May 27, 2012 in Sports

Penske tries to go 5-0 this season

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Marco Andretti, left, talks with his grandfather and 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti. Marco is looking for his first Indy win.
(Full-size photo)

Indianapolis 500

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (oval, 2.5 miles).

Last year: Dan Wheldon raced to an improbable victory when leader JR Hildebrand skidded high

into the wall on the final turn. Wheldon was killed

in a crash in the season- ending race at Las Vegas.

Today’s favorite: Dario Franchitti, 4-1

TV: 9 a.m., ABC

Coca-Cola 600

Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles), Concord, N.C.

Last year: Kevin Harvick raced to the third of his four 2011 victories, taking the lead when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final lap. David Ragan was second, and Earnhardt finished seventh.

Today’s favorite: Jimmie Johnson, 6-1

TV: 2:30 p.m., Fox 28

Marco Andretti knows how much heartache his family has suffered at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He needs no reminders that IndyCar could use an American superstar, and with his famous last name, he is quite aware of the hope that maybe he can be the one to elevate this attention-starved series.

None of that matters to Andretti as he heads into the Indianapolis 500.

He believes he can win today’s race – “it’s going to be our race to lose,” he said – and he wants it, badly. But Andretti wants it for himself, for his own career, and not because of what it would mean to his family or for IndyCar. Mario Andretti won in 1969, and no Andretti has done it again in 65 starts and many of those races were devastating near-misses.

“That’s not my approach to the event. My approach is I want to win our Super Bowl,” Andretti said. “I put that pressure on myself. I don’t want to do it because he did it and my dad didn’t, that’s all bonus. Do I think we can? You’re darn right.”

The 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is the most wide-open race in a very long time. Engine competition for the first time in six years and the introduction of a new car has widened the pool of potential winners, and there’s no clear favorite.

“I think we’re going to see the best race we’ve had in at least a decade,” said Roger Penske, winner of 15 Indy 500s and the team owner of pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe.

Penske is undefeated this season, as Helio Castroneves and points leader Will Power have combined to win the first four races. And with Chevrolet power, Penske drivers have swept all five poles so far this season.

So it seemed to be business as usual on pole day, when Chevrolet clearly had the edge. The team put nine drivers inside the top 10, and all six of the full-time entries were from Penske and Andretti Autosport.

Then came Carb Day, and the Hondas came to life.

Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon led the leaderboard, with Andretti landing third on the final speed chart as the fastest Chevy driver.

“Maybe some sandbagging?” Franchitti wondered as Andretti slid into the seat next to him following their final on-track session before the race. “Do you really think we’re all going to show what we can do?”

The return of Chevrolet and addition to Lotus has renewed rivalries this season in IndyCar, and the fight between Chevy and Honda has been on display since the track opened May 9. Chevy lost two appeals in its fight to prevent Honda from getting a new compressor cover for its turbocharger, and the final decision came the day before practice officially opened.

Honda then dominated on the track, particularly Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson, the two young American drivers for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. But there was skepticism that the Chevy teams were simply holding back, and that sure seemed to be the case after qualifying.

Widow accepts trophy for Wheldon’s win

Susie Wheldon received a long standing ovation during the public driver meeting for the Indianapolis 500.

Dan Wheldon’s widow accepted a replica of the Borg Warner trophy, given to the Indy 500 winner, on behalf of the two-time Indianapolis winner. He was killed in a crash during the October season finale race at Las Vegas. Susie Wheldon held her 3-year-old son, Sebastian, while accepting the trophy.

Keselowski dominates in Nationwide win

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Saturday, leading the final 67 laps to give Penske Racing a winning start on auto racing’s biggest weekend.

Keselowski raced to his first Nationwide victory of the year.

Keselowski led the way as Sprint Cup drivers took the top four spots. Denny Hamlin was second, followed by Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, last year’s Coca-Cola 600 champion.

Nationwide points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had driveshaft problems and finished 26th.

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