MOTORSPORTS' BIGGEST DAY DELIVERS ON THE TRACK AND ON TV
Don’t lie. You weren’t on the edge of your seat as the final 13 laps played out in Indianapolis Sunday. You weren’t on your seat at all. You were pacing and cheering as Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi swapped the lead back-and-forth lap-by-lap until finally it was Pagenaud gassing it just enough to stay in front one final time.
Then Sunday night, there you were again as Martin Truex Jr. took the final restart four-wide, Joey Logano got him loose, and then Truex pulled away for his second Coca-Cola 600 win in four years.
And earlier in the day, you dug your claws into the couch cushions as Lewis Hamilton held off Max Verstappen for 65 agonizing laps.
This is Motorsports’ biggest day, and it delivered the goods in 2019.
All the talk surrounding the day can sometimes feel more hollow than hallowed. People watch all three jewels, but sometimes they just don’t offer the payback fans deserve. Of course, sometimes people don’t even watch. That’s the first thing that went right this year.
TV ratings were solid for all three events. Indy was up 15-percent in its debut on NBC, earning a 3.9 rating and more than five million viewers. NASCAR got an eight-percent bump to 2.6, and Monaco held steady with a 0.7 rating. The Coca-Cola 600’s 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demo was the highest of any primetime program on Sunday night, topping 60 Minutes and American Ninja Warrior.
None of that would’ve mattered, though, if the racing didn’t deliver, and that starts with the final 13 laps of the 103rd Indianapolis 500. Pagenaud, the polesitter and the dominant car all day, started 2nd after a red flag paused the race. He got such a powerful restart he nearly beat Rossi to the start-finish line. He didn’t run away though. He and Rossi traded the lead five times during that final sequence with Simon getting the upper hand for the final time with two laps to go.
According to Rossi, there was only one thing separating the two cars.
“Horsepower,” Rossi said. “We just didn’t have the straight-line speed. There’s not much we can do about that from my side inside the car.”
The agony of defeat means someone got to experience the thrill of victory and that was Pagenaud. Entering May with rumblings that his job at Team Penske was on the line, the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion responded by winning the Indy Grand Prix, the Indy 500 pole, and the Indy 500, a clean sweep.
“The stars are aligned. Man, wow, I’m seeing myself on TV with this. It’s pretty amazing,” he said in Victory Lane. “It’s a dream come true, a lifetime of trying to achieve this. So I’m just speechless.”
Down at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Truex was in a similar position to Pagenaud. He took over the race, but he just couldn’t quite put it away. The difference here is that caution flags were bringing the field back to him. Starting from the 2nd row on the final restart after a pit stop, Truex went low and sent the race four-wide at the front of the pack. Joey Logano got into his rear bumper, loosening him up dramatically, but he steadied, and he was on rails to the finish.
“I don’t know how we did it honestly. I blew that right-front tire earlier and hit the fence off (Turn) 4. I thought man, that’s not good. I know this car is pretty banged up. We just fought back from it,” Truex said. “We kept working on the car and kept adjusting on the car. What a rocket ship this Bass Pro Toyota was this weekend.”
Dramatic wins plus eyes at home and in the stands equals motorsports’ biggest day fulfilling its promise.