Indianapolis 500

Indy provides a treasure trove of memories for Cup drivers

Leave a comment

The memories range from sitting on the couch to a father/son trip and from hearing a grown man say “here kitty, kitty, kitty” to seeing that same man climb a fence.

Regardless the recollection, the memories all point to one location.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As the track prepares to host a historic doubleheader on its road course with the NTT IndyCar Series (noon ET Saturday on NBC) and the Xfinity Series (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC) and then host the Cup Series on the oval (4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), Cup drivers shared some of the special memories they have of the famed speedway.

One of the memories that stands out to Jimmie Johnson, a four-time Indy winner making his final Cup appearance at the track, is watching the 1982 Indianapolis 500. That race that saw A.J. Foyt exit early because of a mechanical issue and then take a hammer at his car to fix the issue. But it was more than that moment that remains with Johnson. 

“I was on the couch with my father and grandfather,” Johnson told NBC Sports of that day. “Their opinion of A.J. and how he handled the situation and took the bull by the horns. (It was) like a guy/man moment with my father and grandfather watching (Foyt) work on his car like he did. I have a lot of warmth inside of me when I think of that moment.”

For 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman, who grew up about 150 miles north of the speedway, his first memory of the track was when he was in grade school and his father took him to the Indianapolis 500. It was rare to have a free weekend even then because Newman often was racing quarter midgets. Only thing is, Newman didn’t see the race. The race was rained out. The experiences there would get better, especially in 2013 when he won from the pole. “That was an amazing weekend,” he said.

Tony Stewart climbed the fence after his 2005 Indy win. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Joey Logano, who seeks his first Brickyard 400 win after finishing second there last season, thinks back to the 2007 race. As Tony Stewart chased Kevin Harvick for the lead, Stewart keyed his radio and said “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” It was a line Stewart used from time to time when he had a strong car and was closing on the leader. Most times Stewart celebrated a win after uttering that line on the radio during a race.

Stewart is at the center of the memories for William Byron, who won the 2017 Xfinity race at the Indy. Byron recalls the first time Stewart won the Brickyard 400 in 2005. Stewart celebrated by climbing the fence. “I thought he was going to fall,” Byron said. “The fans were going crazy. … It was such an awesome moment.”

For Kevin Harvick, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2003 and last year, many early memories center around Rick Mears, who also is from Bakersfield, California. Mears is one of three men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. 

“As a kid it was always a dream to go to Indianapolis and race IndyCars,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “Going to Indianapolis and racing stock cars is still a huge thrill for me. To go there and race on the racetrack that was your childhood hero’s place to be successful and really make a name for himself, to go there and and do that for yourself is pretty special.

“Sometimes you just have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Man am I really living all that out?’ Being able to win at Indy a couple of times now and to win last year, for the first time with the whole family there and to have that iconic picture of the trophy and my family … is something that you can’t replace.”

For others, the memories that stand out are when they got on track at Indy.

“You’ve got to pinch yourself every now and then the first couple of laps around Indy because you’re like this is pretty damn cool,” Corey LaJoie said.

Kurt Busch during the 2014 Indy 500. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch, who will make his 700th career Cup start Sunday at Indianapolis, competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and then the Coca-Cola 600 later that day.

His Indy experience was special but he admits that his laps around the speedway in an IndyCar during qualifying remain vivid.

“Going 230 miles an hour for four laps,” Busch told NBC Sports, “why I decided I was going to jump into an IndyCar I’ll never really quite understand other than I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to go fast.”

 

NASCAR to allow up to 5,000 fans at Talladega Cup race

11 Comments

NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will allow up to 5,000 guests for the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The track also announced that there will be limited motorhome camping spots available outside the track along the backstretch. Tickets are open exclusively on a first-come, first-served basis to fans who purchased tickets or reserved camping for the event, which was previously scheduled for April 26.

