Indy 500, Coke 600 Represent Near-Perfect Day of Racing

NASCAR Sprint Cup Charlotte, NC 2016
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

There are certain days in our lives that we’ll remember forever.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Sadly, all of those days will live in infamy but for all the wrong reasons: they brought about pain and suffering and overwhelming loss. And we’ll never, ever forget the devastation, death and tragedy each brought with them.

But this past Sunday, we had a day that will live on in infamy for all the right reasons. Sure, and rightly so, it was first and foremost part of a holiday weekend designated to honor all members of the military that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this country free.

And then there was one of the most compelling and exciting Indianapolis 500s ever, driven by over 300,000 fans in attendance – the first time Indianapolis Motor Speedway has seen such a crowd in well over 20 years – and tens of millions more watching around the globe on TV.

Then, a few hours after the checkered flag waved at Indy, the green flag dropped at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis 500 2016
Photo by Bret Kelley, Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway

And as compelling of a story as we saw at Indianapolis with Alexander Rossi winning, we saw an almost equally compelling story when Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of 400 laps in the longest and most grueling NASCAR race each year, the Coca-Cola 600.

I was fortunate enough to be in Indy and watched the spectacle firsthand. I try not to get too emotional in my role as a reporter, but I have to tell you: I was elated beyond words to see the legendary IMS packed to the gills.

Sure, there were horrendous traffic jams both vehicular-wise and pedestrian-wise as folks made their way to the little 2.5-mile oval at 16th and Georgetown.

But for all the aggravation folks had to endure getting to their seats, it would be hard to find a paying customer who was ultimately disappointed at the way the race played out.

It was thrilling and chilling, exciting and exhilarating, full of drama – both good and bad – as each of the 200 laps ticked off and we drew closer to both the exciting finish and the crowning of a new champion.

Not only was it the biggest crowd at Indianapolis in more than 20 years, it made a statement that racing fans have not given up on the Verizon IndyCar Series. While virtually every other racing series has and continues to suffer in terms of attendance and TV ratings, IndyCar has been slowly and incrementally growing both at the box office and on TV.

With the number of folks that showed up Sunday, it was a HUGE shot in the arm for IndyCar’s present and future.

Meanwhile, nearly 600 miles to the southeast, Truex dominated at Charlotte Motor Speedway like no other driver ever has. He led all but eight of the 400 laps on the 1.5-mile oval.

Sure, it may have been a bit boring for fans of the 39 drivers in the race other than Truex. But if you’re a real, true NASCAR fan, hopefully you appreciated the job Truex and his team did. They were as close to perfection as you may ever find again in a Sprint Cup race.

What made the respective wins of both Rossi and Truex so unusual is when both the 500 and 600 began, they were unlikely prospects to win. Truex had a slightly better edge because he started the Coca-Cola 600 from the pole. While that was indeed an advantage, it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted not only that Truex would win, but that he’d win in such a commanding form.
And as for Rossi, a rookie with only five previous IndyCar starts, he was arguably one of the longest of the longshots. Typically, rookies get in over their head and check out early of the 500 due to crashes. But not Rossi. He kept a level head, saved fuel in the closing laps when he needed and literally drove like a 10-year veteran of the 500.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still flying high on what I witnessed in-person at Indianapolis and what I watched on TV from Charlotte. I can only hope that Sunday’s two races – and let’s not forget the thrilling Monaco Grand Prix in Formula One – will help further revive the interest of fans in motorsports.

We may never see another day like we saw both Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, but I know one thing for sure: I’m damn sure glad I’m an American, first and foremost, thankful for our troops keeping this nation free and as great as it truly is.

And if anyone asks me what I thought of Sunday overall, I’ll respond with one word about what I witnessed – and which I’ll spell out phonetically for added meaning:

His-toe-reeee.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

About Jerry Bonkowski 38 Articles
Jerry Bonkowski is a veteran motorsports writer who has worked for USA Today (15 years), ESPN.com (3 1/2 years), Yahoo Sports (4 1/2 years) and is in his third year with NBCSports.com's NASCAR Talk and MotorSportsTalk. He also is a regular on-air host for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (14 years). Jerry has been married for 30 years to Cyndee, the love of his life, and they are the proud parents of three adult children (still waiting for his first grandchild!). Twitter: @JerryBonkowski
  • Kevin

    While this is an excellent article, why did you omit any mention the crown jewel of F-1 racing, Monaco? Which just happens to be run on the same day. Three of the largest races in motor sports are run on the same day, why not give coverage to ALL of them?

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