The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Breakdown: Indianapolis 500 by Toni Montgomery -- Monday May 26, 2008

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Frontstretch Breakdown: Indianapolis 500

Toni Montgomery · Monday May 26, 2008


In A Nutshell: Scott Dixon took the pole for this race, his latest assertion that he is the driver to beat this year; and heading into the Indy 500, he gave no one any reason to think differently. Several drivers took turns at the front of the biggest event in open-wheel racing — including teammate Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, and Marco Andretti — but Dixon always lurked right behind them. His No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew did their job and put him out in front on the final stop of the day; and while second place Vitor Meira tried to mount a challenge, ultimately the speed Dixon showed all month carried him to the win. Meira held onto second, followed by Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, and Ed Carpenter to round out the Top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Scott Dixon. Did you get the sense that this was Dixon’s game and he just let the others play for awhile? Sure, other drivers led here and there, and some looked like they might be able to challenge at times. But when it came down to it, Dixon put an end to the illusion that anyone not named Scott Dixon was going to win this race — he hit the pedal and put it away, proving that in reality, there wasn’t anyone who could actually challenge his claim on his first Indy 500 trophy.

From winning the pole, to running fast in practices, to finally drinking the milk in Victory Lane, this May was Scott Dixon’s month at Indianapolis.

Five Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend

1) Do you think someone is in big trouble at ABC?

Four laps to go in the Indy 500 — the Indy 500!! — and someone cuts away to commercial. Luckily, this is 2008 and not the 1960s, so instead of the Heidi Bowl, after sitting open-jawed and incredulous for one and a half commercials, when the race was put back on we rejoined with still four laps to go — apparently missing nothing. Still, that means that the finish we saw was live, but not live… wasn’t it?

2) Which track is meaner to rookies: Darlington or Indy?

NASCAR fans love to see rookie drivers try to contend with Darlington, a track that will reach out and smack any driver who isn’t showing the proper respect. But when it comes to open-wheel racing, Indianapolis has a way of doing the same, sucking many an unsuspecting and inexperienced driver into the wall for daring to venture off the racing line by even the teeniest bit. To that end, most of the former Champ Car drivers had a hard day. There were 11 rookies in the field this year, and five of them failed to finish. To put it in perspective, in March Graham Rahal was celebrating a victory in his first IndyCar start; in May, Rahal finished last at Indy after smacking the wall only 36 laps in.

3) How much slack should teammates give each other?

Tony Kanaan drives for Michael Andretti, and it seems the Andretti luck at Indy has engulfed him. Kanaan has been in front every year of his seven starts at Indy only to have his day cut short by accidents and mechanical failures. But this year, it was his own teammate, Marco Andretti, who took away the low line and pushed Kanaan up into the marbles, where he lost control and spun in front of the oncoming car of Sarah Fisher. Kanaan had been leading just prior to the incident.

4) What would have happened if they hadn’t headed Danica off at the pass?

Danica Patrick had her day ended early for the first time at Indy when Ryan Briscoe made contact with her on pit road with only 29 laps remaining. While Patrick didn’t have a car to compete with Dixon — a fact she made abundantly clear to her crew when she told them she was “Slooooooooowwwww” and couldn’t do anything with her car — she wasn’t appreciative of Briscoe for the accident. Patrick got out of her car and began a march down pit road to visit with Briscoe when security headed her off and rerouted her. Patrick said maybe it was a good thing she never got there. I wonder why? What exactly did she think she was going to do? I also wonder how long Danica being a woman and being a superstar will continue to cover for her poor attitude toward the other drivers and the diva attitude her crew has to deal with.

5) Can anyone stop Scott Dixon this year?

Or maybe the question should be, is the Indy 500 a representation of what the entire season is going to be like? Scott Dixon finished second at Indy last year and second in the championship. It would appear he’s looking to improve on both of those statistics this year — and things are looking good. So far, he’s been successful at Indy and given his performance for the season to date, this is a driver on a mission. And when Dixon is on a mission… you have to wonder if he’s a man or a machine.

Worth Noting:

Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the Rookie of the Race honors with a nice sixth place finish in the 500. But an honorable mention in that category has to go to Hideki Mutoh, who finished one spot behind him in seventh. Two rookies bringing it home with nice solid Top 10 finishes was a nice thing to see — although perhaps anyone familiar with Ryan Hunter-Reay would have to say this is not that big of a surprise.

Marty Roth, at age 49, was the oldest driver in the field. That’s a nearly unheard of age for anyone to be wheeling it around at Indy, but Roth made the race and made 50 laps before falling victim to the same wall that earlier claimed young rookie Graham Rahal.

You have to feel for Sarah Fisher. Fisher has been bounced around like a pinball, often the victim of poor sponsor interest from companies who aren’t sure they are willing to take a chance on a woman driver. This year, she opted to field her own team, and after further sponsor issues, she made the race running on a shoestring budget. Just trying to stay out of trouble and make the finish, Fisher’s day hit a roadblock when the car of Tony Kanaan spun down the track in front of her. Kanaan said she apologized for hitting him, but it was Kanaan who actually felt worse about it, knowing Fisher’s situation and exactly what losing that car means for her. Fisher tried to put on a brave face for the camera and didn’t really succeed; but anyone who had seen the stricken expression on Kanaan’s face already knew how devastated Fisher really was.

