Red-hot Harvick hits wall Sunday at Charlotte

Red-hot Harvick hits wall Sunday at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR’s hottest driver didn’t last 100 laps in the Coca-Cola 600.

Kevin Harvick hit the wall Sunday, ended his night early at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Harvick had won five times this season, including the past two points races at Dover and Kansas and winning the All-Star event here a week ago. He didn’t even mind much about starting 39th after failed inspections, certain it would not take him long to get back among the leaders.

After Harvick got to fourth, he slammed the wall on Lap 83 and ended his try at winning both Charlotte weekends.

Harvick trailed sparks along the track and into the garage where he immediately headed after the accident.

Harvick hadn’t left the track early since dropping out of the Daytona 500.

Will Power's Indy 500 victory completes epic IndyCar resume

Will Power's Indy 500 victory completes epic IndyCar resume

INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power apparently doesn’t remember the moments following his Indianapolis 500 victory Sunday.

“I must have screamed a lot?” Power asked the media. “I didn’t realize. Everyone is talking about screaming.”

Yes he did. And for good reason.

Power had won 31 IndyCar races and 45 poles over his 10-plus-year career but never had drank the milk in winning on the sport’s biggest stage, the one that defines careers and a victory required if a driver wants to enshrine themselves in racing lore.

Power’s celebration was fueled not just for winning the Indianapolis 500 but by determination, disappointment and doubt.

For just the second time in the past 44 years, a driver won his first Indianapolis 500 after going winless in 10 previous starts.

“I was wondering if I would ever win it,” Power said. “And, thoughts went through my mind [about it] during the month, I guess.

“My career, I’ve had so many wins and so many poles. But everyone always talked about the 500.”

Indianapolis also comes with many traditions. Once in Victory Lane, Power appeared surprised to be handed a bottle of milk. It was just part of the thrill of the moment and Power embracing the celebration.

“I’ve seen a few of my competitors do it,” he deadpanned about the milk. “I just hesitated a bit because I’m not supposed to eat dairy.

“But I didn’t care. I just drank it.”

What’s avoiding doctor’s orders after winning the Indianapolis 500? Power soaked it all in, with several of his competitors congratulating him on the IMS frontstretch before he performed a much more recent tradition of kissing the bricks at the start-finish line.

With Roger Penske on his left and wife Liz on his right, Power pumped his fist in the air with still a look of misbelief.

“It’s what I needed so badly, what I wanted so badly, and it came true,” Power said. “Anyone here knows how that would feel. You want something so much, it comes through to you through hard work and determination.”

Even hard work and determination might not have been enough Sunday as with eight laps remaining, as it appeared his chance to win might slip away. He rode in fourth, and the three drivers ahead of him had the benefit of a few caution laps that made their fuel-mileage strategy a possibility.

Another caution and Power likely would have left Indianapolis just as he had done so the past 10 years.

Instead, leader Stefan Wilson had to pit with four laps to go and Jack Harvey followed, handing the lead over to Power, who cruised to the win by 3.1 seconds over Ed Carpenter.

“I just screamed like I’ve never screamed before,” Power said about 90 minutes after the checkered flag. “It was just amazing. The last two laps, the last lap, seeing the white flag, the checkered, I mean, you can’t explain it.

“Like I’ve really come down off the high now, because I’ve exhausted myself being so excited.”

He certainly knew the feeling of losing an Indy 500 as Juan Pablo Montoya passed him with less than four laps remaining three years ago. It was at that moment where it appeared Power might go down in history as one of the best drivers not to win Indianapolis.

“The one thing he always talked about was, ‘I have to win the Indy 500, I have to win the Indy 500 to get where you need to be,'” team president Tim Cindric said. “Having seen what he’s gone through with our team, what we’ve all gone through collectively — his mind never leaves this sport.

“He’s fully committed. He has made a lot of sacrifices. To see the culmination. I think you saw how excited he was today. You don’t see that out of Will too often.”

That high was evident the moment he emerged from his car in Victory Lane. The first Australian ever to win the Indianapolis 500 was nearly at a loss of words.

“I can’t describe it,” he said. “I feel like collapsing. I want to cry. I couldn’t stop screaming on the radio. I can’t believe it.”

His team owner could believe it.

“He won this race today because he was the best,” Penske said.

Power had to work to become the best at Indianapolis. A natural on road courses, the 37-year-old Power eventually adapted to the ovals. The biggest of them all, the 2.5-mile Indianapolis oval, is the most tricky with its flat corners and amazing speeds.

