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Ingram: Crashing, Not Crying On Racing’s Big Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2011

Dan Wheldon celebrates his victory in Sunday's Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

1. Big motor races are so often a big start, a long middle and a big finish. That was not the case on this Memorial Day weekend. At Indy and Charlotte, big starts were followed by only a few muddles in the middle and exceptionally big surprise endings.

2. In Charlotte, was it a moral victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he took the lead on the final re-start following some frammin’ and bammin’ only to crash metaphorically and run out of gas with the checkered flag in sight?

There’s usually no crying in motor racing and there’s certainly no moral victories, despite Earnhardt Jr. coming so close during one of the longest and most competitive day-night imbroglios at the Earnhardt family’s home track.

The moral to the story: one day soon, Dale Jr. returns to victory lane. No wonder he was relatively upbeat after losing on empty. And wouldn’t it be better to win a race outright instead of on fuel mileage – again.

The end to  Earnhardt Jr.’s losing streak is likely to coincide with the end of the stories, opinions and conjecture about “The End Is Nigh” for NASCAR and the Sprint Cup. Come to think of it, we’re already

Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to a disappointing finish at CMS. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)


3. At the Indy 500, for the third time in the last 20 years, the unexpected leader got nipped by a veteran at the checkered flag in an extraordinary finish. This time a rookie’s crumpled car raced time and immortality along the front straight wall only to come up a couple seconds shy of victory.

Alas, I have a question. If rookie J.R. Hildebrand hits the wall in the last corner, doesn’t that result in a caution, the caution lights go on and the race order is fixed according to the last timing loop with no passing allowed?

Instead, race winner Dan Wheldon stayed in the throttle as Hildebrand slid along the wall all the way to the flag stand and nipped him by a couple seconds.

Great finish to a fabulous race. That’s the way it should end. But was there a pregnant pause on the caution lights? The lights are the official arbiter when it comes to scoring – not the yellow flag waving at the start-finish.

To his credit, J.R. Hildebrand didn’t cry over missing the chance to spill the post-race milk. It was Wheldon who came close to tears on the subject of his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

4. There was a time when I would cover the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte,

Dan Wheldon takes yellow and checkered flags to win the 2011 Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

immediately fly to Connecticut for the Memorial Day Monday sports car race in Lime Rock and catch the Indy 500 replay on ABC in between. Meeting weekly magazine deadlines was no easy chore under this scenario and there was a lot of work done in airports, on planes and while running low on fuel (i.e. sleep).

There was also a singular time when this writer covered the CART race at Nazareth on a Saturday, then the Indy 500 (where Juan Pablo Montoya blew away the field) on Sunday. I went to Monaco the following Sunday and after that race moved on to the Le Mans 24-hour.

Yesterday, this writer’s high-mileage butt was fixed in a chair in front of the TV to watch Monaco, Indy and the Coca-Cola 600. Well, there was a beer break or two and some friends dropped by to add more than a little local color.

No regrets.

5. Isn’t it a shame that announcers so often fail in their role as journalists and too often opt for entertainment and political correctness with a nod to their hefty salaries and cushy relationships with participants and sanctioning bodies?

Still, it was a memorable line from Chris Myers during Fox Sports coverage about “Larry the Cable Guy II,” referring to Larry McReynolds whenever he appears on Speed TV – which is often.


6. Is Kimi Raikkonen for real when it comes to racing in NASCAR?

Kimi Raikkonen and Kyle Busch: The start or end of a beautiful relationship? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

The Finnish driver’s first two efforts aboard a Truck and a Nationwide entry in Charlotte certainly confirmed the former world champion has the car control and discipline to race in the Sprint Cup. Alas, Raikkonen could hardly be expected to set the woods on fire in his first oval races and was a mid-field runner at best.

Just a hunch, but I doubt he pursues NASCAR on a full-time basis, which his former F1 teammate Juan Pablo Montoya says is necessary for success.

It’s just not a good fit.

The waifish blond F1 refugee elicited a lukewarm response from fans in Charlotte, said nary a word about the boys back in the shop at Kyle Busch Motorsports who worked themselves to the bone to add entries for him, and kept the media on a very short leash about future plans. (In turn the NASCAR media regulars continue to regard him as a curiosity.)

Since he first arrived in F1, Raikkonen has had the world beating a path to his door, starting with the Sauber team, then McLaren and finally Ferrari, where he won the championship in 2007. After F1, the French car company Citroen brought him into rallying in 2010 – a winless season. Last fall, Raikkonen flirted with returning to F1 by signing with Renault. Meanwhile, he cut a deal to try NASCAR under sponsorship from Perky Jerky and subsequently decided to run at Charlotte.

