Jamie Samuelsen’s blog: Highs, lows of Belle Isle Grand Prix summed up Detroit perfectly

roger penske

IndyCar team owner Roger Penske, before the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle on Sunday, June 3, 2012. / Tim Fuller / US PRESSWIRE

Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Wojo” show at 6 p.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at jamsam22@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen and read more of his opinions at freep.com/jamie.

Do you think the pothole problems during the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix give the city a black eye nationally, or was it just one of those things?

The entire day was quintessentially Detroit.

You had bizarre weather that shifted from warm and windy to cool and rainy. You had crowds of enthusiastic people who wanted the best — both from the race and for the city. You had an inexplicable track malfunction. You had an interminable delay while people tried to figure out how to get things fixed (sound familiar?). And then you had a stirring comeback following the delay (we’re crossing our fingers that something like that is still to come for the city).

Sunday was a fluke. It was not something unique to Detroit. The Daytona 500 was delayed for nearly two hours in 2010 because of a hole in the track. Plenty of racing has gone on at Belle Isle through the years without anything bad happening. Thousands of man-hours and dollars were spent putting this event back on the calendar, so I highly doubt the organizers knew this was going to be an issue and simply ignored it. The odds are much better that this was some totally unforeseen occurrence that marred an otherwise good weekend of racing. Make no mistake, it’s a problem that needs to be solved in the future, but the race organizers will get a pass just this once.

And no, it’s not me giving them a pass. It’s not the race-friendly media giving them a pass. And it certainly should not be the city giving them a pass. If you watched the marathon coverage while they weren’t racing Sunday, you noticed that all the drivers were giving Belle Isle a pass. Not a single driver seemed angry — even James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato who lost their cars as a direct result of the track conditions. They didn’t spew venom at all. Instead, they showed remorse. Almost to a man, they said something along the lines of, “I just feel bad for the organizers. This city worked so hard for this race. The fans this weekend have been simply amazing.” Those are not direct quotes, but that was the theme of everyone interviewed during the delay, from eventual winner Scott Dixon to Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti to Tony Kanaan.

And all their sympathy, respect and disappointment centered on one man: Roger Penske.

Every now and then, something happens in a less popular sport, and media types like me jump in from the outside and start making grand proclamations. It happened after Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona. It happened after Todd Bertuzzi took down Scott Moore while playing for the Vancouver Canucks. And it happens any time there’s any kind of excessive violence in the boxing ring. Truth be told, if nothing had happened yesterday on Belle Isle and Dixon had won a ho-hum race, most of us wouldn’t be writing nor talking about the race. But because the road disintegrated before our eyes, here we are, playing the role of race expert and road guru.

I can’t do that. But I can observe what we all observed the whole weekend, and that’s the undying respect and reverence the racing world holds for Penske. It was his desire to have this race in Detroit. And he and his team (led by Bud Denker) worked to make it happen. A a hole in the road is not enough to overshadow the work they did.

The Tigers’ game was long over by the time the race was delayed, and television viewers were left watching either the race or the final few holes of Tiger Woods’ charge to win The Memorial in Ohio. That is the tournament hosted each year by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. As a result of Nicklaus being the host, the very best golfers line up each year to play. As long as Jack is hosting the event, Woods, Phil Mickelson and others will show up. As I flipped back and forth between the golf and the (non)-race, it struck me that the Detroit Grand Prix was the Memorial, and Penske was Nicklaus.

Sure, the course conditions were a massive disappointment. It will be the lead story of the 2012 Detroit Grand Prix. There’s no sugarcoating that. But it’s not a black eye that can’t be repaired. It’s a blip. The drivers will be back. The race will be back. And the conditions will improve. I don’t have a shred of a doubt about that. Why? Because Roger Penske is involved. There aren’t too many other people who believe in Detroit as passionately as Penske does. And I know that there’s nobody more powerful than he is who believes as strongly as he does.

Penske can’t repair the holes himself. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try.) But he’ll make sure that they are fixed in 2013. And he’ll make sure that the drivers and the race will be back for years to come. That’s what he does.

Originally blogged at: http://www.freep.com/article/20120604/SPORTS16/120604032/detroit-belle-isle-grand-prix-track

Devils write their own ending

Devils Take Series Lead

Ryan Carter snapped a tie with 4:24 left, to lift the Devils to a 3-2 series lead.

NEW YORK — In the moment after New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur bobbled a routine dump-in and the puck eventually ended up behind him in the Devils’ net, tying Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at 3-all, was there anyone in the world who didn’t think this would end with a New York Rangers victory?

Certainly the sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd, whose response to the goal just 17 seconds into the third period sent the decibel level into the stratosphere, believed the final result was inevitable.

