SBD/Issue 172/Events & Attractions

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  • Indy 500 Looking Strong With Huge Crowd For Helio's Third Win

    Castroneves Gives Indy 500
    A "Hollywood Script Ending"
    While there have been "whispers of concern over the viability of the IndyCar Series for some time," the "fairy tale Indianapolis 500 on Sunday might have provided evidence that the pulse is stronger than previously thought," according to Matt Markey of the TOLEDO BLADE. Sunday's race had "all the necessary elements a healthy open-wheel racing community would like to see." Helio Castroneves won the race "fresh off his acquittal on federal tax evasion charges," giving the event a "Hollywood script ending." Meanwhile, Danica Patrick was "in contention for the win to the end and finished third." Patrick said that it was "critical to see the showcase event of the IndyCar Series thrive." Dan Wheldon, who finished second, said that a "revitalized atmosphere was evident to him." Wheldon: "There's no greater sporting event because of that. Primarily, it's the fans that make this race, and when you consider how many there were [Sunday] -- I haven't seen it this busy since I've been an IndyCar driver. I think that's a great kind of thing that's happening for the IndyCar Series." Markey reported the race drew a "capacity crowd of more than a quarter of a million fans" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), a contrast to recent years when "large sections of empty stands at Indy stood out like open sores" (TOLEDO BLADE, 5/26). ESPN.com's John Schwarb in a live blog of the race wrote, "Looks like a very healthy crowd. ... Some sparse pockets of seating can be found at the start of the pit-lane grandstands and in the corner of the south end of the Turn 3 grandstand, but everything else is full" (ESPN.com, 5/24).  IMS does not keep an official attendance for the race (THE DAILY).

    FEELS LIKE OLD TIMES? In Indiana, Ben Smith wrote Sunday's race "felt like Old Indy." Smith: "I haven't seen a crowd that huge and that animated here since ... well, since the Good Old Days." He added, "By every measure you want to use, the Indy 500 doesn't get any better than Sunday" (Ft. Wayne JOURNAL GAZETTE, 5/26). But ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said the race "doesn't have the same ring to it." Kornheiser: "Thirty years ago when the Indianapolis 500 was a major deal in this country, (Castroneves' win) would be celebrated all around the country. ... It's like horse racing, it's going down a little bit" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/26). S.F. Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto said Indy is "not as big a deal as it used to be." Ratto: "The hockey and basketball playoffs now have encroached on Memorial Day. It's a much more crowded sports landscape, but the Indy 500 is still an important thing for race fans" ("Chronicle Live," CSN Bay Area, 5/26).

    NEW LEASE ON LIFE: NBCSPORTS.com's Mike Celizic wrote under the header, "Castroneves' Big Day May Just Save Indy As Well." Castroneves "could make open-wheel racing important for more than one day a year," as he has "climbed from rising sun to supernova." Castroneves likely will have "morning and late-night talk-show appearances, commercial endorsements [and] stories in the gossip mags," as he has "driven into another world with his entire sport hitched to his bumper for the ride." For Castroneves, "his name was clear, the track was clear, the future was brighter than ever, not just for Helio Castroneves, but for the IRL, as well." Meanwhile, Patrick "ran a good race and nailed down the best finish she'd ever had at Indy" (NBCSPORTS.com, 5/24). Patrick said of Castroneves, "I'm happy to see him happy. It's great for the sport" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/25). SI.com's Bruce Martin wrote of Castroneves' win, "It has to be a big story if Patrick's third-place finish in the Indy 500 is overshadowed" (SI.com, 5/25).

    HAPPY QUINCEANERA: Penske Racing has launched a microsite dedicated to Castroneves' win. The victory marks the 15th win in the storied race for team owner Roger Penske. To commemorate the championship, penskeracing.com is offering Indy 500-related merchandise for 15% off. The site also is following Castroneves with video and photos from his victory tour, which includes a visit yesterday to "Live with Regis and Kelly" and other media stops in N.Y. He will be in Dallas today and Chicago tomorrow to promote future IndyCar Series events in those markets (Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). Castroneves noted sponsors and race teams "don't want to be associated" with someone under federal charges. Castroneves: "Having them standing beside me and supporting me through this whole ordeal, it was incredible." He added, "Everybody knows who I am … and when they know you for that long, they know your character" ("America's Nightly Scoreboard," Fox Business, 5/26).

    Patrick's Third-Place Finish Could Heighten
    Possibility Of Move To NASCAR
    SHIFTING GEARS: ESPN.com's Terry Blount wrote of Patrick, "This was the new calm and cool Patrick on her way to a career-best Indy 500, finishing third and running near the front all day." Patrick's performance "no doubt ... was noticed by interested parties, which might include a few NASCAR team owners." Blount noted Patrick earlier this year signed with IMG, "one of the most powerful marketing firms in sports," and IMG reportedly is "shopping her around to NASCAR teams and sponsors to gauge the interest in moving to NASCAR." The sport "could use her star power, especially if Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to struggle" (ESPN.com, 5/25). SI.com's Lars Anderson wrote if Patrick remains in the IndyCar Series with Andretti Green Racing (AGR), she will have an "excellent shot at winning the 500 over the next few years." But he added, "From what I hear, Roush Fenway Racing is extremely interested in signing her" for NASCAR (SI.com, 5/25). But in Detroit, Mike Brudenell wrote Patrick's finish might be a "reason to believe she will stay in the IndyCar Series and ignore the inevitable lure of NASCAR" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 5/26).

