Some recent racing “Super Bowl” moments

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We’re only a couple of weeks out from SpeedWeeks at Daytona, the kickoff to the 2014 NASCAR season. The Daytona 500 is unique in that it’s the “Super Bowl” of the series, but it is the first event of the year rather than the last.

Anyway, as today, most of the country prepares for Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, we’ll run a quick list of recent memorable moments from racing’s “Super Bowl” equivalent events over the last few years.

Because it’s never too early to look ahead to the blue riband events of the year.

NASCAR: Daytona 500

  • 2013: NASCAR’s new Generation-6 car debuts. Danica Patrick scores the pole, and a media blitz follows. Order is restored in the galaxy when Jimmie Johnson wins.
  • 2012: Rain pushes the 500 to Monday night, then a bizarre crash occurs under a yellow when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet drier. Underdog race leaders Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill get freight trained on the eventual restart after a red flag, and Matt Kenseth wins.
  • 2011: Trevor Bayne takes a shock win for the Wood Brothers, after David Ragan is penalized for changing lanes on a restart.

IndyCar; Indianapolis 500

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan makes the eventual winning move on a restart with a few laps to go, with his elusive first ‘500 win confirmed as longtime friend and former teammate Dario Franchitti crashes in Turn 1.
  • 2012: Franchitti holds off the charge from Takuma Sato, who loses control after a passing attempt into Turn 1 (the simply awesome Japanese call is linked here). Franchitti’s win, we had no idea at the time, would be his third ‘500 and last of his illustrious IndyCar career.
  • 2011: The centennial ‘500 featured a dramatic finish, as rookie JR Hildebrand crashed lapping fellow rookie Charlie Kimball in Turn 4. Hildebrand slides to the line, but the late Dan Wheldon passes his former car to pull the popular upset for Bryan Herta Autosport.

Formula 1: Monaco Grand Prix

  • 2013: Nico Rosberg dominates an attrition-filled day to score his second career victory for Mercedes.
  • 2012: Michael Schumacher is the fastest qualifier, but dropped five positions to serve an avoidable contact penalty from the previous Grand Prix. Mark Webber capitalizes, en route to his second Monaco victory for Red Bull.
  • 2011: A late red flag for an accident shifts tire strategy, and Sebastian Vettel is able to hold off fellow World Champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button for what has been, thus far, his only Monaco win.

Sports cars/FIA WEC: 24 Hours of Le Mans

  • 2013: Early-race accident that claims Allan Simonsen’s life casts a shadow over the rest of the race. Audi still wins, with eventual FIA World Endurance Champions Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval behind the wheel of the R18 e-tron quattro.
  • 2012: McNish’s late race charge against his teammates Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler ends with a spin, so the defending champs win their second straight race. Anthony Davidson goes for this wild ride in his Toyota, while the other Toyota hits the debuting DeltaWing and driver Satoshi Motoyama tries in vain to repair the wounded prototype.
  • 2011: Audi loses McNish’s car with this horror smash, then loses Mike Rockenfeller’s car in another awful accident. But the one remaining Audi, driven by Treluyer, Lotterer and Fassler, hold off three Peugeots for the win. Simon Pagenaud’s efforts in the new 908 came up a scant 13 seconds short after 24 hours.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.