Tony Kanaan spent the final practice before the Indianapolis 500 talking to the race track.
He wanted to be kind to the old lady, to land in her good graces before the historic 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“I think this track will pick the winner. Whatever she picks, it’s going to be a very lucky guy,” Kanaan said Friday after landing atop the leaderboard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I’m trying to massage the track a little bit, talk to her nicely and then see if she will pick me on Sunday.”
Kanaan has led a total of 715 miles around the sprawling speedway, but it took him 12 tries to win the checkered flag. That 2013 victory was the most important of his career and the Brazilian is eager to try for another in front of the first capacity crowd in the history of a race that was first run in 1911. There could be more than 350,000 people on hand on what is expected to be a warm, sunny day that will be marked by celebration.
“I’m so humbled to be part of this, I’ve always wanted to be in this race since I was a little kid,” he said. “I never really came to this place until I raced in 2002, so I haven’t experienced what it’s like when this place is sold out. I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never, never seen anything like this. I hope it’s the big jump we need to bring the 500 back to where it belongs.”
This centennial running has turned a special event into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At least 100,000 fans poured into the speedway Friday for Carb Day, the traditional final day of practice. Everyone wants to be part of the show, and every driver wants to win this race.
Although a pair of Americans – Josef Newgarden and 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay – will start on the front row Sunday, a Canadian will lead the field to the green flag. James Hinchcliffe was the feel-good pole winner for the 500, a year after he nearly died in a crash during a practice session the day after qualifying. His crash caused a part to break off his car and it skewered one of his thighs, causing Hinchcliffe, from Oakville, Ont., to nearly bleed to death as IndyCar’s safety team raced him to emergency surgery.
He watched the 500 from his hospital bed and remembers very little of last May as he was heavily medicated while hospitalized.
“I remember the finish, that battle at the end, that was very fun to watch,” he said of Juan Pablo Montoya’s showdown with teammate Will Power. Montoya went on to win his second Indy 500.
Marco Andretti has been preparing for Sunday for an entire year.
His family suffers from the notorious “Andretti curse” that has produced just one victory – Mario Andretti in 1969 – despite numerous chances to win. Michael Andretti returned from retirement in 2006 to race against his son, an Indy 500 rookie, and the curse struck again. Michael Andretti held a late lead, only to be passed by his son and then Sam Hornish Jr. went roaring by and passed Marco at the finish line.
Another Andretti defeat.
“I think about it still every day,” Marco said. “See, this place was really, really tough to us. We’ve been healthy as a family with all the tries, over 70-something tries, we’re blessed to be healthy. But man, we’ve had a lot of plane rides home talking about how we didn’t win it, and that’s getting old.”
This is the one he really wants for his family.
“This whole buildup, all the buzz surrounding this race, I’ve never been a part of anything like it,” he said. “Just to put your mark on the 100th would be huge. I keep saying, ‘It’s only right an Andretti wins the 100th.’” Andretti is like the 32 other drivers in the field in their desire to become the 100th face on the famed Borg-Warner trophy.
Among those eyeing the winner’s bottle of milk Sunday is Graham Rahal, who is trying to win his first Indy 500 on the 30th anniversary of the race won by his father, Bobby.
More than anything, Rahal is striving to help IndyCar and its cornerstone event use the 100th running to strengthen the series and ensure that the Indy 500 remains a fixture in American sports.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and help this sport grow. If we could win it, obviously it would be a great platform to do even more of that,” Rahal said. “Whoever wins this thing needs to be on top of their game and promote like crazy and work hard. I really hope it’s an American, honestly. This is going to be a big one. They’ve captured that audience again that maybe we had lost there for a little bit. Now we’ve got to keep their attention and keep it going.”
Montoya would like to repeat this year and give team owner Roger Penske a 17th Indy 500 win. Team Penske is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and all four of his drivers want to give the boss the centennial victory.
If Penske gets a win from Helio Castroneves, the Brazilian would become just the fourth driver in history to win Indy four times.
If there was a favourite for this race, it would likely be another Penske driver: Simon Pagenaud has been on a tear this year, his second driving for The Captain. He opened the year with a pair of second-place finishes, then reeled off three wins in a row headed into the 500. Montoya won the season opener, so Penske has four wins in five races this year.
It’s been a trend as Chevrolet teams have dominated the series, while Honda is still looking for its first win of the year.
Hinchcliffe on the pole is a start for Honda, as were several strong days of practice by the five Andretti Autosport entries. But many have wondered if the Chevy teams are simply waiting to show their hand on Sunday. That may be slightly true based on the final practice in which Kanaan and reigning series champion Scott Dixon were first and third in their Chip Ganassi Racing Chevys.
Rahal isn’t concerned with what Honda will have on Sunday.
“I think Honda’s done a good job,” he said. “The power plant is pretty good. It’s got some juice to it. I’m looking forward to going out there and see if it stays that way for the race.”
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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