International Day of Racing – May 24, 2015
The 73rd annual Monaco Grand Prix, from Circuit De Monaco
8 a.m. Eastern on NBC
The 99th annual Indianapolis 500, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway
11:30 a.m. Eastern on ABC
The 56th annual Coca-Cola “World” 600, from Charlotte Motor Speedway
6 p.m. Eastern on FOX
Lewis Hamilton is the clear-cut favorite for this race. The defending world champion and current points leader was .74 seconds ahead of fellow Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Expect Hamilton to win by a country mile on Sunday.
If something does happen to Hamilton, defending race winner and teammate Rosberg would be right there. The German, who will be 30 next month, is the son of 1982 F1 world champion Keke Rosberg, and he considers Monaco to be his home track. Rosberg has the consistency at Monaco; he is coming off of three straight podiums the last three years at this track, winning the last two races here.
Watch Out For
You can never count out 2010-2013 world champion Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari may be a tick or two behind the Mercedes team, but I think Vettel might have a trick or two up his sleeve on Sunday.
Although many are going with pole-sitter Scott Dixon, I’m actually going with the Aussie, Will Power. Although the defending champion is better known for his road course performance, he has had a few wins on ovals in his career. I just have a feeling that it might be time for Power to put his name next to men like Unser, Foyt and Mears.
Tony Kanaan finally broke through in this race and won in 2013. The fan favorite is now a proven winner at the historic speedway, and he’s not a bad bet at all. He could join his friends Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon as multiple-time Indianapolis 500 winners.
Watch Out For
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending winner, starts 16th on Sunday. These may seem like long odds, but the last time a former Indianapolis 500 champion won the race, again, Franchitti in 2012, they started 16th. Expect Hunter-Reay to be in the thick of things before Sunday is over.
Over the past five years, Kevin Harvick has won more races, at three, than anybody else has at this track. Harvick is fast every single week and is slowly putting up one of the greatest statistical seasons in NASCAR history; a top 10 on Sunday has Harvick on track to have 33 total top-10s at season’s end, far and away the best in generations.
Jimmie Johnson hasn’t been too amazing at his home track recently, but the 48 team seems to have finally found their rhythm again. It would be dumb to discount Johnson anytime the series goes home to Charlotte.
Watch Out For
Kyle Busch is coming off a four-month hiatus from racing and a nearly eight-month hiatus from non-plate racing, but this is one of his best racetracks. The Las Vegas native, who became a father on Monday, has scored seven top-fives in the past 10 races at Charlotte and has even scored more points in that time than Kevin Harvick. It may take some time for Busch to get going on Sunday but in a 600-mile race, time is something you definitely have.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
Even though nobody I voted for made up the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2016, I’m still very happy with the class. Every nominee I feel has merit and will someday go in, and I’m happy for all of the inductees and their families.
Some feel that Bruton Smith should not be inducted. I would say no. Bruton has done a lot, love it or hate it, for the sport. Before Bruton Smith, Bristol was a poorly infrastructured track in the middle of nowhere. Bruton literally moved mountains and expanded seating from 71,000 to 147,000 in just four years of ownership. Smith also opened up new markets in Las Vegas and Kentucky while still keeping old tracks such as Charlotte and Atlanta up to standards. Many will point to Smith’s forcing of North Wilkesboro, Rockingham and a Darlington race off the schedule as negatives, but the reality is that those tracks were and are, in markets not far from other racetracks and nobody, including the France family, wanted to update these racetracks for the modern sport. No track even comes close to the 60,000 seats that Rockingham had, and Wilkesborro’s 40,000 seats were a pretty pathetic number even by 1995 when it went off in favor of Loudon and Texas.
Otherwise, there should be little controversy in the class. Terry Labonte’s accolades speak for themselves, Jerry Cook was the only man in modifieds who could keep up with Richie Evans, Curtis Turner was the Babe Ruth of racing, and Bobby Issac, in 1969-1970, probably was the greatest short track driver in Cup history.
Really the only thing about this class I would change is Rick Hendrick going in instead of either Smith or Labonte. Hendrick is the greatest owner of all time, and should have definitely been included. There is no argument you can really make outside of, “Well, he’s active.” This is not the attitude to take because there’s a chance that Hendrick will be in the game for many, many years. Hendrick is easily one of the most deserving nominees on the ballot, and it’s a shame that he won’t be in for yet another year.