Memorial Day Weekend: The Most Anticipated Weekend of Racing

Samuel Sica@@SicatheKidAnalyst IMay 20, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 25:  John Andretti drives the #33 Panther Racing Dallara Honda off pit lane during Miller Lite Carb Day for the IRL Indycar Series 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25, 2007 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and NASCAR’s 600-mile endurance race kicks off the summer on Memorial Day weekend. This is every race fans favorite day as families cook out and enjoy a full day of racing action.

The Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 are two of the biggest gems in auto racing. Every driver wants to win at Indy since it’s the biggest race of the year for the IRL and on the NASCAR side, drivers want to win at Charlotte because the Coca-Cola 600 ranks among the top four most important races of the year.

Sunday will begin with the start of the Indianapolis 500 and conclude with the finish of the Coca-Cola 600 later that evening. This year will mark the 100th year of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so the incentive to win the Indy 500 is even greater.

The starting grid for the Indy 500 was set last weekend and was filled with drama as time was running out for drivers which included the likes of John Andretti and former Indy 500 winner trying to bump their way into the field.

Bump Day was filled with drama as veteran driver John Andretti made his third and final qualifying attempt of the day with just under ten minutes remaining in the session. Andretti finally put together four solid laps well over 221 mph, which was more than enough needed to make it into the field.

After it was announced that Andretti had made it into the field the crowd went wild with cheers and applause. John Andretti is an Indianapolis native so he has plenty of support from the fans and he is the nephew of former Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti who won the race in 1969.

After Andretti bumped his way into the field it unfortunately left one driver out of the field in Ryan Hunter Reay who finished sixth in last years Indy 500.

Fortunately for Hunter Reay there was just over two minutes remaining in the qualifying session so he quickly made his way back onto the track in a final attempt to qualify his way back into the starting grid.

It all came down to the final lap on the front stretch as Hunter Reay bumped Alex Tagliani from the starting field by three one hundredths of a second.

The Starting Grid for the Indianapolis 500:

Row One: Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti

Row Two: Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan

Row Three: Mario Moraes, Marco Andretti, Will Power

Row Four: Danica Patrick, Alex Lloyd, Raphael Matos

Row Five: Paul Tracy, Vitor Meira, Justin Wilson

Row Six: Hideki Mutoh, Ed Carpenter, Dan Wheldon

Row Seven: AJ Foyt IV, Scott Sharp, Sarah Fisher

Row Eight: Davey Hamilton, Robert Doornbos, Townsend Bell

Row Nine: Oriol Servia, Tomas Scheckter, Mike Conway

Row 10: John Andretti, EJ Viso, Bruno Junqueira

Row 11: Milka Duno, Nelson Philippe, Ryan Hunter Reay

The starting field consists of four former winners of the Indy 500 which include Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Helio Castroneves who is the only two-time winner of the 500.

One of the victories by Castroneves was not without controversy though as Paul Tracy believed he passed Castroneves before a caution flag waved over the field after a late race crash with under five laps remaining.

This year will be the first time since that particular race that Paul Tracy has competed in an Indianapolis 500 so you can bet that Tracy will give it his all to win at Indy.

The field is also made up of some pretty famous names from the ranks of Foyt, Andretti, and Rahal. AJ Foyt IV will be representing his famous grandfather AJ Foyt who is a four-time winner of the Indy 500, which ranks among the most of all-time along with Rick Mears and Al Unser.

Marco Andretti will be representing his famous grandfather Mario who is a former winner at Indianapolis as well as his father Michael who has done everything at Indy but win the 500.

Finally we have Graham Rahal who is the son of Bobby Rahal who won the 500 in 1986. All of these young drivers have big shoes to fill before they can join the ranks of their fathers and grandfathers but this year could be the year for one of these famous families.

Another possible story could be surrounding the women who are competing in the race. The three women in this years Indy 500 are Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, and Milka Duno.

Sarah Fisher has been in many Indy 500’s with her best finish being an 18th place. Danica Patrick on the other hand has been a contender in all of her Indy 500 starts and hopes to make history this year by being the first women driver to win the Indy 500.

Danica finally broke through and won her first race last season at Japan, which essentially lifted a huge burden off her back. Who knows, maybe this year will finally be the year for Danica. After the performance put on by Rachael Alexandra last week at the Preakness, this could be the year that a woman outlasts the boys.

After this battle of titans finishes up, another battle will begin as the boys of the Sprint Cup Series suit up for a 600-mile endurance race that would tests the likes of any man. This race can be even harder when you have already run at the Indy 500 like three drivers have done in the past.

The first driver to accomplish this feat was John Andretti in 1994. Andretti pulled double duty and wound up finishing 10th at Indy and 36th at Charlotte after losing an engine. Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have also accomplished this feat with Stewart having faired the best of the three by finishing in the top five in both races in 2001.

This is a thing of the past now since the starting times of the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 have changed allowing no time for the drivers to fly back to Charlotte in time for the start of the race.

Tony Stewart is already off to a great start for this weekends 600 miler as he won his first career race as an owner-driver last weekend in the Sprint All-Star Race. Six drivers have won the All-Star Race and went on to win the Coca-Cola 600 the following week.

These drivers included Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, and Darrell Waltrip.

There is also a select group of drivers who have been luck enough to win the Coca-Cola 600 back to back. These drivers included the likes of Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson who is the only driver to win three straight.

My predictions for the races this weekend are for Tony Kanaan to win the Indy 500. I also believe that Danica Patrick could pull the upset but I believe that Kanaan will pull it off after being denied victory so many times. My dark horse for the race is Mario Moraes who has been fast in all the practice sessions leading up to this weekends race.

Lastly, my surprise for the Indy 500 is John Andretti who proved that he has what it takes to race at Indianapolis even though he is 46 years of age.

Andretti can still get around Indy with the rest of those younger drivers and I believe he will have a fast car and stay out of trouble all day long. What is that famous quote, "In order to finish first, one must first finish."

My predictions for the Coca-Cola 600 are for Tony Stewart to win his first career points paying race as an owner-driver. For my dark horse I believe that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finally put it all together and finish strong.

My surprise pick for the Coke 600 is Casey Mears who is a former winner of the 600-mile race and has pretty good equipment behind him at Richard Childress Racing.

Lastly, I just want to wish everyone a happy Memorial Day weekend and enjoy the cookouts and parties as well as spending time with family and friends.


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