Now that he’s tried his hand elsewhere, F1 is the only series where Raikkonen, who is now running his own World Rally Championship team after parting with Citroen’s factory team, remains worth his weight in gold. Having bolted from McLaren and Ferrari, his current options at the front of the F1 field are Renault and Red Bull. Both could well be looking to sign a driver before the year is out.

I’d like to be wrong on this, because Raikkonen adds a new dimension to NASCAR. Given the right circumstances, with the same dedication I believe he could at least match what Montoya has accomplished.

7. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, nor am I claiming to have inside info on this or to be the first to

The racing world ponders the future of highly bankable Danica Patrick. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

recognize the possibilities. But it makes me wonder if this year’s noon start (EDT) for the Indy 500, the first in five years, has a lot to do with getting Danica Patrick back to the Brickyard in May next year. The earlier start, it is quite clear, is a conscious effort to open the door again to an Indy-Charlotte double.

Patrick is ranked as one of the world’s top-paid female athletes by Forbes magazine. Because of name recognition, personality and driving ability, Patrick can name her own terms for next year’s expected transition into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup. Those terms could well include running at Indy, then flying to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. A deal to do the double with the Stewart-Haas team could bring former IRL champion Tony Stewart back into the frame at Indy as a team owner as well.

It’s a matter of opinion whether a driver doing the double helps or hurts one race or the other. But if Danica does the double after doing the Daytona 500, it would likely benefit both series – and bring in ample sponsorship.

8. A well-placed source in the NASCAR garage once told this writer in confidence that “Kurt and Kyle Busch have never been accountable to anybody.” That comment came shortly after one of Kurt Busch’s rude outbursts toward NASCAR officials on the pit road at Darlington a few years back.

Just when you thought maybe Kyle Busch, now a team owner, had broken out of the unruly, anti-

Joe Gibbs and Kyle Busch were in serious moods at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

authoritarian streak that seems to run so deeply and relentlessly in the two brothers, he gets caught for driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone in Iredell (N.C.) County.


A friend asked what Joe Gibbs, the Sprint Cup team owner of Kyle’s cars, must have been thinking when he received the phone call informing him of this particular episode. After coaching John Riggins in the NFL and Tony Stewart in the Sprint Cup,  if nothing else Gibbs certainly has experience in these matters.

9. Speaking of Kyle Busch, some drivers are worth the price of admission. In F1, that guy would not be this year’s five-time race winner and the victor between the legendary barriers of Monaco, one Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. Instead, I would nominate Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes, the driver acknowledged as the best passer in F1 – except by race stewards.

At Monaco, Hamilton was once again called by the stewards after the race to explain his actions. He was penalized following contact with Felipe Massa of Ferrari and then later was involved in the crash of Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado on the race’s last re-start following a safety car period.

Earlier, Hamilton’s pass of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was a thing of guts and beauty. Hamilton reminds me of Alex Zanardi, who constantly raised hackles in CART, mostly because he passed at times and in places that were so unexpected. He didn’t brake late, he braked less.

10. In a poll of writers in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center prior to the Sprint All-Star race, I picked Kevin Harvick to win. Not a favorite among the media members, whom he persistently rubs the wrong way, Harvick rarely runs well in Charlotte. On a relatively long list, mine was the only vote in favor of this Richard Childress Racing driver.

Alas, there’s a determination to Harvick and his team this year that stamps him as a potential winner every week. His victory in the points race at Charlotte on pure persistence and luck reinforces that notion.

11. Whew. Bedtime.

Quote of the Week: “What do you want me to do, get out and peddle with my feet?” Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s response after his tank ran dry when his spotter encouraged him to keep coming on the last lap in Charlotte.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2011


  • this race was crazy. any body but kevin. hes a jerk. but hes just lucky.

  • Andrew D says:

    Of course they waited until Wheldon passed before turning on the caution. That was the correct move. Do you really think that someone who stuffs it into the wall on the last lap deserves a win? Are you suggesting that Junior should have stuffed it into the wall in the first turn on lap 199? He knew he was taking a risk on gas. I think NASCAR has a rule against this yellow flag on last lap scenario. Indycar will certainly pen one shortly.

    Junior will win a race soon. Ten more wins in his career are not as certain.

    Raikkonen has a quirky character that isn’t a good match for the gregarious NASCAR circus. Couple this with the fact that every other series is moaning about the lack of American drivers. Other cultures give racing the same priority that we give football. They’ll kick our butts if we let them.

    Not much of a racing journalist if you didn’t realize that Randy Bernard previously said he was moving the start time of Indy in order to get NASCAR drivers to do the double. You do prove your stick-and-ball cred when you tie everything Indy to Danica. That said, I agree that Danica’s contract will allow her to run the Indy 500 in perpetuity. She’s not likely to be in serious contention for points so missing Charlotte won’t be a big deal. No, don’t expect her to do the double more than once.