup car for Robby Gordon at Infineon next month. He impressed Edwards enough with his car control in Nationwide practice on Thursday that Edwards asked his crew on the radio who was driving the 87.