It’s Christmas time for most auto racing enthusiasts

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Sunday is the greatest day of the year for most auto racing enthusiasts because there are three races from three series spread across two continents offering nine continuous hours of awesomeness.

It’s Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte. It’s an early Christmas for motorheads, and it certainly is my favorite day of the year.

It all starts first thing in the morning with one of the most prestigious races in Formula 1 with the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo in one of the most glamorous race scenes you’ll ever see. The 2.07-mile course features 19 turns through the city, including a dash through a tunnel and running along the harbor where millionaires have viewing parties on their yachts. People watch on balconies throughout the city. Sunday’s race will be the 77th running of the event.

This will be the sixth race of the F-1 season and so far all the wins have been by two drivers in Mercedes driven by teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton is a two-time winner at Monte Carlo and will probably win Sunday as well.

I don’t bet the F-1 races, but I watch whenever I can, and I absolutely never miss Monte Carlo. Those cars are insane  — the most advanced performance cars in the world. I get myself an espresso and a croissant to get my day of racing started to prep for such a long day. It’s an amazing appetizer for the two other huge racing events taking place in the states.

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the sixth race on the Indy Car Series but will be the first of their season where the drivers make left turns. They’ve only raced on street or road courses.

The famous 2.5-mile flat layout at Indy might be the most famous track in the world. The surface was originally made of bricks and now the bricks are just the start-finish line that remains with rest of the surface being smooth asphalt. It’s a special place, which is why 250,000 fans pack the place every Memorial Day weekend.

I can’t ever remember the Indy 500 not being on TV where ever I was. My grandfather watched it, my Dad watched it, so I watched it and I still watch it even though the Indy Car Series has changed dramatically since splitting from CART in 1996.

The drivers weren’t as good after the split, but I still watched and I’d make a few wagers as well to make it more interesting, which I still do despite not following the series as much as I did when creating odds on it for all the Indy Car races.

What I do know is that Team Penske has won a record 17 times in the Indy 500, including last season with Will Power, and in Monday’s practice the top two speeds were driving a Penske Chevy.

Simon Pagenaud had the top speed at 228.441 mph and Josef Newgarden was next at 228.273 mph. Speed is the name of the game and Penske has it, which why Pagenaud and Power are the 7-1 co-favorites to win according to the Westgate SuperBook and Newgarden is 8-to-1.

The next team to search out is Andretti Autosports featuring 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi who is 8-1. The one longer shot I took a chance with was James Hinchcliffe at 40-1 odds to win. He was third fastest in Monday’s practice at 227.992 mph. 

When the Indy 500 is over, it’s traditionally been a sign for me to fire up the grill and open an adult beverage. It’s kind of like halftime on the great day of racing and I have to wait about two hours for the NASCAR race to start from Charlotte.

The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the season and the best thing I like about it is how much the track changes with the temperature. The race starts in daylight, goes to twilight, dusk and finally nightfall for the final 100 miles.

The crews work their absolute hardest for this race due to more pit stops and more in-race adjustments because of the climate changes. Whatever crew does the best job adjusting usually get their drivers a win.

This will be the 13th race of the season and the fifth on a 1.5-mile track. It will also be the sixth race this season using the engines that produce 550 horsepower. The All-Star Race last week at Charlotte was using a new test package that will be part of the Gen-7 car expected to debut in 2021.

The top story so far with this package has seen Team Penske with three wins and Joe Gibbs Racing with two wins. They’ve also combined to win 11 of the 12 races this season. The lone outsider to win was Chase Elliott at Talladega, but he might be having one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates join him in the winners club.

In the last three points-paying races Alex Bowman has finished second and what’s wild is that there were three different packages used in each of those races. Bowman has never won a Cup race.

Jimmie Johnson last won in 2017, but the seven-time champ is getting close to that level of being capable of winning. He was outstanding in his last two races on 1.5-mile tracks finishing sixth at Kansas and fifth at Texas. He’s the active leader with eight wins, 16 top-fives and 1,930 laps led at Charlotte.

Kevin Harvick is a three-time winner at Charlotte and is still looking for his first win of the season. At this juncture last season he had won five races and was coming off an All-Star Race win. But two weeks ago at Kansas, he had the best car on the track leading 104 laps, however he an issue with the front end near the end of the race. This should be a good spot for him to get his first win.

Kyle Busch didn’t look so good at Kansas, but he’s raised the bar so high with his excellence that we all expect so much from him. He’s been in the top-10 in 11 of his 12 starts.

Last season, he came into Charlotte for the 600 and dominated for his first career Cup win at Charlotte and gave him Cup wins at all the tracks in the series. He then won the first two stages and led 377 of the 400 laps. The changing conditions on the track did not bother him at all.

Martin Truex’s two wins this season have come with the package using 750 horsepower, but he’s been Mr. 1.5 the last five seasons, including a 2016 Coca-Cola 600 win that was the most dominant in track history with him leading 392 of the 400 laps.

His last seven starts at Charlotte: runner-up last season, first, third, 13th, first, third and fifth. However, he only has one top-five between the four races on 1.5s this season.

Denny Hamlin has two wins this season, including at Charlotte’s sister track in Texas. In 26 starts at Charlotte, he’s averaged as 12th-place finish which second-best among active drivers but doesn’t have a win. He’s also won the non-points All-Star Race. But he’s in the mix every time out with nine top-five finish including five of his last six starts there.

The Penske guys are an interesting look. Both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have a win at Charlotte, but they both happened in the fall. They have combined to win three of the four races on 1.5s and the interesting side story here is that owner Roger Penske has a legitimate shot to win both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 races on Sunday, something he’s never done before.

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