Grandstand tickets will be $40 each. Tower tickets will be $50 each. There is no special pricing for kids 12 and younger for the Cup race. A maximum of six seats grouped together will be allowed. The track will automatically block sale of seats to ensure proper spacing for social distancing. All tickets will be delivered via Tickets @ Home. That will allow fans to display their tickets on their mobile device for non-contact entry at the gates or the ability to print tickets at home.

Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president, chief operations and sales officer, said the 5,000-person limit at Talladega was a combination of “what do we feel like is the right stair-step approach” the percent of capacity and consultation with local public officials and medical experts and “what they were comfortable with as well.

“You mix all that together, assess what the right approach is and that’s the number we landed on.”

According to a 2018 annual report by International Speedway Corp., Talladega Superspeedway had a seating capacity of 78,000. A crowd of 5,000 would less than 7% of capacity. The Talladega race follows Sunday’s Miami Cup race, which will have up to 1,000 people in the stands.

Fans must adhere to social distancing of 6 feet. All spectators age 3 and up will be required to wear a face covering. Each spectator will be screened before entering the event gates. Initial screening will include questions regarding current health status and potential exposure, as well as a non-contact temperature check. Spectators also will be required to complete a waiver process.

No tailgating before or after the event will be allowed on track property. Spectators will be directed to specific parking lots. A sequenced ingress/egress procedure into the facility property/gates will be used to minimize large concentrations of people. More info is to  come on specific times and entry locations for spectators. Entry and exit to the grandstands, along with routes to concession stands and restrooms via the frontstretch concourse will adhere to social distancing guidelines. No coolers or ice packs of any type will be permitted inside the entry gates.

Once in grandstands, fans will not be allowed to exit the property and return. Fans will not be allowed in the infield.

The track will have multiple concession stands open with grab-n-go pre-packaged items for $2 to $5 each. Those items include sandwiches, salads, chips, candy, snacks, soft drinks and beer. All transactions will be cashless. Accepted forms of payment: Debit, Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, Apple Pay, Google Pay and  Samsung Pay.

The track states that concessions and restrooms will maintain physical distancing and have more frequent cleaning across high touch locations.

There will be no fans for the Saturday Xfinity race at Talladega.

 

 

Sections in green are where fans will be able to purchase seats for the June 21 Cup race at Talladega.

 

Miami-Dade County has given Homestead-Miami Speedway permission to host up to 1,000 military personnel, first responders and their household members to Sunday’s Cup race there. Those admitted would not be charged and allowed only in the grandstands. They also would be required to undergo a health screening before entering, wear a cloth mask and comply with other social distancing guidelines. They’ll be the first fans to sit in the stands for a NASCAR race. There were some fans at the Charlotte races last month but they were in the condos outside Turn 1 and not allowed in the stands.

Other upcoming NASCAR races will not be held with fans, tracks have announced. Those are Pocono (hosting NASCAR races June 26-28), Indianapolis (July 4-5) and Kentucky (July 9-12).

Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts the July 15 All-Star Race, has stated it is in consultation with state and local health officials about if fans will be allowed at that event but no decision has been made.

Texas Motor Speedway, which hosts NASCAR races July 18-19, has stated it is working with state and local officials to determine the size and scope of fans who will be able to attend those races.

Kansas Speedway has stated that its races July 23-25 will be run without spectators but noted track officials are in consultation with state and local officials to determine if that could change.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which hosts a Cup race Aug. 2, said that it is unclear if fans will be allowed at its events.

NASCAR has not announced its revised schedule beyond Aug. 2.

In IndyCar, Roger Penske, whose company purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told Racer.com that “we are going to run (the Indianapolis 500) with fans.” If the Aug. 23 race on NBC can’t be run with fans, Racer.com stated that the event would move to October.

Indianapolis to run July NASCAR, IndyCar races without fans

1 Comment

Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced Thursday that its NASCAR/IndyCar weekend July 4-5 will be run without fans.

