Who, What to Watch at Indy 500, F1 Monaco GP, NASCAR Coca-Cola 600
Memorial Day weekend annually means three of the biggest races of the year—the Indianapolis 500, F1 Monaco Grand Prix and NASCAR Coca-Cola 600. We asked our experts what and who to watch this weekend.
As for where, well, if you can't make it to Indianapolis, Monaco or Charlotte, the racing on TV schedule starts early on Sunday morning with Formula 1 (ABC, 7:55 a.m. ET), then it's on to Indianapolis (NBC, 11 a.m.), and things things wrap up with the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte (FOX, 6 p.m.).
Here's the inside scoop on the storylines we'll be watching and a driver from each race who could surprise:
Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix
What to Watch: Will Mercedes’ Upgrades Make a Difference?
It’s not an ideal scenario for Mercedes, introducing its much-anticipated upgrade at a circuit such as Monaco, which has quirky characteristics. But Mercedes is eager to ramp up its learning process with its updated W14, which is set to feature revised sidepods, a new floor and amended front suspension.
No one at Mercedes is expecting to transform its progress immediately and the learning process is set to take place over several events—as the team tries to eradicate inherent car weaknesses—rather than just a couple of practice sessions. But keep an eye on whether Lewis Hamilton and George Russell cut a more buoyant figure after sampling the updated W14 on-track.
What to Watch: Is This Finally the Race Red Bull DOESN'T Win?
Red Bull has dominated the 2023 season so far and with five wins out of five—achieved in comfortable fashion—they’ve faced little opposition to their supremacy.
Monaco, however, could be different. Ferrari has been a stronger proposition in qualifying trim than in the races, particularly in the hands of Charles Leclerc, and grid position is vital in Monaco. The proximity of the barriers, the risk of showers, and the importance of strategy are also elements that could disrupt any front-running team.
The likelihood is that Red Bull still walk away with a collection of trophies, but this is as good a chance as any for another team to triumph.
What to Watch: Will the TV coverage be better?
Finally, at long last, the coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix will be produced by Formula 1.
Historically local broadcasters produced Formula 1’s world feed but through the 2000s this practice ebbed away, as the championship itself took over, providing slicker footage. However, for the last decade Monaco has remained an outlier, steadfastly providing all of the content. It has led to some shoddy TV direction, missed incidents, and a regular frustrating watch.
As part of Monaco’s new deal with F1, which runs from 2023-25, Formula 1 has taken control of the TV footage. Fingers crossed that means a better viewing experience for everyone.
Driver Pick to Click: Charles Leclerc
Can any driver bend the laws of physics? No, but when it comes to one-lap performance, Charles Leclerc comes close.
Born and raised in Monaco, he took pole in both 2021 and 2022, but on both occasions the chance of victory was wrestled out of his control. He scored the only non-Red Bull pole of 2023 in Azerbaijan, so come Q3 expect the local hero to try and bend the SF-23 to his will around his home streets.
— Phillip Horton
What to Watch: Graham Rahal's Great Chevy Adventure
How will Graham Rahal fare after failing to qualify for the Indy 500 on Sunday, only to be chosen two days later to replace the injured Stefan Wilson in the 500?
Rahal has only driven Hondas in his entire IndyCar career, but Dreyer & Reinbold’s Chevy has power. Could Rahal finish higher in a Chevy than he ever has in a Honda? And one of the other big storylines related to this is the unprecedented cooperation between Honda and Chevy to allow Rahal to drive for an opposing manufacturer.
What to Watch: Tony Kanaan's Grand Farewell
This will be the last Indy 500—and most likely the last IndyCar race he’ll ever compete in (388 starts to date)—for the retiring Tony Kanaan and likely one of the last 500s for Helio Castroneves.
Can Tony, who has shown strong performance in practice and qualifying this month—not to mention finished third in last year's Indy 500—go out as a winner? The 48-year-old Kanaan was recently asked what he’d do if he indeed wins on Sunday.
Would he return to defend his title next year? His answer was an emphatic “no,” so look for him to put it all on the line like he never has, to add another 500 win to his previous triumph in 2013. And can Helio win a record fifth edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
What to Watch: Can Scott Dixon Make Noise?
Scott Dixon has one Indy 500 win to his credit (2008). But since then, he’s had some of the worst luck of any IndyCar driver ever. He’s been in contention to win numerous times, finished runner-up three times and crashed out several times while either in the lead or in contention for the lead.
Is Dixon cursed? And if he is, could this finally be the year he breaks that Indy curse? He’s been VERY quiet during practice and qualifying this month. But if there’s one thing we know about the man they call “The Iceman,” is he’s his most dangerous when he’s had a quiet month of May leading into the 500.
Driver Pick to Click: Santino Ferrucci
Call it a gut feeling but I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Santino Ferrucci as the one driver in the 33-car field to REALLY watch for. Starting fourth, he very well may be A.J. Foyt Racing’s best chance to return to victory lane in a quarter-century (since Kenny Brack won in 1999).
— Jerry Bonkowski
NASCAR Coca-Cola 600
What to Watch: No. 19 Toyota and Crew Chief Cole Pearn
By now, crew chiefs are accustomed to adjusting to changing track conditions as the grueling 400-lap, 600-mile race moves from a twilight start to an after-dark finish.
Drivers who struggle early in the daylight portion often come alive as the track cools and darkness sets in. Teams that best handle the twilight-into-darkness transition are usually the best in the last 100 miles, when everything is decided. Few teams have handled that tricky transition better than the Barney Visser-owned No. 19 Toyota of crew chief Cole Pearn and driver Martin Truex Jr. in 2017.
In the 600’s most dominating performance, Truex Jr. led five times for 392 of the 400 laps, losing the lead only during pit stops. Daylight or darkness, it didn’t matter to him.
What to Watch: Early Laps More Important Than You Think
It's not impossible, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for drivers to save themselves and their cars until the 450- to 500-mile mark. Time was when engine-builders asked drivers to save something for the last 100 miles, when the serious racing usually began.
Nowadays, drivers must go pretty much all-out from the start or risk being lapped early. Most of the potential winners will be near the front right from the start. The Truex Jr. victory in 2016 is a good example. He started from the pole and led in segments of 77, 85, 132, 43, and the final 55 laps, never dogging it, even when victory was almost within sight. He never trailed for more than two consecutive laps at any point.
What to Watch: History Working Against Denny Hamlin
There hasn’t been a repeat 600 winner since Jimmie Johnson in 2004 and 2005. … the last six 600s have produced six different winners: Austin Dillon in 2017, then Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson (in his 2021 championship season), and Denny Hamlin last year.
Perhaps surprisingly, seven drivers got their first Cup Series victory in the 600: David Pearson in 1961, Jeff Gordon in 1994, Bobby Labonte in 1995, Matt Kenseth in 2000, Casey Mears (his only Cup victory) in 2007, David Reutimann in 2009, and Dillon in 2017. … with five, Darrell Waltrip holds the record for Coca-Cola 600 victories, one more than Johnson and two more than Pearson, Gordon, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, and Kasey Kahne.
Driver Pick to Click: William Byron
It would be easy to pick Truex Jr., Larson, Hamlin, or Ross Chastain to win the 600. Truex Jr. has won two 600s, Larson one, Hamlin is the defending champion, and Chastain is almost always a threat. But Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron is this year’s leading winner, prevailing at Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Darlington. With his team’s headquarters just across the street, he has even more incentive to win his first 600.
— Al Pearce