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Super Sunday: Kahne, Franchitti and Webber win

Published May 27, 2012

All of Super Sunday’s races were won by previous winners of the featured events.

When Kasey Kahne won the NASCAR nightcap, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, it marked the third time he’d won the Memorial Day weekend classic.

At Indy in the afternoon, Dario Franchitti won what used to be called the 500 Mile International Sweepstakes for the third time while overseas - morning here, afternoon there – Mark Webber won the Grand Prix of Monaco for the second time.

All three races were interesting, with some more exciting that others. In that regard, Indianapolis topped the bill for surprises and tension, Monaco was a close second and Charlotte was – well – not exactly a nail-biter.

At Charlotte:

Kahne, who joined Hendrick Motorsports this season, won his first race for the corporation when he cruised home to record his 13th career win in Sprint Cup competition.

Denny Hamlin finished second and Kyle Busch arrived home third.

Kahne drove about a thousand miles in competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend, starting with a World of Outlaws sprint car race at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Friday night and continuing through the 300-mile Nationwide Series race Saturday.

A star, Kahne’s last victory was at Phoenix in November 2011. He will win lots more races before he’s through.

Greg Biffle arrived home fourth, Brad Keselowski was fifth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth, Jeff Gordon was seventh, Kevin Harvick was eighth, Carl Edwards finished ninth and Matt Kenseth was tenth. Complete results.

Notebook Jottings:

- It was kinda boring. Sorry, have to say it. After the dogfight that was Formula One in Monaco, and the edge-of-your-seat spectacle that was Indy, the Coke 600 was somewhat of a letdown.

Yes, they had 31 lead changes among 11 drivers, but they only had four cautions. About the only time the crowd came alive was near the end of the race when Dale Jr. took the lead for about a second.

You could hear the cheers over the engines.

- If it was borintg to watch, if must have been boring to drive it. At one point during the last 100 miles, Keselowski’s spotter began singing to him. To keep him awake, perhaps?

- It’s not often you see a Chad Knaus-managed team screw up but it did during Jimmy Johnson’s final pit stop. The signal, reportedly, for Johnson to go is when the jackman drops the car; the problem was that the gas man wasn’t finished and had to run after the car to haul the gas can hose out.

The botchup might have cost Johnson a higher finish (he was 11th). But the TV camera caught Knaus looking either dejected or ready to fire everybody. Whichever, he wasn’t happy and he doesn’t fool around. Somebody on that team might be looking for a new job Monday.

- I saw something in this race I haven’t seen for years. At one point, Earhardt drove right between Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski to put a pass on both of them. The last time I remember seeing that was at the CNE Speedway in the Fifties when Norm Brioux, driving the yellow Puddicomb Motors car, would frequently split cars to make passes.

It was a long day. The Monaco GP came on TSN at 7:55 a.m., the Coke 600 finished after 10. See ya later.

Earlier:

Auto racing is a game of inches at speeds none of us pedestrians can ever really understand.

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville came within nine inches of winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 – that’s what 10 miles of time trials at 220-plus miles an hour turned into when the slide rulers came out to aid calculations – and it was a mistake of inches mid-way through Sunday’s spectacle that cost him a shot at victory.

The 96th Indianapolis 500 was won, in the end and for the third time, by Dario Franchitti of Scotland and Nashville, with his Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon of New Zealand and Indianapolis second and Tony Kanaan of Brazil and Fort Lauderdale third.

Hinchcliffe was sixth, behind Oriole Servia of Spain who was fourth and Ryan Briscoe of Australia,  who was fifth after pipping “Hinch” for the pole last weekend.

Justin Wilson of England was seventh, Charlie Kimball of England eighth, Townsend Bell of Santa Monica ninth and Helio Castroneves of Brazil and Fort Lauderdale, tenth.

The second Canadian in the 500, Alex Tagliani of Montreal, finished 12th. Complete results.

For the third year in a row, a crash on the final lap meant the classic finished under a yellow flag.

Two years ago, Franchitti’s car was running on fumes and he was in danger of running out of fuel on the final lap when Mike Conway hit a slowing Ryan Hunter-Reay and was catapulted into the safety catch fence. The yellow saved Franchitti’s race and victory.

Last year, J.R. Hildebrand ran wide on the final corner while trying to pass a slower car and crashed into the wall, handing the victory to Dan Wheldon.

This year, Takuma Sato tried to pass Franchitti going into the first turn and crashed, with the ensuing yellow freezing the field with the Scot in the lead.

