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A Charlotte-Indy 'double'? Roger Penske could pull it off, maybe Chip Ganassi

A Charlotte-Indy 'double'? Roger Penske could pull it off, maybe Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi (L) and Roger Penske: top two team owners at Indianapolis. (Photo: Indycar)


   By Mike Mulhern




   Roger Penske is doing the double this weekend, the Indy 500 and Charlotte's Coke 600.
   So is archrival team owner Chip Ganassi.
   Will one man sweep both?  

   If so, the betting is on Penske:

   -- With Brad Keselowski, the Bristol and Talladega winner already this spring, here in the 600 (6:19 p.m. ET Sunday);

   -- with Helio Castroneves or Ryan Brisco or Will Power, in the 500 (noon ET Sunday).

   If it's Ganassi:

   -- it would be with Dario Franchitti or Scott Dixon at Indy;

   -- and with Juan Pablo Montoya or Jamie McMurray here.


   Despite the Indy hype machine in high gear over how 'wide open' the 500 could be, uh, Will Power has won three of the year's four races and was on the pole (finishing seventh) for the one race he hasn't won. Like on Wall Street, the trend is your friend.

    At Charlotte probably as well as Indy:

    Keselowski, runnerup in last week's All-Star, could have a shot here, but he doesn't have a great record at this track in his five starts.

    Still a Will Power/Indy and Brad Keselowski/600 Sunday could well be in the cards.



    Jimmie Johnson, game-face on. Charlotte favorite (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  


The odds are more likely that Jimmie Johnson will blow away the field in the 600, as much power and savvy as he and Chad Knaus' pit crew showed in last week's All-Star runaway...unless Jack Roush's Ford men can catch Johnson napping, or beat him on gas mileage. Three of the last five 600s have been decided either by gas mileage or rain. And Johnson – remember when this place was called Jimmie's ouseouJJouHouse? – hasn't won a 600 since 2005, and his last tour win here was the fall 500 in 2009.

   At Indianapolis the betting has to be on Penske, who has won all four Indy-car events this year, his first with Chevrolet. And GM execs are putting heavy, heavy pressure on to get a win in the Indy 500, to justify the perhaps curious corporate decision to spend so many millions of dollars on an event that has questionable status, to be honest.

    Honda, after going 0-4 so far, came up with some new engines tricks. But that may not be enough to beat Penske-Chevrolets.

    An Indy upset? Maybe a last-lap surprise like last year....

    A Charlotte upset? Maybe a last-lap surprise like last year too....


    Certainly this Memorial Day weekend is always filled with memories, good and bad, and some high drama.     

   Remember when Indianapolis was filled with racing the entire month of May?

   Back when....and before NASCAR tracks started selling huge parachute ads to cover empty seats.

   Remember Fireball Roberts' death in 1964 after a fiery crash in the 600 – a crash that, along with the Indy deaths that year of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald, led to the safety fuel cell and much better fire-proof driving suits, and better safety harnesses.

    Remember the dramatic decision by Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler to add lights and night-racing to the Charlotte track in 1992....and the wild racing that ensued.

    On the humorous side, remember Robosaurus, the 'fire-spewing, car-chomping' 40-foot-tall giant mechanic dinosaur...and Wheeler's pre-race show recreating the invasion of Grenada....and Wheeler's pre-race stunt of sticking his head in the lion's mouth.

    Nothing has been too outlandish for the Month of May.
    Of course part of that may stem from the fact that, for NASCAR, the season now four months old, team owners are reassessing their drivers and crews, and many drivers are on the hot seat to perform. Over the next few weeks rumors and speculation and hints about drivers looking here and yon are expected to fill the garage areas at Dover, Pocono and Michigan. In fact already the names of Ryan Newman and Joey Logano are on the speculation list.  



   Brad Keselowski (R) and crew chief Paul Wolfe: winners together at Bristol and Talladega, and a good pick to upset Jimmie Johnson in the 600 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Racing has changed a lot over the years, particularly the open-wheel Indy-car world.

   The Indy 500 hasn't been the greatest spectacle in racing in a long, long tie.

