What happens when you get two friends who were from neighboring towns, love racing, and happen to be knowledgeable respectively in stock cars and IndyCar racing? Simple – you get one crazy race recap that’s either going to be a collaborative and harmonious piece or one where it’s about as messy as the first 250 miles of the 1992 Indianapolis 500.
In either case, sit back, read, and enjoy the differing (or alike) thoughts by us - Isabelle Beecy and Rob Tiongson – as we’ll recap the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona and the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway. Let’s first start off with my thoughts – and by “my thoughts,” I mean yours truly, Rob Tiongson. Then Isabelle’s turn at bat is next.
Rob Recaps NASCAR at Daytona
Fireworks were plentiful this past weekend as we celebrated yet another “birthday” for the United States not only across the metropolitans of Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., but also at Daytona Beach, FL and Long Pond, PA. The action was not short in the excitement department for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors and teams at Daytona. Likewise, the IZOD IndyCar Series didn’t lack any sparks and surprises at Pocono, as the open wheel leagues returned to the scenic pastures in Pennsylvania for the first time in 24 years.
NASCAR wrapped up its first half of the 2013 season at “The World Center of Racing,” where the usual suspects like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Kevin Harvick were among the favorites to win the Coke Zero 400. While the Bowtie contingency looked to repeating their dominant performance during February Speedweeks, the Toyota powerhouse efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth looked to rebound from their 500-mile race mishaps with their motors. Would history repeat itself or did the competition catch up with the Chevrolet camp?
Well, it was a bit of both. Gibbs’ faction made their mark in qualifying, as Kyle Busch nabbed the Coors Light Pole Award on Friday afternoon. With a fast bullet at his arsenal, Busch was primed for his first win at Daytona since the 2008 midsummer classic. Also, Kenseth scored an outside pole position, hoping to continue his assault on the restrictor plate tracks. Meanwhile, Hamlin was relegated to a 24th starting spot, with a car that appeared ready for race trim more so than solo hot laps.
Chevrolet was also dispersed across the field, appearing to have the superior car in race trim more so than in qualifying. Johnson started eighth, while Stewart and Harvick each began their 400-mile battles respectively from 13th and 26th positions. Not all was gloom and doom for this triumvirate, as instead, the focus was put on handling and setting up their machines for drafting around Daytona. Would their strategy pay off?
Two words could answer that question: you bet. Initially, the Gibbs boys looked like the drivers to beat in the 400, quickly asserting themselves in the lead pack and making life on the Fords and Chevrolet teams as the dusk conditions quickly transitioned to a humid midsummer’s night. About as quickly as Dr. Henry Jekyll turning into the brooding Mr. Edward Hyde (or vice versa), the Toyota cars soon faded into followers as the Chevrolet SS’s would quickly move to the front and make the lead draft as their home for the rest of the night.
While the spectacular big wrecks were reduced to multiple “mini ones” in the final 100 miles, the Chevy contingency had a stranglehold in clean air, with Jimmie Johnson primarily holding the lead. Overall, the white and blue No. 48 Lowe’s machine was in the lead on four different occasions for 94 laps, with nary a single competitor who could even challenge for the number one spot. Johnson would hold on for the last 30 laps (including the overtime session) to win the 400, becoming the first Cup driver to sweep Daytona for the first time since Bobby Allison in 1982.
Not too far behind Johnson was Stewart and Harvick, who rebounded from their Daytona disasters by nabbing podium finishes (hey now, shameless plug right there). Although neither led a lap on Saturday night, both drivers reasserted themselves as restrictor plate aces and reminded their competitors that they aren’t easily dismissive in spite of their rather auspicious finishes in Daytona and Talladega earlier in the year. Needless to say, much like the seemingly untouchable (except on restarts) Jimmie Johnson, the duo of “Smoke and Happy” appear prime for a run for a Chase seed…even if it’s not exactly wise to smoke and be happy. Bad attempt at humor, I apologize.
Meanwhile, the Gibbs trio of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin found themselves struggling to the finish, with each driver swept up in multi-car accidents that eliminated them from contention. Hamlin’s crash was most alarming, as he was rear ended by the No. 51 car of A.J. Allmendinger on lap 149. Another race and another hard crash has left Hamlin’s fans wondering if it’s truly worth it to continue for a Chase bid or to sit it out and recover at full strength for the 2014 season.
