Ladies and gentlemen, we’re just a few short days away from the greatest day in motorsports and I, for one, cannot wait.
Each year, I circle the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend on my calendar when we get not one, not two, but three classic races across Formula 1, the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR. In short, for the racing aficionado, it’s sheer nirvana.
And for those wondering what I meant by circle the calendar, well, let me explain.
Back in the olden days we would have paper monthly calendars up on the wall in the kitchen on which we would write our plans on with old fashioned pens. Feel free to follow up with me separately here, Gen Z’ers. I can make a TikTok dance out of it too if that would help.
Anyhow, I digress – back to the matter in hand.
We start on Sunday morning (May 28) with the Monaco Grand Prix.
This will be the 80th edition of this fabled race, a streak that runs all the way back to 1929. The course is set on the streets of the principality of Monaco, a sovereign city-state nestled in the beautiful French Riviera. The tight confines of the circuit, elevation changes and not to mention the tunnel, make passing, if not impossible, then extremely difficult. To give some NASCAR context for the uninitiated, passing Ryan Newman on the final lap of a race he’s leading is easier.
I’m lucky enough to have driven the course in a vintage Land Rover, back in the day, and it seems almost insane that Formula 1 cars race around it. And in a sport where pole position really matters, this particular race is one where that is even more the case. Truth is Formula 1 has been, to put it politely, as dull at ditchwater this season.
The Red Bulls of back-to-back champion Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are literally streets ahead in pace (no pun intended) of the rest of the field. I would go as far as to say their dominance is almost embarrassing. The two wheelmen have split the five wins this season with Verstappen picking up three checkered flags to Perez’s two.
At this rate, they might win every race this season. All told, Verstappen has won a remarkable 18 of the last 28 Grands Prix, including last season. Competitive, F1 is most assuredly not. Don’t expect anything much different this weekend.
In the middle of Sunday’s racing sandwich is the Indianapolis 500 – part of the unofficial Triple Crown of Motorsports, along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This will be the 107th running of this absolute gem of a race. I don’t think there is anything in the entirety of sports quite as mesmeric as a battle for the lead in the closing laps of the 500. First raced in 1911, the inaugural Indy 500 was won by Ray Harroun, piloting the Marmon Wasp, the first ever single seater open wheel car which was, at the time, a groundbreaking design. Billed as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the 500 will pack something in the region of 400,000 fans into the famous old track this weekend and it truly is a tradition like no other.
Four drivers have won the race four times: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves with the Brazilian veteran looking to make it a record five this Sunday. One other driver ecstatic to be racing Sunday is Graham Rahal, who missed out in qualifying by an infinitesimally small margin. But a wreck in practice and injury to Stefan Wilson led to an opportunity for the Ohio native to make the race. You can read more about that here.
Unlike what will probably be the somewhat processional nature of the Monaco Grand Prix, I would expect comers and goers across the 200-lap race and perhaps a late race, last lap pass for the win. Cannot. Flipping. Wait.
Rounding off proceedings in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race and the only one of the Cup season to have four stages vs. the usual three. The race is often a war of attrition, and with this in mind, perhaps a little surprisingly, the Coke has seen a number of first time Cup winners: David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), Matt Kenseth (2000), Casey Mears (2007), David Reutimann (2009) and most recently Austin Dillon in 2017.
Could we see another first time Cup winner this weekend? Based on form this season, it would seem unlikely, but as the race has shown over the years it’s far from impossible.
The favorites for the Sunday night cap are the usual 2023 suspects: The Hendrick Motorsports pair of Kyle Larson and William Byron and the Joe Gibbs Racing veterans Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. and it would not surprise me to see the winner coming from that quartet.
Enjoy the best Sunday in racing, folks.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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