Sato said afterward that Franchitti crowded him down onto the white line and his front left tire caught the “ledge” that has been the undoing of drivers going too low into that turn for years. (Yes, that’s “ledge” with an “l”.)

TV replays, however, showed that Franchitti gave the Japanese driver a “lane” in which to attempt his pass and he just couldn’t pull it off.

In Hinchcliffe’s case it was just a small loss of concentration that kaiboshed his race. He’d been running top five, or near it, for most of the race and appeared ready to make a charge for the front in the closing laps.

But when the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series rookie of the year went into the pits for tires and fuel with less than 50 laps to go, he missed his marks – paint on the asphalt of his pit stall where the team wants him to stop the car exactly.

If he does it correctly, they can attach the fuel hose for a fillup and replace four wheels in less than nine seconds. Take more time than that and your race can be compromised.

“Hinch” went past the marks a half-dozen inches and the crew had to pause to pull and push him back into position – something that added three or four seconds to his stop and saw him rejoin the race outside of the top ten.

It was a credit to his talent as a racing driver that he was able to battle back to sixth from 12th; if his pit stop had been flawless and he’d returned to battle nearer the front, he might have been in a better position to try for the win.

Said Hinchcliffe – who led the race three times for five laps and who was the star of a very humourous Go Daddy (his sponsor) TV commercial  before the race:

“You know, I’m getting sick of this number six. Every time we finish sixth, we’ve had more than that on the table and for one reason or another we haven’t put it together.

“On that last stop, I overshot the (pit) box by a mile and really put us back there and I feel terrible for it. I think we had the pace for third or fourth place.”

There were a number of other crashes but none of the drivers was injured.

The most scary involved Conway, who wound up sliding along the fence with his car on its side and the open cockpit facing the fence. It was a collision with a fence post that Killed Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas but Conway wasn’t hurt.

However, the accident was eerily similar to the one he had at Indy two years ago in which he suffered some pretty serious injuries.

The drive by Franchitti was vintage Dario, in that at the first pit stop he was hit from the rear by E.J. Viso and was turned into the wall, damaging his front nose cone and wing. The Ganassi crew managed to get him turned around, fueled up, tires changed and a new nose attached without losing a lap.

When the lights turned back to green, he was 28th; by the time he went to the pits the next time, he was up to third – a magnificent run by a magnificent Indy car driver.

Notebook Jottings:

- Because of illl health, Jim Nabors recorded Back Home in Indiana in Hawaii and they showed him singing the song with palm trees in the background. Much as he’s been loved over the years, it’s time to pass the torch and let someone else sing.

- Nobody – nobody – seemed ready for any of the restarts. The green would wave and all of a sudden there was a traffic jam. Hinchcliffe complained that guys were hanging back and anticipating the green, thus giving themselves a God-almighty run to catch up and pass the leaders. Maybe, but I’m not so sure. It look like some guys were on it and other guys were napping.

- I know Dan Wheldon was killed last year and that he was the defending champion. I’m glad they awarded his widow the replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy and I know how guys like Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan were feeling because they were his buddies. I could even go along, I suppose, with the handing out of sunglasses of the type he wore to everybody who entered the gates on Sunday. But when they drove his car out on the track for a commemorative lap, it was too much. Auto racing is a dangerous sport and it’s supposed to be. It’s not baseball. I hope they will now stop.

- The TV people seem to think that us dunces have to be entertained every single second we’re tuned in and obviously can’t just enjoy auto racing for what it is: cars in a car race. And in their zeal to keep our little minds alert and occupied, they keep putting their noses into corners they should leave alone.

Case in point: Pit reporter Jamie Little tries to talk to Michael Andretti, who has five cars in the race. It’s a disaster, of course, because he can’t talk to her and listen to his drivers at the same time.

I would love to see one of those pit reporters be ambushed by another reporter while they’re in the middle of a live report and see what their reaction would be.

- The IndyCar safety team (and the officials who direct them) are still appalling for a major league operation. Case in point: Josef Newgarden stalls on the backstretch and pulled onto the grass. No debris, no contact, just a car stopped off the track. The safety crew goes to retrieve the car. This takes six laps.

SIX LAPS???

I want to take them all to my favourite short track in the world, the Oswego Speedway in northern New York, and let them watch the safety crew there in action. Those men know how to do it. I know: I rode with them for nearly 15 years.

- The 34 lead changes am0ng 10 drivers beat the previous record of 29, recorded in 1960 when Jim Rathmann, who won, duked it out with Roger Ward and they traded the lead back and forth literally the entire second half of the race.

