SBD/Issue 172/Events & Attractions

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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