For several years, Power has had to walk into the Team Penske shop and see the miniature Borg-Warner Trophy to signify the organization’s 16 victories in the Indianapolis 500s. He can see the photo display of Indianapolis 500 winners and could only wish and wait for the next Memorial Day weekend.

“When you go into Penske, you see all the baby Borgs there in the foyer,” Power said. “In the IndyCar shop, you see all the pictures of those that have won.

“I’ve looked at that often and wanted to be up there. It’s going to be pretty cool to walk in that shop and see yourself up there.”

When he sees those photos, the emotions could return. If screaming is allowed in the buttoned-up Penske shop, Power likely will let out a shriek, especially if he sees the photo of Montoya in 2015 so close to a photo of Power in 2018.

“I was so disappointed in ’15 — man, so close,” Power said. “This a very different feeling. I don’t know what to say.

“It’s amazing. I’ll have to see the footage. Obviously, I screamed a lot. I just lost my head.”

CP3 likely a game-time decision for West finale

CP3 likely a game-time decision for West finale

HOUSTON — Houston Rockets star guard Chris Paul’s status for Monday’s Game 7 of the Western Conference finals will likely be a game-time decision, coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Paul missed the Rockets’ Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors due to the right hamstring strain he suffered in the final minutes of Houston’s Game 5 win.

“If I get the nod from the trainers, Chris and the doctors, then he’ll be ready to go,” D’Antoni said in a conference call Sunday evening. “Probably if any of those three disagree, he’s probably not going. So I think it’s a game-time decision, whatever it is, probably doubtful or however they listed it or questionable. They will eventually test it and see if there’s any possibility whatsoever.”

D’Antoni said Paul’s recovery is “going good” but acknowledged that the nine-time All-Star has not attempted to test the hamstring by running or working out since he was injured.

“He’s just been getting treatment and trying to make sure it calms down and everything,” D’Antoni said. “I would think the doctors and trainers are working on him 24 hours a day almost. They will tomorrow morning re-evaluate it again, probably tomorrow afternoon again.”

The Rockets went 15-9 without Paul during the regular season — 15-6 when probable MVP James Harden and blossoming star center Clint Capela both played — but were blown out by the Warriors in Game 6 despite building an early 17-point lead.

Paul, who advanced to the conference finals for the first time in his career in his first season with the Rockets, is averaging 21.1 points and 5.8 assists during these playoffs. He starred in Houston’s past two wins, averaging 23.5 points in those games and keying the Rockets’ comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

D’Antoni said the Rockets would not attempt gamesmanship by keeping Paul’s status under wraps after a decision is made Monday.

“We’re not going to be coy with it,” D’Antoni said. “As soon as we know, we’ll say it, but we might not know until the afternoon [when we] see how it goes or he tests it out. But we’ll have to kind of play it by ear for now.”

Stefan Wilson's Indy 500 story comes up a few laps short

Stefan Wilson's Indy 500 story comes up a few laps short

INDIANAPOLIS — Stefan Wilson knew he was going to run out of fuel. The rest of the world did not.

Instead, the 250,000 sweat-drenched fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were on their feet, believing that they were cheering a third consecutive improbable Indianapolis 500 winner to the checkered flag. There were four laps remaining — really, three — and Wilson’s No. 25 Honda had taken the lead three laps earlier via an electrifying restart when he seized the lead from veteran IndyCar racer Oriol Servia.

He was in position to do so via a gutsy strategy play from his Andretti Autosport team, choosing to stretch their fuel load to see if they might be able to sneak into the lead. There was nothing sneaky about how he’d raced into that lead. Once his car was out front and into clean air, speed was on his side. So was the crowd.

Unfortunately, the math was not.

“I am so happy I could give the crowd a thrill for a minute or two,” the 28-year-old Brit said moments after the race, signing autographs through the chain-link fence that separates pit road from the infield grandstand. “Every day during this whole month of May at Indy I have met so many people who have told me they were rooting for me. It means so much that my last name means so much to them.”

Wilson drew up his lip, tilted his head and smiled. “It was so close. I could almost see it up ahead. But yeah, I knew I was going to have to pit.”

So he did, surrendering the lead as the field approached with three laps to go. He yanked his car left down pit road, forced to watch eventual winner Will Power streak by him down the front stretch, headed to glory. After a splash of fuel, he made it back onto the track to finish 15th.