The Rangers, who at one point trailed 3-0 midway through the first period, might have believed they would win, as well.

But somewhere in that frenzy of belief was enough disbelief among the New Jersey Devils to deny what appeared to be the inevitable.

After watching their lead turn to dust, the Devils refused to let that blown lead become the moment in the series when everything changed.

Instead, they found a way to write a much different ending than the moment suggested.

Ilya Kovalchuk, relatively quiet the past couple of games and not much of a factor in Game 5, was the first one in on the forecheck, neutralizing Michael Del Zotto. That allowed Stephen Gionta, part of the Devils’ miracle fourth line that has been so crucial to the team’s postseason success, to find linemate Ryan Carter, who scored the winner with 4:24 left in regulation.

“It was an adventure. Kind of a tale of two or three games out there,” coach Pete DeBoer said.

The Devils now own a 3-2 series lead, having won two in Madison Square Garden, and can advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 2003 with a win at home Friday evening.

“It wasn’t the prettiest. I think it was probably the longest stretch maybe all playoffs that we haven’t been sharp. We didn’t forecheck properly. Again, I think they played well, they had a lot to do with it, too,” said captain Zach Parise, who iced the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute.

“It wasn’t our best game, and we snuck out of here with a win, so that’s all that matters.”

With the Devils leading 3-2 heading into the third period, Parise said, the team’s mentality was, “Hey, we’re on the road and leading 1-0; that’s a good thing.”

That didn’t last long.

“Then you go back and tell yourself, [it’s a] zero-zero game and you can’t do anything about who scored the first three, who scored the next three,” Parise said. “We just kept moving forward. Our mentality was zero-zero game, let’s try and get the first one.”

The challenge for the Rangers will be in not letting the shocking conclusion to Game 5 become the moment that sucked the life out of their playoff dreams.

Whatever moral victories there might have been in playing their best offensive game of the series, whatever good feelings might have been generated by roaring back to dominate the Devils for much of the game after falling behind 3-0 by the 9:49 mark of the first period must be tempered by the fact they couldn’t parlay that into the kind of win that might have sucked the life out of the Devils.

“I didn’t think we were in real trouble,” coach John Tortorella said. “But they score a goal. They made a big play; we didn’t.”

He thought his team played perhaps its best game of the series, and he’s right.

He got a big league performance from captain Ryan Callahan, who scored the Rangers’ second goal just 32 seconds into the second period and was a force on both sides of the puck all night.

From the moment the Devils registered their third goal of the game on just their fifth shot, the Rangers dominated. They out-worked, out-hit and out-chanced the Devils.

And in the end, it wasn’t enough. Now we’ll find out whether it will prove too much for them to overcome.

“It’s tough and a frustrating end to the game. I just didn’t expect that to happen,” said netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who had a rare off night, allowing four goals on just 16 shots.

“We have confidence as a group. We don’t need to say, ‘Oh, we did some good things, it’s a moral victory,’ to kind of give ourselves confidence,” added forward Brian Boyle.

“We know that, we know we can do some things with the puck, we know we can forecheck and create offense that way.”

If there was a sense of an opportunity squandered in the Rangers’ room by wasting the comeback, there was an equal sense of relief in the Devils’ room at having avoided something potentially debilitating by playing poorly for a long stretch and still earning a victory.

“Sometimes you have to do that in the playoffs, and those are big games when you get those. They can give you breathing room and make you feel still pretty good, but we know we’ve got nothing going on,” said veteran Patrik Elias, who scored the Devils’ second goal when an Adam Henrique shot bounced off him and then off Rangers forward Artem Anisimov’s skate and into the goal.

“We’re in a good position, better position than they are right now obviously, but that’s it. We’ve got to be better next game; that’s the bottom line.”

After the game, Brodeur, who has been the goaltender of record for every meaningful New Jersey playoff moment in the franchise’s history, was asked about the classic Eastern Conference final between the Devils and Rangers in 1994.

In that series, the Rangers trailed 3-2 heading into New Jersey for Game 6 and won after Rangers captain Mark Messier guaranteed victory. The Rangers won that game and Game 7 en route to their first Stanley Cup win since 1940.

Ancient history? Perhaps.

Yet Brodeur acknowledged that games like Wednesday’s and series like this one are part of the fabric of these teams’ shared history.

“This situation that we’re in, for the Rangers and for the Devils, and for the players that are involved, you create history,” Brodeur said.

“Whatever is going to happen in the next few days is what our rivalry is going to be all about, and for our fans, it’s going to be something great. You know, it’s fun to be part of this. I was enjoying myself a lot today, even though they came back and almost beat us; it was a fun game to be part of. Maybe I’m at a different stage of my career that I’m really taking all in what’s happening, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Updated: May 24, 2012, 2:53 AM ET

By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com