Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jimmy Johnson Takes 4th Brickyard 400 Win

Jimmy Johnson takes the checkers at Indy

He's done it again. And in dominating fashion again, as Jimmy Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon as four-time Brickyard 400 winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pole winner Denny Hamlin led early but got shuffled out of the groove on a restart after only a third of the race had been run and he never recovered. Dale Earnhardt Jr. now leads the Sprint Cup standings by taking fourth at Indy, although he was never a serious challenger for the win today. Kyle Busch finished second ahead of Greg Biffle who gained track position on a late pit stop by only taking on two tires. Jeff Gordon followed Little E home to round out the top five on a hot day in Indianapolis. Local favorite Tony Stewart had to take solace with a 10th place finish but was nowhere near the lead all day after starting well back in the field.

The race was fairly incident free and there were no serious penalties handed out as had been the case in yesterday's Nationwide race. It will be hard to say if the Speedway will be happy with the size of today's crowd, but those that did attend were typically enthusiastic for their favorite NASCAR stars. I worked the south end of the track today and the pits rather than shooting in Turn 3 as I have often done and got to much better viewpoints to cover the race as a result. I think my pictures will demonstrate that and after today, the fourth straight day I have shot racing this weekend, I will have a ton of editing to do before heading to Mid Ohio Sports Car Course next weekend for the Indycar & American LeMans Series races.

Today's Brickyard was not exactly one for the ages but now two drivers are poised to grab an historic fifth win - Johnson & Gordon. No one has won at Indy five times in any series, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds next season as these two teammates go at it once again at this famed oval which so many of us love

Denny Hamlin Takes Pole for 19th Brickyard 400

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin looked a little nervous yesterday as qualifying wound down and numerous drivers took shots at his speed but he needn't have worried as his time was more than adequate to stand up to all challengers. Reed Sorenson, Joe Nemechek and Michael McDowell were the only three drivers who failed to qualify. Carl Edwards joins Hamlin on the front row for today's 160 lap race. It's hard to believe that this is the 19th running  of the Brickyard but I've been to them all and I hope they put on a good race. Until then, here's a slide show of driver shots from the qualifying line yesterday afternoon. Back with more later!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Keselowski Gets First Stock Car Win for Penske at Indy

Brad Keselowski performs a victory burnout at Indy
Penske Racing pulled off a one-two finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today as Brad Keselowski was handed the win after Nationwide Series Points leader Elliott Sadler was blackflagged for jumping a later race restart. Sam Hornish Jr., finished second and rookie Ty Dillon took third in the inaugural Indiana 250 at the Brickyard. Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin, who will start on the pole for tomorrow's Brickyard 400, took fourth ahead of Nationwide regular Austin Dillon.

The 100 lap race was relatively incident free except those that were involved in incidents were big names:  Danica Patrick was an innocent victim of a Reed Sorensen spin early in the race which ended her day. In the race's closing stages, Kyle Busch got into the side of Hornish and spun in Turn 1 on a restart which put his otherwise dominant race car out of the show. For the Series' first race at Indy, the drivers were relatively well behaved all day long, and a respectable crowd was on hand. Race fans are race fans and they cheered a full day of racing which started early with two Sprint Cup practice sessions, Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying and finally the Nationwide race. I started the race outside of Turn 3 and will have more pix to share once I finish editing. Until then, for now I am featuring today's happy winner Brad Keselowski. Much more to follow. And tomorrow is the big day when the Sprint Cup stars take on the Brickyard for the 19th time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Superweekend at Indy is Underway!

Kyle Busch led Nationwide practice at IMS Thursday
The Superweekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is well and truly underway today, and I am in the media center this morning getting ready to shoot the Rolex Series action this morning. Later today, I am off to Lucas Oil Raceway to work for ARCA and shoot their 200 lap feature which should be a lot of fun. Kyle Busch was quickest in Thursday's half day of practice at IMS for the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the first foray on the big oval for the series. There was lots of track action yesterday and today will be more of the same, something this weekend has sorely needed for years. It was great to see Ty Dillon run well in his first attempt to run a Nationwide car, but it was the Sprint Cup drivers who led the way on speed with Sam Hornish Jr. the first Nationwide regular in fourth. Series points leader Elliot Sadler was quick out of the box but Kyle's brother Kurt was second quick, followed by Kasey Kahne, Hornish and Denny Hamlin.

Hornish is doing double duty this weekend as AJ Allmendinger's replacement, and he probably has more laps on this track than anyone else in the Nationwide Series, including a 2006 win in the Indy 500. Tomorrow's track schedule is really jammed with Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying plus the Indy 250 race for the Nationwide competitors. Today may be a big surprise for a lot of race fans at Indy who have never seen the Grand Am series run, but they will put on a helluva show and race hard in both the Continental Tire series and Rolex Series, so while I am enjoying the short track action at Lucas Oil Raceway later today, I hope everyone gets the chance to come to IMS today and watch the sports car crowd have at it. Until then here's a quick slideshow from yesterday's Nationwide Series action. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SuperWeekend at Indy On Tap

Rolex GrandAm will race Indy for the first time
It's a great week for racing in Indianapolis so I hope you get out to see some of it. While the IZOD Indycar Series has the weekend off, just about everyone else is racing around here, although you won't get to see the Camping World Truck Series here this year. The annual NASCAR pilgrimage to Indy is already underway for this year's Brickyard 400 but there have been some (much needed) changes so keep your eyes on the weekend schedule. For the first time ever, the Rolex GrandAm and Continental Tire Challenge series will bring sports car racing to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The recent open test was eye opening for many in the sports car world, and these series will put on great races this Friday, when they have the track to themselves for the whole day.