“We were right there. We were so close to changing my life forever,” he said.

There were many reasons for that crowd to root for Wilson so thunderously during those closing laps, and then gasp with the same fervor when they realized he was slowing down. Indy loves an underdog, and the 28-year-old was making just his second Indy 500 start, his first in two years, and only the third IndyCar Series race of his entire life.

Indy loves to have its heartstrings yanked, and his car was sponsored by an organ donation awareness organization and carried the names of 25 people whose lives were saved by organ donation, most of whom visited with Wilson before the race. Indy loves racers with class, and one year ago he earned the respect of the people in Speedway, Indiana, when he graciously handled being pushed out of his 500 ride with superpower Andretti Autosport to make room for a moonlighting Formula One champion, Fernando Alonso.

But mostly, race fans love Wilson because they loved his big brother, Justin, a seven-time IndyCar race winner. This August will mark three years since the elder Wilson was killed in a bizarre accident at Pocono Raceway, suffering traumatic head injuries when a stray piece of debris struck his helmet during a slow, seemingly innocuous incident. The loss of the beloved racer struck deep across the motorsports community, from Formula One to NASCAR. The bulk of that grief was heaped upon Stefan’s shoulders.

Think about that week in 2015. On Sunday, Wilson watched his brother’s accident on television from England. Early Monday morning, he arrived at the Pennsylvania hospital to watch Justin pass away and then have conversations with doctors about having his brother’s organs donated. He spent the week consoling his sister-in-law and two small nieces.

The next Sunday he was at the Sonoma Raceway for the IndyCar season finale, bravely fielding questions from the media, standing among his brother’s friends and rivals during impromptu at-track memorial services and accepting the well-wishes from weeping fans, all wearing commemorative T-shirts and stickers with his brother’s helmet and his tongue-in-cheek nickname, “Badass,” emblazoned on them.

He was 25.

Sunday afternoon, one of those fans who ran to grab his autograph through the fence after the Indy 500 was wearing one of those T-shirts. This weekend Justin’s wife and kids were at the racetrack, as were Justin and Stefan’s parents. And the sponsor that he worked so hard to thank through the disappointment of the near-win was that donation organization, #Driven2SaveLives, a relationship that began in those awful hours after his brother’s death.

“My brother saved six lives that week after his accident,” Stefan said, pointing to the logo on his silver and blue race car as it was towed away. “These people I met this month, there lives were saved too. Maybe having this car out front at the end of the race will save some more.”

He also hopes it can save his career. Of the 33 drivers in Sunday’s field, only a third race full-time in the IndyCar Series. The others were in the 500 driving for part-time teams or in cars added to the rosters of the full-time organizations only for the sport’s biggest race. Wilson was in one of those, an add-on effort by Andretti Autosport.

Like all of his fellow Indy one-off compatriots, he hopes his inspired Indy effort proves to be an audition for something bigger. At 28, Wilson isn’t too old. But he’s also no longer considered young, especially with his absence from an IndyCar paddock that, like all racing series, is very much an out of sight, out of mind world.

“That’s really where my head is right now, even right after this race that I might have won,” he confessed. “I just hope that my career isn’t over. That’s really what I am worried about. I hope so badly that this isn’t my last time racing here. Or anywhere.”

That’s why he didn’t simply turn off his two-way radio and ignore the orders from the pits telling him to give up the lead and come in for fuel. A man with no full-time ride and theoretically nothing to lose, he should’ve just said to hell with it and rolled the dice, right?

Wrong. He’s also a man who is trying to earn the respect of those with cockpits to fill. He doesn’t want to be labeled rogue, deaf or uncoachable.

Still, he had to have thought about it. Didn’t he?

“Oh yeah, of course I thought about it! What I really wanted was a wreck somewhere behind me, to bring that caution out,” he explained, echoing the sentiments of race winner Power, who admitted being concerned that he couldn’t catch Wilson had the matchup remained head-to-head, then admitted pure terror that a yellow flag would end the chase before any fuel issues could. “I have no regrets. None. If it is over, if I never race here again, then what a way to go out.”

Wilson started to choke back tears.

“What a way to pay tribute to my brother. But also, what a way to write my own story. Justin would want me to be writing my own story by now, the Stefan Wilson story, not just the Justin’s little brother story. Today, we did that.”

Even if that story was denied its perfect happy ending.