Hornish-Andretti finish shot in arm for IRL

May 30, 2006 4:43 AM

Congrats to Sam Hornish Jr. and the Penske Racing team for their dramatic win in Sunday’s Indy 500.

Everything that Indy Racing League needs to start a base of fans was present in that race. It was a touching moment to see the final five laps come down to Michael Andretti and his many prior Indy heartaches leading with son Marco about ready to pass him.

Father and son finishing 1-2 would be big news, especially with an International name like Andretti. It was all wiped away when Hornish drag raced Marco down to the checkered flag for the win. A gripping finish and the type that will be talked about through the years as one of the best ever at Indy. Just what the IRL needed.

It was odd listening to Rusty Wallace commentate on the open wheel cars during the race. He even stumbled and said, "This might be the best Daytona 5”¦ I mean best Indy 500 ever."

It was classic. Rusty did a good job, but more importantly, I get what the IRL is doing. There are still millions of loyal Rusty Wallace fans out there, even though he’s not racing stock cars anymore. These fans will show up anywhere if they know Rusty will be there, even if it’s their own living room to listen to him call an open wheel race on television. The IRL is using his NASCAR celebrity to market their product onto the loyal NASCAR fan base.

The next inevitable step will be to actually get a famous NASCAR driver to drive in the IRL. There are several NASCAR drivers with open-wheel experience such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman. The lure of winning the Indy 500 could be a huge draw for Indiana natives Newman and Stewart. Gordon also spent most of his adolescence around the Speedway dreaming of winning the Indy 500. If the IRL could grab one of those big names, they could really regain some of their creditability and clout with American Motorsports fans. Stay tuned.

One of the first steps for regaining my interest in the IRL occurred last season when the league started racing on a few road courses. There still is no turbo charger on these cars, nevertheless, they get out the turns almost as fast. I have always enjoyed the Champ cars on street circuits because of the instant power, speed, and agility of these machines in and around turns.

This week the IRL is off to Watkins Glen and later in the year they’ll go to Sonoma. After the big Indy race, the IRL is definitely on the right track to success. We wish them well.

Station Casinos are the only book in Las Vegas that regularly posts the Indy Racing League (if there is another one, please enlighten me). The skilled road drivers will come to the forefront in this race. The top 3 road course drivers in the IRL are Helio Castro-Neves, Dario Franchitti, and Bryan Herta. We’ll find out if there is any momentum from the Indy 500 carried onto this race at the betting windows.

Boys head to Dover

The NASCAR Nextel Cup series is off to Delaware this weekend. Coming along for the journey this week is the Truck and Busch Series, which should make for a fun weekend.

Dover is another unique track among the cookie cutter circuit and a very welcome sight. It has 24 degrees of banking on the one mile concrete oval. Because of its toughness and unforgiving style, the track has been labeled the "Monster Mile."

The top candidates to win this week are the same guys we see every week, but we do have two drivers that may get back on track this week because of their past successes at Dover.

The Penske team is really struggling with their stock car program. If it wasn’t for Busch’s big win at Bristol, this season would be considered maybe the worst ever for Penske. This could be a week they get back.

In past years, the Penske cars have had success. Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace ran very well at Dover last season. Wallace finished fifth and third in the two races , while was eighth and fifth. Newman’s car was almost as bad last season as it is this year. Newman loves this track, proven with his wins. In his eight career starts at Dover, Newman has seven top 10 finishes.

Kurt Busch had a top 10 finish last season for Jack Roush and his best finish there was fifth in the fall of 2004. I think he’s going to have a good set up and is a strong possibility to win the race.

When looking back at the winners this season, depending on where and when you bet them, all are 10-1 or less in payouts. That isn’t very attractive or appealing when playing money management. Busch and Newman should be about 18-1 this week with their struggles this year. It’s hard to go against the grain, but a lot of positives say this could be the week a nice payout hits.

Kyle Busch finished second in both Dover races last season. I guess he doesn’t like the track too much. His teammate Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner on the track and won the last Cup race to date there.

Greg Biffle won this race last season. He currently sits 13 in points and doing all he can to stay on the track. His goal is to just finish and accumulate points right now.

Mark Martin, Biffle’s teammate, will be the driver to key on from Roush. He had a third and fourth last year. Martin did even better in 2004, posting a win and a runnerup finish. That’s pretty strong data supporting Martin.

Robby’s triple duty

Robby Gordon plans to drive three different race cars in two countries this weekend. Gordon will defend his title at the Baja 500 in Ensenada, Mexico, where he will drive two different vehicles, and his Cup Series car in Dover.

Gordon will travel approximately 11,200 miles by air during the odyssey (nearly half the distance around the world) and more than 1,100 miles on the ground. His travels began Monday with his first cross-country flight to Ensenada where he’s spending three days practicing (or pre-running) both a Chevrolet CK1500 Trophy Truck and a Hummer H3.

Gordon will make the 2,800-mile flight to Dover on Thursday evening before practicing and qualifying his Cup car Friday. Following Friday’s NASCAR sessions, he returns to Ensenada where he will take the green flag in the Baja 500 at approximately 6 a.m. Saturday. He will start the Baja 500 in the Trophy Truck and drive about half the race. He will turn the wheel over to his teammate Andy McMillin, who will take the truck to the finish line.

Shortly after Gordon starts the 500, his father, Bob, will start in the Hummer H3 where he will also drive halfway. The ride then goes to the younger Gordon, who will in all likelihood complete the 424-mile course in the H3. Immediately following the completion of the estimated seven-hour race, which begins and ends in Ensenada, Gordon will re-board his plane and take an overnight flight to Dover where he will start the Dover Cup race Sunday at 11a.m.

No odds posted in Vegas for the off-road race, but he’s 60-1 to win at Dover.