- The race took just less than three hours to run, with an average speed of 167.734 mph. Marco Andretti – who crashed later while dicing with Oriol Servia – set the fastest race lap of a tad over 220 mph.

- Thanks to TSN, we saw all the races on Super Sunday. But somebody was seriously asleep at the switch when there was a restart with about 16 laps to go at Indy and a commercial ran long and WE MISSED SEEING IT.

All of a sudden Tony Kanaan is leading, and HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

Even Earlier:

Mark Webber became the first winner of auto racing’s Super Sunday this morning when he captured the Grand Prix of Monaco for Red Bull-Renault.

In so doing, he became the sixth winner of an F1 Grand Prix in six races so far in 2012 – a record.

One false move and the order would have been changed for the first four finishers at Monaco, who flashed across the finish line within 1.3 seconds of each other.

Nose to tail after Webber came Nico Rosberg for Mercedes, Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari and Webber’s teammate, Sebastien Vettel. A hiccup further back came McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, followed two seconds later by Ferrari driver Felipe Massa.

Positions seven through 10 – Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg in Force India-Ferraris, Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus-Renault and Bruno Senna in a Williams-Renault – were back a bit.

It was a thrilling Monaco from start to finish because the circuit is so narrow and the confines so tight that anything could happen at any time to change the outcome of the classic.

It was Webber’s second Monaco victory, his first coming in 2010. Vettel won it last year and now Webber’s done it again, giving Red Bull a hat trick in the principality.

Alonso now leads the world championship of drivers, while Red Bull is again leading the constructors championship.

On to Montreal now for the Canadian GP in two weeks.

For a full report of the Grand Prix of Monaco,  click here

Notebook Jottings:

- While the Indianapolis 500 (next up on this Triple Crown race day) might be the biggest race in the world, the Grand Prix of Monaco is the most prestigious. The money, the glamour, the setting and the presence of the royal family combine to make this particular race  the most important.

- Funniest line: as Kimi Raikkonen peels out of the pits, just missing a Force India tire changer, retired driver and now colour commentator David Coulthard says: “You couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to do that job.”

- Some guys race fair, some guys race hard: Jenson Button, leaving the pits, was hard-pressed to beat Heikki Kovalainen on the run up the hill to Casino Square. It was nip and tuck but as Button exited the blend line, he let Kovalainen go.  Shortly thereafter, Vettel left the pits and it was nip and tuck up the hill in a race with Hamilton. Vettel suddenly cut across in front of Hamilton to block him as they approached the square. Vettel must have cut it so close at the end of the blend line to have been able to chop Lewis. I wanted to see a replay but no luck.

- Second funniest line: Lewis Hamilton radio transmission to his team – “They keep dropping things from the pit wall and hitting me in the head.” Huh?

- They had a wonderful helicopter shot from high above and I wished they’d used it more often. I remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports doing Monaco in the early Sixties when Phil Hill was trying to catch Bruce McLaren and they used a helicopter (or blimp) shot almost constantly. Very dramatic and very, very exciting.

- There was a monster crowd. People everywhere – except in one apartment/condo building. The balconies are always empty there (unlike everywhere else). You see it, a pink building on the right, as the cars pass through the hairpin. There is never anybody on those balconies. Toward the end of the race, one guy wearing a white shirt came out and stood for awhile on one balcony, then disappeared. I wonder what it’s like to be rich – and bored.

- Jean-Eric Vergne, who drives for Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari, was in the points and heading for what might have been the best finish of his rookie season.

It was raining slightly toward the end of the race and the television commentators were musing about the possibility of changing tires. Suddenly, Verge went to the pits for intermediates.

The move backfired because the half-rain tires didn’t do anything to improve his lap times and he eventually finished 12th, a lap down.

The commentators talked about a bad decision by the team. A cynic might suggest they’d made the change at the request of Red Bull, who were covering all their bases in the closing laps and needed hard data to help in their decision-making.

Hey, when it comes to F1, they leave no stone unturned. Years ago, I interviewed a “go-fer” for BAR. His job on race day? Regardless of the weather, he had to leave the circuit and drive exactly one mile west (where rain usually  comes from) and sit there from start to finish. If it started to rain, he radioed in the information and kept the team informed as to its intensity.

Yes, BAR had radar in the pits but still had a man on the ground to confirm/dispute what was on the screen. As I said, no stone unturned.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if Red Bull asked Toro Rosso to try out the intermediates to see how they performed – just in case. The loser? Jean-Eric Vergne.

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