In a letter to fans, Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, wrote:

“After extensive consultation with local and state health officials, we have made the difficult decision to run these events without fans in the stands due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. …

“While the State of Indiana plans to enter Stage 5 of its “Back on Track Indiana” plan on July 4, opening sporting events to fans with social distancing, Marion County – home to IMS – moved to Stage 3 ten days after the rest of the state, and we cannot be confident that it will be ready to move to Stage 5 by the holiday weekend. This approach follows national trends for larger communities, and we must follow those guidelines and the leadership and judgement of our city and state officials during this challenging time.

“Customers with tickets to the impacted events will receive an email from the IMS ticket office with instructions for claiming tickets to our 2021 events, an account credit good for all future events at IMS, or a refund.”

NBC will broadcast the IndyCar and Xfinity races July 4 on the track’s road course and air the Cup race July 5 on the oval.

Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO Mark Miles said in a statement: “We remain committed to welcoming the world’s greatest fans to the Speedway for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in late August.”

The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Aug. 23 on NBC.

No NASCAR race has been run with fans since the sport resumed its season May 17 at Darlington Raceway. When NASCAR announced its revised schedule for May 30-June 21, it stated that none of those events would be held with fans.

 

 

Bump and Run: Key connection between recent Cup winners

Leave a comment

The first three races since Cup season resumed featured no practice and veterans Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski winning. Is this coincidence or is there a connection?

Dustin Long: The key is that these drivers and teams have put themselves in position to win those races. Kevin Harvick had a fast car and took advantage of the No. 1 pit stall at Darlington. Denny Hamlin benefitted from a strong car and good strategy at Darlington. Brad Keselowski bettered Jimmie Johnson on a late restart when Johnson had control as the leader, and Keselowski kept Johnson from taking the lead from him on the final restart. You expect top teams to do well when there’s no practice.

Daniel McFadin: While I can see the advantage to being a long-term veteran during the current situation, I think it’s mostly coincidental. Alex Bowman has been very competitive in two of the three races and he has far less experience than the three drivers who have won so far. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Veterans are expected to do the best and be the best because of their overall experience. So, no, I’m not surprised that they’ve emerged victorious. It’s more a connection based upon experience rather than a coincidence, in my opinion.

 

How would you rate Hendrick Motorsports’ performance in the first three races since the Cup season resumed?

Dustin Long: Above average but there is a level of disappointment. While there’s nothing Chase Elliott can do about being wrecked late at Darlington, there are some issues for each team. For as fast as the Hendrick cars have been, the inability to finish off races stands out from Alex Bowman and his team not able to keep his car fast all night at Charlotte and Darlington to the decision to pit Elliott out of the lead before the overtime restart at the Coke 600 to William Byron not able to have a complete race since the season resumed to Jimmie Johnson losing a lead on a late restart in the Coke  600. There are enough areas for each team to address.

Daniel McFadin:  With three laps to go Sunday night I would have given Hendrick an 8 out of 10. But after Jimmie Johnson’s car was disqualified, I’d drop it down to a 6. While Byron has a stage win, he hasn’t finished better than 12th. Bowman has finished in the top 10 in seven stages, won two and led 205 laps but has finishes of second, 18th and 19th. Throw in Johnson’s DNF in the first Darlington race and Elliott’s problems in the last two races, and it’s a very mixed bag.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tough luck but with signs of promise, most notably for Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson. Yes, both have done well but also have had issues, but I also believe that they will be able to build upon the difficulties they’ve had – Elliott getting booted by Kyle Busch, Johnson spinning at the first Darlington and being DQ’d after the Coke 600 – and will both ultimately wind up in victory lane sooner rather than later.

 

After Simon Pagenaud won last year’s Indianapolis 500, car owner Roger Penske said the free agent “absolutely” would be back with the team. Brad Keselowski gave Penske his first Coca-Cola 600 win since 2010 and second overall. What do you believe are the chances that Keselowski, a free agent after this season, returns to Team Penske?