Overall, it was a decent Daytona race, with a familiar face in Victory Lane while the packs were somewhat crazier with three and sometimes four wide formations, primarily behind the leader. There were moments in which the stress factor (or excitement factor for you NASCAR fans) was probably as high as it was for a Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins fan a few weeks ago. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a classic, but there were some good racing moments that justified a score of 7 out of 10, making it one to reflect in terms of how it’ll impact the Chase for 2013.
For the scoop and goods on the IndyCar race at Pocono, Isabelle Beecy, our new co-editor in chief, shall have her say and talk all about the series’ return to Long Pond since the 1989 race won by Danny Sullivan…impressed Beecy? Now it’s your turn, champ!
Isabelle's View of IndyCar's Return to Pocono
With an all Andretti Autosport front row, people were hoping for a dominating performance by the team and many thought that this was Marco Andretti’s race after he won the pole and was fastest in practice. Unfortunately, that was not to be – James Hinchcliffe spun in the first turn of the first lap and Marco Andretti had issues with fuel conservation. Prior to the race, a whole handful of people were given an engine change penalty – Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, E.J. Viso, Justin Wilson, and Alex Tagliani all had to move back ten spots.
On the parade lap, Saavedra’s throttle was stuck and eventually had to take a DNF because of it. Rookie Tristan Vautier was black-flagged because of radio issues and spun in pit lane three laps later. Takuma Sato collided with Ryan Hunter-Reay near the halfway point of the race. With 53 laps to go, Tony Kanaan made contact with the wall after making a passing attempt on Scott Dixon, causing Kanaan to have front wing damage and costing him a chance at one million dollars. In the end, Scott Dixon won, with Charlie Kimball in second and Dario Franchitti in third.
I thought up Marco Andretti was doing an amazing job up until the end when he had to start conserving fuel. He led much of the race and could’ve won with the exception of the fuel issues. Thinking of the fuel issues, I was surprised about how many drivers had them. Both Marco Andretti and Pippa Mann ran out of fuel after finishing the race. I’ve seen people run out before, but it’s been once in a blue moon, not two people at the end of the same race. I’m sure others were close to running out as well.
I was massively impressed by the drives of Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, and Dario Franchitti. Dixon came from 17th after a 10-spot engine change penalty to win the race, which is a pretty amazing feat. It’s also been close to a year since his last win, so this has to be an amazing feeling for him. Kimball is in his third year in IndyCar and has had three top five finishes and 14 top 10's in his IndyCar career, so Pocono was a pretty successful race for him. Franchitti hasn’t had the best of seasons (he’s winless so far in the season with a few DNFs to start the season off) and was bumped to 20th because of an engine change penalty. For him to get a podium result out of that is phenomenal.
This was the first 1-2-3 sweep for a team in any race since Sonoma 2011 with Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Ryan Briscoe, and the first 1-2-3 sweep of a Triple Crown race since 1979 when Bobby Unser, Rick Mears and Mario Andretti accomplished the same feat. It was also Team Target’s 100th win, Honda’s 200th win and Chip Ganassi Racing’s first 1-2-3 sweep in any racing league. With all of these achievements, I think it was a pretty damn spectacular weekend for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar.
On the flip side, I feel like Takuma Sato has become very dangerous, very fast. During the Pocono race, he flew down pit lane and caused an accident with Ryan Hunter-Reay. He has also blocked drivers repeatedly throughout the season, most notably in Brazil when he was blocking Hinchcliffe and Newgarden up until the final corner of the final lap, when Hinchcliffe got around Sato for his second win of the season. Putting all of that together, that is completely unacceptable driving. I’m surprised and disappointed that he hasn’t been given more penalties throughout the season for it all. In karts, I would’ve gotten so many penalties for what he’s doing I probably would’ve gotten suspended for the remainder of the season. I don’t know how his driving is allowed professionally.
Authors' Notes: The above was our opinions and express those of Rob Tiongson and Isabelle Beecy, who both love racing, enjoy the action, and are looking to realize our motorsports dreams! If you want to get more of our thoughts, check back each week for our race recaps and if you have any suggestions, comments, or ideas you'd like to share with us, tweet them to us at @ThePodiumFinish and @indyfan1994!