Nationwide drivers take on the big track Thursday & Saturday
The action at IMS starts on Thursday with the Nationwide Series running the oval for afternoon practice sessions before the track gets converted to road course configuration overnight for GrandAm. Unfortunately for some, this weekend will not include NASCAR racing on one of the best short tracks around:  the paved 5/8 mile at Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR) in Clermont a couple of miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The truck series run at LOR is over for the time being and when this schedule change (and the move of the Nationwide race to IMS) was announced last year, there were some hard feelings after both series races had been such a huge part of the Brickyard weekend for years.

GrandAm tested the IMS road course 
It will be very interesting to see if the shift of Nationwide racing to IMS will help bolster the weekend crowd as I'm sure IMS and NASCAR are hoping, but my money is on the GrandAm race drawing a bigger crowd than the Nationwide race, even though NASCAR has Danica Patrick returning this year for her first chance to drive a stock car at Indy after numerous starts in the Indy 500. The biggest problem with the Brickyard weekend in years past has been lack of track activity ever since the IROC support race went away, so no one will be able to complain about that this year, as the track will be full from Thursday through Sunday.

Lucas Oil Raceway will still have its share of action this week even without the trucks and Nationwide events, so when the day is over at IMS, hop on US 136 West to Clermont and check it out if you haven't gotten your fill of racing exhaust and the smell of hot tires after running concludes at the Speedway. This year, both the USAC Silver Crown and National Midget series have the LOR track to themselves on Thursday July 26th for open wheel racing under the lights. 

ARCA racing returned to Lucas Oil Raceway in 2011
The next night, Friday July 27th, the ARCA stock car racers will take to LOR for 200 laps; I have the privilege of shooting that event for ARCA following a similar assignment at Winchester recently, so check the ARCA website for photos late Friday night and early Saturday. The bad news with this assignment is I will miss the inaugural GrandAm races at IMS and I know they will put on a helluva show for sports car fans like they always do. The good news is I love ARCA racing for its bevy of future stars like Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher and numerous others who race for their futures at all kinds of tracks. Last year the ARCA darling was Ty Dillon who is doing quite well in the truck series this year. If you're a fan of short track stock car racing, you won't want to miss this ARCA event to see these young guns battle on LOR's flat track. You can tell your kids "you saw them when..."!

Paul Menard got his only Sprint Cup win at Indy in 2011
I will be covering the rest of the weekend for American Motor Journal again this year. I expect the Nationwide race on Saturday to be quite interesting with so many drivers tackling Indy's big flat corners and long straightaways for the first time. Saturday's schedule at IMS is jammed with Nationwide and Sprint Cup qualifying along with the Nationwide race, and starting up front is always a key at Indy as "clean air" and "aero push" are terms you will likely hear a million times Saturday and Sunday. The weekend wraps up with the big show on Sunday with the 18th running of the Brickyard 400. Who will kiss the bricks this year? And can the schedule changes overcome the last few years of controversy (tiregate, the Montoya penalty, etc.,) and shrinking attendance at IMS for this signature event? The weather forecast continues to be hotter than blazes in Indy but that's nothing new for this event weekend. I'll be spending a lot of time on the westside this weekend, so I hope you make it out too. See you at the track!

The ARCA series raced well at Lucas Oil Raceway last year; expect more of the same this year.

Can Paul Menard defend his 2011 Brickyard title?
Will Scott Pruett (Telmex Ganassi 01) get his first win at Indy?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rolex Series Tests at Indy: Prelude to Super Weekend

The GrandAm Rolex Series tested at IMS July 6, 2012
The Rolex Grand Am and Continental Tire Challenge series competitors rolled onto Indianapolis Motor Speedway today for a two-day test session amidst the hottest weather seen in Indy in 75 years. The heat did not appear to slow anyone down who needed track time as preparation for the inaugural sports car races at IMS which are scheduled for July 27th as part of the Brickyard 400 "Super Weekend". I don't know if today was the hottest day ever that cars have been on the famed oval at IMS, but it certainly was the hottest day I can recall since I began shooting at Indy in 1984. And I wasn't even wearing a triple layer Nomex firesuit like the drivers! I can't imagine what that must have felt like.

One time along the entrance to pit lane from the Grand Am paddock area, I knelt down to take a low angle photo as the cars were coming out for the afternoon practice session, and I thought I was going to leave some skin on the IMS concrete. Although I didn't blister or melt out there today, I felt like I was going to at times, and scouting for photos took equal priority with finding shade whenever the opportunity presented itself. Thankfully the media center was open and I was able to replenish my water supply and take advantage of the air conditioning during lunch.

The Rolex competitors earned their keep today and I hope the data they compile will be useful for the race at the end of the month. I will not likely be able to shoot it however, as I have a commitment to ARCA at Lucas Oil Raceway that day, so unless it rains I will be in Clermont that day rather than Speedway. Lord knows we need the rain but race weekend is still three weeks away so I was glad to be able to get out there today and work the track's road course to shoot from areas not normally used during the Indy 500 or the Brickyard 400. After all, the Rolex guys are going the "wrong way", running the Speedway's infield road course in clockwise fashion and going north on the front straightaway. It does take some getting used to.