Dustin Long: It’s as Brad Keselowski said after his Coca-Cola 600 win when asked about his future: “It’s not all up to me. A lot of things have to come together, whether it’s sponsors or whatnot, management things. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Daniel McFadin: I’m skeptical of him returning to drive the No. 2. Penske almost instantly committed to bringing Pagenaud back after he swept the Month of May following a winless year. Keselowski’s won three races in each of the last three seasons (including Penske’s first Darlington win since 1975 and his first Brickyard 400), plus his win Sunday night. The fact Keselowski’s future is still up in the air at this point when Penske has already re-signed Ryan Blaney (who has won once in each of the last three years) is a truly odd situation.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to say Keselowski will remain a Team Penske driver for the rest of his Cup career. But on the flip side, can Keselowski potentially enjoy greater on-track success – and earn more money – if he goes to another team, most notably Hendrick Motorsports with Jimmie Johnson retiring at the end of this season? Keselowski could be the most valuable free agent since Kevin Harvick when he left Richard Childress Racing. But Keselowski is also known for his loyalty, much like Roger Penske is loyal to his drivers, so I won’t be surprised if Keselowski stays with the No. 2 team going forward.

NC Governor says NASCAR teams can work as essential business

Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP
2 Comments

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that NASCAR teams can work in race shops as an essential business, provided their employees maintain social distancing guidelines and local governments don’t have different restrictions, allowing the sport to move closer to resuming its season as early as next month.

He also said public health officials were examining a proposal for NASCAR to race in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans.

Gov. Cooper made the comments during a media briefing Thursday where he announced that the state’s stay-at-home order had been extended to May 8. The stay-at-home order, which began March 30, was to have ended April 29.

Asked about about whether teams could work in their shops, Gov. Cooper said:

“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they can begin working in their garages as an essential business as defined under our executive order. (Teams) are still in contact with local health departments. Local governments may have some different health restrictions.”

Asked about about the possibility of Charlotte Motor Speedway hosting the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Cooper said:

“I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners, they have come forward with a plan to try to protect their employees, a proposal that there would be no fans in the stands. Right now our public health officials are examining their proposals and they’re also talking to local governments there, their (shops) are in several counties around Charlotte, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg about how they would run their (shops) and to get the cars ready, they need a couple of weeks ahead of time. We’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon after we’ve had more conversations with public health officials and with NASCAR officials.”

Since Sunday, five North Carolina state senators, the state’s Speaker of the House in the General Assembly and the state treasurer have all asked Gov. Cooper to allow NASCAR to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend without fans.

NASCAR has looked at resuming the Cup season May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. 

Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said during a meeting Thursday of South Carolina business leaders that Darlington Raceway was scheduled to host a NASCAR race soon, according to The State newspaper.

The reason NASCAR seeks to resume in mid-May at Darlington is because the South Carolina track is about a two-hour drive from many shops. That would allow teams to go to the speedway and return home without needing to stay at a hotel and risk any chance of COVID-19 infection.

“I think it’s really critical to have (races) within driving distance” of race shops, car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports. “It’s all about being smart and being cautious and being aware of everyone around you.”

Gov. Cooper’s decision Thursday comes as governors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have announced this week plans to ease restrictions in those states by the end of the month.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday morning that the state has had 7,608 confirmed COVID-19 cases out of 96,185 completed tests. There are 486 people in North Carolina hospitalized with the coronavirus and 253 have died.

Gov. Cooper defended his decision to extend the stay-at-home order by saying: “I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals, and easing those restrictions now will do that.”

Among the data cited for the extension was the trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days. The Governor wants to see a decrease or sustained leveling of the number of lab-confirmed cases. That continues to increase. He also wants to see a decrease in the percentage of positive tests, which continues to increase at a slow rate. He seeks to see a decrease or sustained leveling of hospitalizations, which has had a slight trend upward.

Other factors include a desire to be able to test 5,000-7,000 a day, to hire 250 additional people to trace COVID-19 cases and have a 30-day supply of gowns and N95 masks, which the state does not have.

“I know the people in our state are eager to move forward and we will get there,” Gov. Cooper.

 and on Facebook