IndyCar, NASCAR roar­ing into show­case month of May

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — The most pro­lific month in mo­tor­sports ar­rived with two strong races with IndyCar and NASCAR both open­ing May with mo­men­tum-grab­bing en­ter­tain­ing events that should carry the se­ries through their Me­mo­rial Day show­cases.

Si­mon Pa­ge­naud, his fu­ture with Team Penske shaky be­cause of a 21-race los­ing streak, stalked five­time IndyCar cham­pion Scott Dixon in the rain around In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way in the clos­ing laps of its road course race. Then the French­man com­pleted a phe­nom­e­nal late pass to win the Grand Prix and prove he’s fight­ing hard for his job.

Hours later at Kansas Speed­way, Brad Ke­selowski closed out one of the more en­ter­tain­ing NASCAR races of the sea­son with an over­time vic­tory that gave team owner Roger Penske a sweep of the day. More specif­i­cally, six dif­fer­ent Penske driv­ers tal­lied five vic­to­ries in four se­ries span­ning nine days to open May — The Cap­tain’s fa­vorite time of the year.

Penske, a 17-time win­ner of the In­di­anapo­lis 500, this year cel­e­brates the 50th an­niver­sary of his first Indy en­try.

This is a cel­e­bra­tory month for mo­tor­sports, a time for se­ries to shine lead­ing into the Sun­day be­fore Me­mo­rial Day, con­sid­ered the biggest sin­gle day of rac­ing in the world. For­mula One will scream through the streets of Monaco early May 26, then IndyCar and “The Great­est Spec­ta­cle in Rac­ing” take the stage at IMS. NASCAR closes the day with the Coca-Cola 600, a gru­el­ing race of at­tri­tion and one of the few re­main­ing crown jewel events on the sched­ule.

The stage is set for IndyCar and NASCAR to daz­zle a new au­di­ence, make new fans, and prove rac­ing isn’t a dy­ing sport.

Both se­ries got strong starts with last Satur­day’s dou­ble­header, a Pa­ge­naud and Ke­selowski sweep, and the an­tic­i­pa­tion car­ries into Tues­day when In­di­anapo­lis of­fi­cially opens for the 500. IndyCar is en­joy­ing a resur­gence and slow, steady growth in both the se­ries and its spot­light event.

McLaren is en­ter­ing the 500 as an in­de­pen­dent en­try — the first McLaren at Indy since 1976 — and Fernando Alonso, the pop­u­lar re­tired For­mula One cham­pion, is back for a sec­ond at­tempt at win­ning the “Triple Crown.” Oriol Servia was ex­pected to be­come the 36th en­trant, which means real bump­ing in this week­end’s qual­i­fy­ing. Three driv­ers won’t make the 500, and Penske has joined Michael An­dretti and Chip Ganassi among the heavy­weight own­ers won­der­ing if IndyCar’s full-time teams should be ex­empt from bump­ing.

A new qual­i­fy­ing for­mat will make for a tense Sun­day ses­sion, all played out live as NBC re­hearses for the 500 and its first broad­cast of one of sports tele­vi­sion’s true iconic prop­er­ties.

NASCAR, mean­while, has its $1 mil­lion All-Star event Satur­day night at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way and with it comes a chance for the se­ries to string to­gether con­sec­u­tive com­pet­i­tive events. A snoozer of a race two weeks ago at Dover cre­ated the feel­ing a driver mutiny was loom­ing over a rules pack­age that has so far failed to meet ex­pec­ta­tions.

NASCAR this sea­son in­tro­duced the new pack­age in an ef­fort to im­prove the rac­ing, but many driv­ers warned it wasn’t go­ing to work. The pack­age hasn’t been aw­ful, and many of this year’s races have been watch­able, which is an im­prove­ment from last sea­son. But the pack­age has not lived up to the hype and driv­ers have voiced their frus­tra­tion.

Many driv­ers spent last week com­plain­ing NASCAR will not lis­ten to their in­put and the lousy Dover race is the just re­sult. But then came Satur­day night at Kansas Speed­way, in cooler tem­per­a­tures, and the pack­age fi­nally de­liv­ered a com­pelling race. The race went to over­time and the 23 lead changes were one short of the to­tal com­bined lead changes in both Kansas Cup races last year.

That gives hope for the All-Star race, which last year was a de facto test of the new rules pack­age. The race was cre­ated as a no­holds-barred Satur­day night shootout for a cool $1 mil­lion pay­day and for two decades it de­liv­ered. But the lus­ter has worn off — partly be­cause the rac­ing just hasn’t been very good — and Char­lotte track pres­i­dent Mar­cus Smith is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing the event to Nashville next sea­son if Speed­way Mo­tor­sports Inc. can get that prop­erty up and run­ning.

Brian Law­der­milk / Getty Im­ages

Brad Ke­selowski closed out one of the more en­ter­tain­ing NASCAR races of the sea­son with an over­time vic­tory at Kansas Speed­way Satur­day.

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