DiZinno: Detroit’s determination, event’s effort shine through on a gloomy weekend

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In the moment on Sunday, exhaustion and frustration reigned. Even if the rain itself didn’t.

The post-May, post-Indianapolis 500 hangover is real, and it was obvious throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock that the run to Belle Isle Park in Detroit straight after a full month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is arguably one of the toughest challenges of the season.

There was already enough of a challenge for all the crews, in the days after a 500-mile race, to swap the cars back over from super speedway to street course specifications if it was the same car, or to bring back their road and street course chassis after the ‘500.

Then there’s the fact that for most crew members, they’re leaving the comforts of home and going back on the road. Detroit, Texas and Toronto follow in succession and complete a brutal run of 10 consecutive working weekends for the series.

Then note that this prep work was done in advance of the lone doubleheader race of the season.

Then add how ridiculous the second half of race two was, with seven cautions in 33 laps and contact occurring around every bend.

Add in the persistent on-and-off rain, severe temperature drops, and you have the ingredients for what on paper should have been a miserable weekend in Detroit.

And yet, it wasn’t.

Challenging? Certainly. Chaotic? At times. Perplexing? Definitely, depending on what strategy you were on in either of Saturday or Sunday’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans.

But miserable? No, not really.

At the end of the day, Detroit was not the showcase race IndyCar needed following a thrilling Indianapolis 500, but then again, it’s its own showcase for an entirely different reason.

Detroit and Indianapolis cannot be compared side-by-side other than the fact Detroit is now the event following Indianapolis.

Each must be looked at in its own context, now four years in to Detroit’s renewal back on the calendar, the week after Indy.

Indianapolis boiled down to arguably the most exciting three-way battle for the win in the event’s 99-year history.

Detroit, meanwhile, featured seemingly all but three cars in with a shot at a win or podium contention over both days. There were 17 of the 23 starters who scored at least one top-10 finish in one of the two Detroit races (the six who didn’t: Tony Kanaan, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball, James Jakes, Stefano Coletti and Rodolfo Gonzalez).

Indianapolis ended with drivers from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing sweeping the top four positions.

Detroit saw six different drivers from five different teams score a podium finish, and witnessed two more first-time winners this season in Carlos Munoz and Sebastien Bourdais on the top step of the podium.

Indianapolis showcased speed. Detroit showcased strategy.

Indianapolis plays to pageantry. Detroit plays to the automotive sector, particularly General Motors in its home race.

Indianapolis is entrenched as an event, with an audience so much bigger than any other event on the calendar.

Detroit is on its way back as an event, and the efforts and dedication of all the Detroit Grand Prix staff must be noted. Their enthusiasm and positivity in the wake of trying, miserable conditions is to be commended – as are the fans who stuck it out both days. The efforts of Bud Denker and the Penske Corporation show through in what is a first-class event in nearly every facet.

For Detroit’s sake, it was a shame the weather was what it was this past weekend, which dampened the overall vibe. But those involved made the best of it as possible.

Suddenly half the season is already in the books, and the final eight race weekends of the year beckon over the next three months.

Detroit was not the best weekend of the season for IndyCar, but it was made a lot better than it could have been given all the collective efforts of the team crews, who put together the cars for two races, and the event staff, who fought through trying circumstances.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)