Motorsports News - June 3, 2021

Motorsports News - June 3, 2021

History was made over the weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when forty-six- year-old, Helio Castro-Neves won his fourth Indy 500.  by David Vodden

Castro-Neves joined A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the great racing event.  Castro-Neves had won his three previous 500-mile races driving for Roger Penske who cast him aside in Indy car in favor of younger drivers now on his team. His win came with an underdog team with small resources but sponsored by Sirius radio. He won by being in the right place at the right time and having the experience to make the winning move when it counted the most. Castro-Neves was over the top with emotion upon winning the event and produced one of the most passionate, unusual and fun-to watch victory celebrations in my long history of watching the race. His trademark climbing of the track fence after winning earned him the name “Spider man”.

He earned $1.8m dollars for finishing first and a very-important place in the history of the race.  Originally from Brazil, the very-popular driver won the 500 in 2001, 2002 and again in 2009, driving for Roger Penske. This year’s win came twelve years after his last win and twenty years after his first in 2001. It places him in the unique position of potentially becoming the first five-time winner of the greatest spectacle in racing! The other four-time winners had similar gaps in achieving their fourth win. Foyt won his first 500 in 1961 and his last in 1977, a span of sixteen years. The gap between his third win [1967] and his fourth [1977] was ten years.  AL Unser Sr., won for the first time in 1970 and for the fourth time in 1987, a span of 17 years.  The gap between his third win and his fourth was 9 years. Ironically, Al Unser Sr., was also dropped from his Penske race team and was without a ride in 1987. He spent the month of May that year seeking a ride and was rejected until Penske driver, Danny Ongias crashed and was unable to compete. Penske took a display car out of the lobby of his showrooms in Pennsylvania and set it up for All Unser Sr., who went on to win for the “Captain” and score his historic fourth title as a 500 winner. Rick Mears had a twelve-year gap between his first 500 win and his last in 1991.

Alex Palou took second in the 500 followed by Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward and the first American driver, Ed Carpenter. The race was good in most respects with lots of passing and colorful racing but suffered from too few yellows and the reality that all the cars are the same other than some have Chevy motors and some have Honda motors.

The personal drama was high in the 500. Likely winner, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi were victims of lady luck when Stefan Wilson crashed entering the pit lane, blocking it off and causing Dixon, Rossi, and some other drivers to run out of fuel because they could not get into their pits. Their dry fuel tanks made re-starting their cars difficult and put them down a lap and out of contention. Being down a lap is where a few yellow flags may have changed the outcome of the race.  Twenty-two cars finished on the lead lap. Only three drivers were knocked out of the race. They were Stefan Wilson [crash], Graham Rahal, [crash] and Simona De Silvestro whose problems put her thirty-one laps in arrears at the finish. The event was completed in 2-hours, 37 minutes and 19 seconds and was the fastest 500 in time duration in history at 190.690 average miles per hour for the distance.

The other big weekend race, billed as the Coke 600, was a romp by Elk Grove, California driver Kyle Larsen. He led 326 of the 400 laps run and won all four stages that made up the event. Typical of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was little on-track drama in the form of crashes or other incidents. The three stages leading up to the finish accounted for three track caution periods while Ryan Newman and “fluid on the track” caused the other two. The race ran 3-hours, 58 minutes, and 45 seconds. The average speed was 150.76 miles per hour.  Larsen won by 10 seconds over teammate Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch in his Gibbs Toyota. William Byron got fourth in the long race with another Hendrick driver, Alex Bowman, home fifth.

 The racing drama mostly involved Larsen, Elliott, and William Byron, fighting for the lead. The win by Larsen put Hendrick motorsports over the top in total NASCAR Cup wins eclipsing the old mark held by Petty Motorsports at 268 Cup wins.  The Indy 500 crowd seemed huge on television whereas the NASCAR crowd, stated to be 50,000, not so much. Both events were replete with Military salutes and praise with Indy winning in this category for me based on quality of the effort over the volume that exuded from the Charlotte event. All of it was good.

After winning at Charlotte and scoring his second CUP win of the year, Larsen went to Lawrenceburg Speedway and won in the World of Outlaws driving his familiar Paul Silva #57 sprint car. Before the Coke 600, Larsen won in a winged sprint car race at Atomic Speedway scoring a $20K pay day. Kyle Busch, when asked about the dominance of Larsen and the Hendrick race team in general, said that the Chevy cars clearly have the edge right now and that the Hendrick team has a “Super star driver in Larsen.  Worthy praise from one of the best. For the most part, all of the NASCAR drivers give high praise to Larsen who has eight CUP wins, two in the last fourteen races with Hendrick and six with his former “B”- team, Ganassi Racing.  

NASCAR CUP racing is at Sonoma Raceway this weekend starting yesterday. No Xfinity as they race on television on the road course in Mid-Ohio and the trucks are off for the weekend. John Hunter Nemechek won the truck race at Charlotte last weekend and Ty Gibbs won the Xfinity race the next day. The eighteen-year old grandson of Joe Gibbs also won the ARCA race later on Saturday at the Charlotte facility leading every lap in what is clearly a case of having the best of everything and being able to use it to score the wins.

Formula One is in Azerbaijan this weekend which is a most unusual course. Watch and see on ESPN. NHRA is in Virginia and can be seen on FOX Sports 1. The Indy Cars are off this weekend.

Use YOUTUBE to see World of Outlaw and other sprint car races as well as Moto GP and special small track events around the country.