Kudos to Vitor Meira. Meira drives for Panther Racing, once a big player in the IndyCar Series when Sam Hornish, Jr. brought the team multiple championships. But in the current climate of giant multi-car teams like Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti-Green, Panther is now a small-time, small-budget one car operation. To see them running competitively with the mega-teams and finish second gives some hope to the little guys.


“I think the month went so smooth that you were waiting for something to go wrong. I can’t believe we got here and nothing went wrong.” Scott Dixon

“From what I can see, there was still plenty of room on the right side for her to get around, and there are people pointing fingers, but that’s not the way we are. We both have a brake pedal in our cars, and from what I can tell, there was still plenty of room for her to get around me. I was trying to get around [Dan] Wheldon, and I was staying in the middle lane. I got ran up in the back, and it’s a shame.” Ryan Briscoe

“Probably best I didn’t get down there, anyway.” Danica Patrick about being headed off by security on the way to confront Ryan Briscoe

“He’d better be. That was a very stupid move. Me being a good teammate, I didn’t want to turn into him and take out two cars. So I give up today.” Tony Kanaan when told teammate Marco Andretti was sorry about the move that took him out of the race

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05/26/2008 12:17 PM

OK Toni, I’m not a big fan of bumble-bee-car racing, so I need you to ‘splain something to me. You seem to be fed up with Danica’s prima donna attitude, yet you wrote, “Ryan Briscoe made contact with her.” Sure looked to me like she made contact with him.

I don’t know doo-da about Indy Car pit rules, but I watched the replay over and over again and it seemed to me that the only thing Patrick had to say to Briscoe was “I’m sorry.”

Can you explain the pit rules for me? Who do you think was at fault? TIA

Buddy Chandler
05/26/2008 12:41 PM

You watched the race? You watched the replay over and over and you still couldn’t see what Danica got her Nomex panties in a wad over?

How about that there was no where for her to go since there’s a wall to the right of her and the nose of Ryan Briscoe’s car to the left?

Just like in NASCAR, whoever was supposed to tell Briscoe that it was clear to merge into line screwed up, ending a top ten day for the pointy nose version of Dale Jr.

05/26/2008 01:15 PM

Briscoe is the one who made contact with her—there was indeed a wall immediately to her right and nowhwere for her to go—she did actually jig right as far as she could when he pulled out. Pit road at Indy is tight. The way it usually works is you pull out of your stall into the inside lane and get to the outside as soon as you are able to allow for the other cars pulling out of their stalls. If you watched that pit sequence, or any one where all the cars were on pit road, there were many close calls. I agree that it was questionable for his guys to clear him to go only because he had a car pitting immediately in front of him (he mentions having to go around Wheldon in his quote) so he did end up pulling out a touch wider than may have been advisable. That was thing one that set it up—pulling out a little wider than perhaps normal. Had that been all, they still might have been all right—tight fit but all right. But on top of that, he hit it a little hard and the back end of the car snapped out a little to the right and that’s what caught Danica—barely caught her but enough to break the rear suspension. And again, the kind of thing that happens all the time but given the combination of the tight pit road and the traffic and pulling out wide to go around Wheldon’s crew, this time it bit him. If the same thing happens in NASCAR, you pull out your fender to fix your tire rub and go on your way. Unfortunately in IndyCars it doesn’t work the same way. I take more exception with the way Danica talks to her crew actually. I can understand her being upset with Briscoe, I’m merely curious what she would have done had she gotten there. Although in all honesty if anyone had cause to be upset with another driver it was Kanaan because Andretti consciously made a poor choice unlike Briscoe who merely made a mistake.

05/26/2008 02:26 PM

Thanks Toni.

Briscoe did swing wide and fishtail as he came out of his pits, trying to avoid the Wheldon crew. But Patrick—of all people—ought to understand the vulnerability of crewmen on pit road and the need to cut them—and other drivers—some slack.

She did swerve to the right. But the pit wall flares out about three more feet or so, and it looked to me as though she had more room to give. Briscoe may have been more at fault. But it seems to me that a better driver than Danica could have dodged that bullet.

That contact may have been disappointing (for both crews), but bottom line to me is that it was just a racin’ deal and nothing to get your “Nomex panties in a wad over.”

BTW, I am amazed at the stray pedestrians who wonder about over the wall at an Indy race. Who was that large, bald black man who hopped over the wall and escorted her down toward Briscoe?

05/26/2008 02:56 PM

That was a security guy and he was actually trying to deflect her away from Briscoe’s pit. If I had to guess, I would say at the request of the PR woman who made the initial failed attempt to catch her and then hopped off pit road over the wall shortly before the security guy appeared. “Stop my driver before she does something really stupid!” is what I would guess that conversation went like.


Contact Toni Montgomery

Recent articles from Toni Montgomery:

IndyCar Race Recap: MAVTV 500
Five Hundred Miles For All The Marbles
IndyCar Roundtable: Season Grades, Schedule Tweaks, And Possible Title Upsets
IndyCar Race Recap: Hunter-Reay Makes It A Repeat Performance
IndyCar Race Recap: Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by XYQ


IF you want to know more about Toni Montgomery or to see all of her Frontstretch articles, check out her archive and bio page.