One Day, 1100 Miles

 Memorial Day means one thing. It means saluting the troops who are currently fighting for our country and the troops who have given their life's to protect this great country. The day before Memorial Day also means one thing. RACING! The Sunday before Memorial Day is historically known as the greatest day of the year for a race fan. Why? Well, it isn't every day you get the historic Indianapolis 500 and the longest NASCAR race, the Coca Cola 600 on the same day. One day, 1100 miles

Indianapolis 500

 All of the hype surrounding the running of the 89th annual Indianapolis 500 centered on female driver Danica Patrick. Janet Guthrie, Lynn St. James, and Sarah Fisher had all tried to win the race before, but for the first time many thought that a woman might actually get to sip the milk in victory lane.

The day before the event former IRL driver and current NASCAR driver Robby Gordon struck up some controversy when he claimed that Danica Patrick had an unfair advantage because she weighed nearly 100 pounds lighter then a lot of the male drivers in the event. The IRL didn't seem to mind these accusations, after all Patrick is the greatest thing to hit the sport in over a decade.

The event started with pole sitter Tony Kanaan leading the pack off 33 cars to the green flag to begin the event. Kanaan didn't keep the lead to long as Roger Penske's driver Sam Hornish Jr., from Defiance (what a great name of a town for a driver to be from), Ohio. For most of the first 100 laps of the 200 lapper Hornish Jr., Kanaan, and Kanaan's teammate Dario Franchitti led the way in the Indy 500, while Danica Patrick stayed in fourth place (exactly where she had qualified). On lap 78 of the event the second caution came out when AJ Foyt IV, laps down, made contact with the #36 car of Bruno Junqueira, sending Junqueria's car into the wall. Junqueria suffered minor back pain in the incident and was sent to a local hospital for further observation.

 While under this very caution Danica Patrick made a rookie mistake stalling the car in the pits. The mistake sent Patrick from fourth position to sixteenth, last on the lead lap. Not to fear though, in the previous year's Indy500 a rookie by the name of Buddy Rice, driving for Rahal/Letterman (Patrick's team) had stalled his car on pit lane and continued on to win the race. Another caution came out on lap 113 as the #70 car of Richie Hearn and the #9 Chip Gannasi owned car of Scott Dixon made contact and both went into the wall. As the caution came out Kanaan was in the lead of the race.

After the restart Kanaan and Franchitti shared the lead back in forth. On lap 147 Sam Hornish Jr., who had earlier led a race high 77 laps, wrecked hard into the wall after making slight contact with Champ car star Sebastian Bourdeis (who earlier this year won an IROC race at Texas Motor Speedway). Following pit stops under the caution #26 Dan Wheldon came out on top on the race. Wheldon, who had won 3 out of 4 races so far in the IRL season, hadn't even been talked about thus far in the race.

On lap 175 after not pitting during a caution Danica Patrick took the lead of the Indy 500, it was the first time a woman had ever led laps at Indy. Patrick held onto the lead for many laps, but she was low on fuel and had to conserve the best she could. In the end she couldn't conserve fuel and still drive competitively enough to remain in the lead. On lap 193 Wheldon regained the lead of the Indianapolis 500. On lap 198 a caution came out when Sebastian Bourdeis hit the wall, and that was the race. Dan Wheldon had won the Indianapolis 500.

Coca Cola 600 @ Lowe's Motor Speedway

The Coca Cola 600 is the longest race of the season. It is 400 laps, 600 miles of the most grueling, intense racing of the year. As the end of the 600 miles nears drivers are fatigued and engines are always iffy on whether they will make it to the checkered flag. On this evening many drivers wouldn't have to worry about their engines expiring or drivers being fatigued as not many drivers would be around to see the end of this race. A bad racing surface due to the recent levigating process and idiotic moves by a few drivers would cost many cars to end up on the wrecker and the remaining cars to look like a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, rather than Charlotte. "Rocketman" Ryan Newman set on the pole for the Coca Cola 600, as he smashed the former track record.

 More than five hours later after a NASCAR record 22 cautions, Bobby Labonte found himself leading the race on a restart with just a few laps remaining and Jimmie Johnson #48, Lowe's Chevrolet lurking a few cars behind. On the final lap Johnson pulled right alongside of Labonte's Chevrolet, but it didn't appear that he would have enough for Labonte.

Wrong! On the last turn of the 600-miler Johnson edged his nose just ahead of Labonte's to win his record third consecutive Coca Cola 600. Johnson record breaking performance on this night was marred by many cautions and some crazy incidents. Just a few laps into the race last year's Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch lost control of his Jack Rousch owned Ford on the new slick surface heading hard into the wall. Busch would repair his car and return to the race about 100 laps later, but his night just got worse as he once again lost control of his Ford and ended up hitting the wall even harder. He wasn't the only one.

Elliott Sadler and Jamie McMurray both lost control of their cars on the slick track surface and spun through the infield grass during the night. While leading the race late Joe Nemechek was running away from the pack and looking forward to his first race victory of the 2005 season when his car ended up sideways and backed its way into the wall. The race also included idiotic moves by two drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers.

Around the midpoint way of the race Dale Earnhardt Jr. was following behind his teammate Michael Waltrip when he got into the back of Waltrip sending him spinning. Former Cup champions Matt Kenseth and Terry Labonte were both involved in Jr.'s idiotic mess. Labonte injured his foot in the accident and was taken to a local hospital for x-rays; that turned up negative. Shortly after the stupid incident between the DEI teammates, Hendrick driver Brian Vickers, who has led the most laps during the race decided to add an idiotic moment of his own. Vickers, while following Bill Elliott, attempted to bump draft the veteran racer and caused a big wreck that included his teammate Jeff Gordon. The drivers on the Nextel Cup circuit need to learn that bump drafting only belongs on the restrictor plates tracks like Daytona and Talladega and has no business whatsoever at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The terrible track surface caused enough problems on its own during this night, stupid moves by Earnhardt Jr. and Vickers just added to the fray.


Julian Spivey

Editor and Chief of Sports Magazine






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