    DON'T TAKE THE GIRL: In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote when Patrick's contract with AGR expires at the end of this season, IRL CEO Tony George needs to "present Patrick with a giant check that lets her write in as many zeroes as she wants." Patrick "cannot -- never, ever, ever -- be allowed to jump from this series to NASCAR or Formula One." If Sunday's race was Patrick's final Indy 500 "as an open-wheel regular, the sport is back in very deep trouble as a niche sport on a second-tier cable network," as her departure would be a "decisive and horrible blow to open-wheel racing." Patrick is a "hothouse flower who is drawn to the lights, loves the attention, and NASCAR can give her attention in ways the IRL can only begin to imagine" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/26).

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  • Rain-Shortened Coca-Cola 600 Finishes To Fraction Of Initial Fans

    Coca-Cola 600's 140,000 Ticket-Buyers
    Plagued By Rain, Few Remain For End Of Race
    The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway (LMS) was a "soggy, sad result for the roughly 140,000 ticket-buyers who descended on the track Sunday afternoon, eager to witness the 50th running of one of NASCAR's crown jewels," according to Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. The race ultimately was moved to Monday due to rain, and "only a few thousand remained in the stands by the time the race was called" after 227 of 400 laps at 6:27pm ET. The fans sat through a "poor excuse for entertainment under miserable conditions," and the "stop-and-start nature of the proceedings was irritating for drivers, with rain changing the track's characteristics and shrouding the competition with uncertainty" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/26). The AP's Mike Cranston noted LMS was "close to selling out the 140,000 grandstand tickets" on Sunday, but there were "only a few thousand fans still in their seats more than 24 hours later when David Reutimann finally was declared the anticlimactic winner." It appeared that "less than half the fans returned" on Monday after the race was postponed Sunday, and LMS officials said that while there were no refunds, ticket holders "would be entitled to a 10[%] discount" for the October 17 NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America at LMS (AP, 5/25). In North Carolina, Lenox Rawlings noted when the race started Monday "shortly after noon, there were more empty seats than people." The audience "contracted during each rain interruption," and by the "last red-flag stop, the crowd had dwindled to dirt-track size, with a smattering of people sprinkled amid the colored seats." The race "evolved into a test: How long was NASCAR willing to wait?" (WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 5/26). But ESPN.com's David Newton noted many of Sunday's attendees "returned on Monday despite the forecast for more bad weather ... and a host of complaints about what is wrong with the sport" (ESPN.com, 5/25).

    DELAYING THE INEVITABLE: SI.com's Tom Bowles wrote, "Within 30 minutes of the race's third red flag on Lap 227, everyone knew the radar left restarting the event all but impossible. For the next few hours, fans started leaving in droves while drivers changed into their street clothes -- knowing the answer everyone knew except apparently NASCAR itself." NASCAR was "left embarrassed by waiting about two hours too long" to call the race (SI.com, 5/25). In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote NASCAR was in a "no-win situation" Monday. Utter: "Given the on-again, off-again nature of the weather, the nearly two hours it took to dry the track and the fact NASCAR waited longer than two hours after the final red flag before making the call, I think the right decision was made. ... But at some point, somebody has to make a judgment call. In this case, the speedway and NASCAR did their best to accommodate everyone" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/25). In Greensboro, Ed Hardin wrote, "There's never been a sporting event quite like the one we witnessed Monday, and hopefully we never will again" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 5/26). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wrote, "Race fans got to ponder all sorts of questions Sunday, like why there wasn't a better contingency plan to entertain those fans sitting miserably in their ponchos for hours a bit more. Or why Fox Sports announcers kept so optimistically proclaiming to their audience that there was going to be some racing when the truth was it never got close to that" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/25). However, Driver Ryan Newman, who finished second in the race, said NASCAR did an "excellent job putting an effort in" to attempt to finish the race on Sunday and Monday. Newman: "I don't think there was any type of premature call on the rain-shortened race [Monday]" (HAMPTONROADS.com, 5/25).

    Wheeler Attends Indy 500 Instead Of Coca-
    Cola 600 On Sunday Because Of Ongoing Feud
    FAMILY FEUD: The AP's Cranston reported former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler, who also served as LMS President and "ran the track for more than three decades," attended the Indianapolis 500 Sunday rather than the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 due to an ongoing feud with SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith. Wheeler: "I thought after 33 years there that they would ask me to be there to be part of the celebration." Smith said that their relationship "turned sour last spring when Wheeler asked for a $5[M] severance as they discussed his impending retirement." Smith: "I think that his attitude changed when we said, 'No, we can't.'" Wheeler claimed that a "severance deal is common." Wheeler said that after he "told Smith of his retirement plans, Smith wanted to quickly replace him," which "led to Wheeler announcing his retirement before last year's Coca-Cola 600, a week earlier than Smith wanted." Wheeler added that he "hasn't spoken to Smith since." Cranston noted the feud "comes after the men helped create one of the top tracks in the country" (AP, 5/23). In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen wrote, "The Bruton-Humpy relationship ended the way most relationships do. There probably were several factors -- money, the drag strip on which Bruton had insisted, Bruton's threat to yank the speedway out of Concord if he didn't get to build the dragstrip." The break-up between the two "simmered until Saturday," as Smith "apparently had seen, or been told about, at least one television report in which Humpy talked about the lack of an invitation." Smith: "I do know that I've seen some of the things he said. Some of you don't realize that he retired. Do you understand that? You understand what retirement is, right? He retired" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).

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