   And NASCAR's Cup series has been top dog for nearly 20 years now....since ironically Indy's Tony George opened the venerable Brickyard to stockers in 1994.
   NASCAR owes a big debt to George and his bold Indianapolis initiative. And given the sagging state of sponsorship-driven racing these days, it might seem only logical for NASCAR's France  family and mega-track owner Bruton Smith to make some moves to help the Indy-car world...such as Chevrolet, new this year (again) to the Indy 500, is doing.

    Why the Frances so curtly dismissed suggestions of a NASCAR-Indy-car weekend somewhere – where the fan synergies might be very alluring, particularly in this grim economic climate – is quite odd. And seemingly just bad business.

   Think about the marketing/sponsorship possibilities of such a double-header weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix, Richmond, Chicagoland...and now add repaved Pocono to the list...


   Remember, not only did Indy's George make the ultimate gesture of goodwill and friendship in opening Gasoline Alley, amid considerable antagonism from Indy purists, but George and his men were also instrumental in creating the soft-wall SAFER barrier that has save so many drivers' lives in the nearly 10 years since it was introduced first – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  
    Eric McClure, at Talladega just three weeks ago, is most recent NASCAR driver still alive today directly because of Indy's George and his soft-walls.  

    In fact most NASCAR drivers take such safety devices for granted these days.



    Two of the most powerful men in the world of racing: NASCAR's Jim France (R) and Indy's Tony George (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    The storylines this weekend are myriad:

    -- the annual Penske-Ganassi spring-time duel at Indy....and the annual Rick Hendrick-Jack Roush spring-time duel in North Carolina....

    -- the distinct possibility of yet another gas-mileage finish on the stock car tour, another upset, like Kevin Harvick last year, David Reutimann in 2009, Casey Mears in 2007...

    -- the long-running Jimmie Johnson-at-Charlotte saga

    -- the latest twists in seemingly endless, and increasingly superfluous, Danica Patrick story (seldom if ever in racing history has so much been written about someone who has done so little)...

    -- increasing questions about NASCAR's 2013 stock car project (word around here is that the Dodge 2013 hasn't been touched since the prototype was unveiled in March at Las Vegas, and that the whole 2013 project has not only been slowed down by that roadblock but that rivals have been told to start 'dumbing down' their own designs, to back up to where the Dodge is)....

    -- and the Randy Bernard story.


   Indy-car's Randy Bernard: upbeat and energetic, with one of the best smiles in racing. (Photo: Indy-car)


    Bernard is the man now running the Indy-car world. Unlike most NASCAR executives these days Bernard has a bright, outgoing, effervescent personality. While NASCAR's bosses seem to be trying to perfect the dour, cynical  look, Bernard comes to town with a 1,000-watt Richard Petty grin, and a pocketful of intriguing ideas.

    Is Bernard going to be 'the man who save Indy-car racing?' Well, this month he's front-and-center dealing with the 'loss' of Danica Patrick and the violent death last fall of Dan Wheldon, the man who won the Indianapolis 500 last May.

    Now the Indy-car world itself may be just as weird and confusing as ever – they just raced in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Birmingham, Alabama....and they've got a race planned for Qingdao, China, of all places. Can you imagine the reaction in the stock car garage here if  Brian France told the guys 'Hey, get those cars and parts ready for the ocean-shipping haulers, because we're going to go racing through the streets of some city in China....'

    Well, you've got to give it to Bernard – he's not afraid to try something new.

    Bernard is relatively new to the racing scene, coming over from the cowboy world. But he has been working wonders, despite little apparently support from the NASCAR side.

   It's really not clear why NASCAR and some of its various logical franchises – Phoenix, Richmond, Michigan, for easy examples – aren't on the Indy-car schedule.  Iowa and Sonoma are on the Indy-car tour, and California's Auto Club Speedway returns for the first time in 10 years; New Hampshire, Kentucky and Las Vegas are off.  Yes, Indy-car crowds don't match NASCAR crowds....but then NASCAR crowds don't measure up to they used to be either, so maybe some better business thinking is required.


   Danica Patrick and Roger Penske (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





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