DiZinno: After qualifying, 100th Indy 500 has plenty of dream stories

Josef and Hinch. Photo: IndyCar
2 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS – For months, hell, even years, anticipation has been building for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

If you think about it, preparing for this 500 goes back to 2008 when the formal unveil of the “Centennial Era” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was launched. And so began a three-year period celebrating the track’s opening (1909) through to the first running (1911) some 100 years later.

But because World War II stopped four years of running (and World War I stopped two), it’s taken until 2016 for the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing to actually take place.

And for all the bitching and kvetching I’ve heard in the paddock, in my five full-time years covering the Verizon IndyCar Series – whether it’s about schedules, management changes, drop-off of teams, “insert your favorite driver here” doesn’t have a ride, TV ratings, the latest proposed international race that won’t happen or a lack of promotion/activation/marketing – this Indy 500 has the potential and the story lines to actually justify the hype and properly drown out the negativity.

The buildup to this year’s ‘500 in season 2016, naturally, has been par for the course.

We lost a race unexpectedly (Boston); INDYCAR then worked a minor miracle to pull together Watkins Glen as an 11th hour replacement in two weeks.

We had drivers bitching about the infamous domed skids and the cars being harder to drive. Well it turns out they are harder to drive and the depth of talent – 1 to 33 – in this year’s field, is perhaps better than ever.

We had the usual “ARE WE GONNA GET TO 33 CARS?” drama. We had one team fall through nearly a year after a press conference announcing its plans. We had no bumps. Yet we’re coming off of two of the most fascinating qualifying days that IMS has witnessed in recent years.

It now sets up a week of buildup about the race, about the drivers, about the stories – that properly set the scene for this race that has been oh-so-hyped.

HINCH, AND THAT ONE THING WE CAN’T FORGET

Schmidt, Hinchcliffe and Ric Peterson. Photo: IndyCar
Schmidt, Hinchcliffe and Ric Peterson. Photo: IndyCar

On pole, you have James Hinchcliffe. You know the story by now; he damn near lost his life here 12 months ago and I’ve lost track of how many times the damn #HinchI5Back hashtag has appeared in my timeline since.

Hinch was back when he tested at Road America last September. That was it. He didn’t need to be back again, because he already was.

And since that day, all that’s been building has been the meshing, the performance of he and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team as a whole.

“I’m super happy for Hinch, he’s one of my really good friends,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who starts third next Sunday.

“To be sitting in his hospital bed a year ago.  I was there with him, his first Road America test.  And I thought to myself, because I was asking my guys, I thought to myself, ‘It’s going to take him a day to get back in the mix.  That’s a big jump back in.’

“I remember asking like two hours into the test, ‘How quick is Hinch?’ You know, he’s a tenth and a half quicker than us right now.” 

“I was blown away.  I couldn’t believe right away he was back into it. That just shows the courage he has and how resilient you have to be. It’s incredible. I don’t think anybody can really describe almost losing your life out here on the same track and get back in and doing 240 (mph) into the corner and doing what he is doing. It is just incredible. Absolutely incredible. Very deserving pole winner. ”

And does Hinch like the continual talking about it? Not really, but he gets why he has to do it.

“Honestly?  Yeah, definitely (I was sick of it),” he said. “But I get it. It was a big deal. It was a big deal to me, too.

“And I understand that. And I really appreciated that people wanted to hear the story, wanted to tell the story for me. There was a lot of really, really nice pieces done, a lot of nice tributes done in that sense. But no, then you’re coming back to this place and you want to focus on the here and now and not remember or focus on hitting the wall at 125 Gs.

“So there was definitely a point where it’s kind of like, “Hey, is there anything else you want to talk about? Let’s lead with that and kind of see where we go from there. But we’ll see. Hopefully this is the topic of conversation for the next week and a week from now we’ve got an even better story to tell.”

THE ‘MERICA FREEDOM TRAIN STARTING P2 AND P3

Hinch winning would justify that “better story to tell” card.

Another in that department? That would be Josef Newgarden, who starts second.

I’ve lost track of how many Hinch and Josef videos I’ve seen. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked or wondered, hey, there’s 19-20 other drivers in the series, why not use them?

But IndyCar’s two arguably most marketable stars are starting 1-2 next Sunday for a race that is almost guaranteed to have massive eyeballs.

A Newgarden win would justify the hype for the driver who’s been hailed as IndyCar’s “next big thing” for five years. I’ll admit to having jumped on the Newgarden Fan Train early when he won the Freedom 100 here in 2011; I’ve watched as others have hopped on other cars over the later months.

Hunter-Reay's No. 28 DHL Honda. Photo: IndyCar
Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda. Photo: IndyCar

Hunter-Reay? He’s got a better story line this year, almost, than last year when he entered as defending champion. For one, Honda has a chance. For two, he’d add a second win to match his number of kids. Ryden stole the show here in 2014 in his DHL firesuit; Ryden and Rocsen won a press conference earlier this week. And his would be a comeback story, after driver, team and Honda endured a mostly nightmarish 2015.

A Honda win? That’d be a great story. It’s a story of a manufacturer living up to its Japanese roots, the old “Phoenix rising from the ashes” line, and making the necessary gains to its product to win. And it would be greater here because this is a track where the INDYCAR-allowed update boxes don’t have the same huge impact.

AND THERE’S NEARLY 30 MORE WOULD-BE OUTSTANDING STORIES TO COME

Bell and engineer Craig Hampson. Photo: IndyCar
Bell and engineer Craig Hampson. Photo: IndyCar

You look at others in the field and the positive story lines keep flowing:

  • NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell has starred as the month’s top one-off entry. He’s got the veteran guile, experience and tenacity to contend in his pizza delivery mobile on wheels.
  • Mikhail Aleshin has been exciting as hell and doing the near impossible: making a bunch of Hoosiers root and cheer for a Russian when you see the DOOM car sliding all over the track.
  • Team Penske is the Goliath now starting down the order. Will Power in sixth is their highest starter; he and Simon Pagenaud seek their first ‘500, Juan Pablo Montoya his second straight and third overall, Helio Castroneves his record-tying fourth. Plus there’s the 50th anniversary of the team this year and the exhibit in the IMS Museum to match. This is the team you want to win if you’re a fan of numerology.
  • Can Chip Ganassi Racing pull off a 2012 encore? Like in 2012, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were nowhere. Then they promptly ended 1-2 in the race. Between Dixon and Franchitti’s replacement Tony Kanaan, perpetually underrated Charlie Kimball and rookie Max Chilton, it’s been a tough month but they’ll look for a big result on Sunday.
  • Row 5 is a fascinating row. In Dixon, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand you have the 2008 winner and two Americans who came oh-so-close to wins in 2006 and 2011, respectively. Marco has said a win in this year’s race would be everything. He’s not wrong.
  • Each of the 5 rookies has a story to tell. I’ll have a post on these five later this week but this year’s rookie crop, while unlikely winners, have been largely impressive. Strongest among them has been Alexander Rossi – who not only has adapted to Indy, but embraced it.
  • Row 9 has three intriguing drivers. In Pippa Mann, there’s a huge fan favorite. In Graham Rahal, a determined driver who’s become known in the aero kit era for his and his team’s fight backs from difficult qualifying runs. In Matty Brabham, a wonderfully goofy Australian American rookie who is the perfect driver for a throwback, but new, team – PIRTEK Team Murray – that has brought fun, veterans and a wonderfully Australian theme to this year’s race led by team principal Brett “Crusher” Murray.
  • There’s the guy from 1996 in the final row. Buddy Lazier is the link for the IRL fans, those who liked that era, which began 20 years ago in 1996. He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning but it’s damn cool that at 48, he and his family are still living out their dreams – 20 years on from winning an emotional triumph.

That 1996 year is an interesting one for me. It was my first year following the sport full-time as a kid growing up; I was fortunate I didn’t know what “the good old days” were because I watched IndyCar racing, I thought it fast and cool, and I got hooked.

Now, 20 years later, I don’t want to hear the words “back in the good old days” because longing for “back in the good old days” has left IndyCar where it is now – needing this one race to build positive momentum to erase the overflow of negativity that has perpetually weakened – if not killed – the sport for most of the last 20 years.

For one week, we have nothing but positive stories lined up.

Embrace it. And promote the hell out of it.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

0 Comments

After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage