The Frontstretch: Indy 500 Breakdown: From Zero to Hero for Castroneves by Toni Montgomery -- Monday May 25, 2009

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Indy 500 Breakdown: From Zero to Hero for Castroneves

Toni Montgomery · Monday May 25, 2009

 

In a Nutshell: Helio Castroneves, just recently returned to the track after acquittal on tax evasion charges, probably gave the IRL the feel good story of the year at Indianapolis. Taking the lead away from Scott Dixon with just under 60 laps to go, he never gave it up in coasting to his third Indy 500 win. An emotional Castroneves, who started from the pole, also scored a record 15th victory in the big race for team owner Roger Penske. Dan Wheldon finished second, followed by Danica Patrick in third, Townsend Bell fourth, and Will Power rounding out the top 5.

Who Should Have Won: Anyone who was driving for Penske or Chip Ganassi, the two reigning super teams in the IndyCar Series. Just look at the leaderboard for proof. Four guys led this race: two of them drove for Roger Penske, and two of them for Chip Ganassi. There were some great runs from other teams, and the big four didn’t sweep the top 5 after some problems on pit road for several of them; but when it comes right down to it, they still have a firm hold on things in this series while everyone else is just playing catch up.

The Good

It doesn’t get any better for Helio Castroneves. When the season started, Castroneves was sitting in a courtroom instead of a race car. The tax evasion trial he endured was so serious, he had no idea if he’d ever race again or if, instead, he’d be spending his remaining driving years in federal prison. But through it all, team owner Roger Penske stood by his star driver and promised to return him to his car as soon as he was able. Penske came through and so did Castroneves, finishing second in his return to the track at Long Beach and following that up with the perfect month of May. Castroneves sat on the pole, won the pit stop competition, and followed it up with his third Indy 500 victory.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a hard fought day. Although he started up front, Castroneves faded some in the middle part of the race, but he and the team continued to work hard to get the car just right. The efforts paid off and they made the big comeback when it counted, just the same as Castroneves did this season as a whole. And if you think all of this sounds like the plot for a Hollywood movie, well… it does. Maybe those super happy endings we see on the big screen are possible. Only one little side note on this — possibly more suited for the ugly section — but what was up with the race officials trying to hold Castroneves in the car and preventing him from doing his famous fence climb? I’m sure ABC could spare a precious few minutes since they were already going to run late; and honestly, the crowd on hand would likely have torn that speedway to shreds if they’d been denied that fence climb.

The Bad

As in bad luck. In this case, the famous Andretti luck. Marco Andretti finished second in his first outing in the 500, but hasn’t done as well ever since. At least Mario won the big show once before the bad luck thing started; unfortunately, his grandson endured the pain of losing one on the final lap to Sam Hornish, Jr. before things went downhill. This year was worse than ever for poor Marco. He was in the wall before the end of the first lap when the car of Mario Moraes, who had started inside of Andretti on the inside of row three, drifted high and carried him into the outside wall. ABC race announcer Eddie Cheever summed it up well when he said the National Anthem lasted longer than Andretti’s race.

How contagious is that Andretti luck? Tony Kanaan, who drives for Michael Andretti’s Andretti Green Racing Team, hasn’t fared well at Indy either, and he too crashed when something in his car broke on lap 98. The Brazilian, who wrecked out of last year’s event as well, failed to lead a lap at Indy for the first time in eight career starts.

The Ugly

Vitor Meira clearly had the worst day of anyone in the field at Indianapolis. First, it was a nasty pit fire that engulfed his entire No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing entry on lap 134. The fire was extinguished without damage to car or driver, but anyone who saw how it was put out had to wonder if the guy was stuck sloshing around in a puddle inside his car after that.

As it turned out, it seems the blaze would be the better part of Meira’s day. On lap 174, Meira locked wheels with Raphael Matos, sending both cars hard into the outside wall at speed with Meira’s car getting caught up on the SAFER barrier and sliding on its right side all the way through Turn 1 before coming back down on its wheels and sliding to a stop. Meira was transported to nearby Methodist Hospital, where at press time he was awake and alert but complaining of lower back pain and was sent for further evaluation.

Other Notables

Talk about dedication. Driver Alex Lloyd’s very pregnant wife was in the team’s pit stall watching her husband at work. What’s remarkable about that is that she was experiencing contractions the entire time. Mrs. Lloyd was amazingly calm, saying she and the team had decided not to mention it so that Alex could concentrate on his race and that she’d be just fine to wait until afterwards unless her contractions suddenly started coming closer together.

19-year-old Graham Rahal crashed on lap 56 in his second Indy 500. He crashed on lap 36 in his first Indy 500 last year. He had the exact same accident both times, veering high to get around slower traffic coming through Turn 4 which sent him off the racing line and into the outside wall. At this rate, he’ll finish his first Indy 500 in eight years.

Random Thoughts and the Truly Odd

Danica Patrick finished third, her best career finish at Indianapolis and the best-ever finish for a woman. She finished fourth as a rookie in 2005. Patrick now has four top-10 finishes at Indianapolis in five starts.

The three female drivers in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 field completed 599 laps out of a possible 600. Danica Patrick finished 200 laps, Sarah Fisher 200 laps, and Milka Duno 199 laps as all of them wound up in the top 20.

Alex Tagliani was the highest-finishing rookie in the field, finishing 11th after starting 33rd.

A record 19 cars finished on the lead lap in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. The previous record for most cars finishing on the lead lap is 16 in 1959.

This is the 11th time car number #3 has won the Indianapolis 500, the most times ever for an individual car number.

John Andretti took a break from his full-time ride at Front Row Motorsports in NASCAR to run the Indy 500 this year. And while second cousin Marco was involved in an incident before the end of the first lap, the “other” Andretti in the field soldiered on to a respectable 19th-place finish while driving for stock car’s king, Richard Petty.

A.J. Foyt IV finished 16th and completed the full 500-mile distance. This is the first time a Foyt finished on the lead lap since 1979 when his grandfather, four-time winner A.J. Foyt Jr., finished on the lead lap in second place.

19th-place finisher John Andretti completed the full 500-mile distance, as did 16th-place finisher No. 41 A.J. Foyt IV. Surprisingly enough, this is the only time a Foyt and an Andretti completed the full 500-mile distance in the same race. Keep in mind the Foyt family was first represented in the 1958 Indianapolis 500 while the Andretti family was first represented in 1965.

Quotable

“This is incredible. I think my tears speak for everything. What a great team. I just have to thank, first of all, the Lord for giving me this opportunity, to be strong, to have a family that I have. I have to think Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric), my guys, Phillip Morris, all the associates (sponsors), Verizon, everybody because they gave my life back. I’m here today because of those guys. And obviously the fans. You guys don’t understand. You guys kept me strong. You guys are the best. I’m honored to have fans like you. Thank you so much. Let’s celebrate now.” Helio Castroneves

“It’s totally disappointing. I should have been smarter than that. That kid (Moraes) is in way over his head with where he is now. I’m sitting next to him, and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him. I should have known better.” Marco Andretti

“I’m incredibly excited. Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite enough for Helio (Castroneves) and the whole Penske organization. They should be very proud. I have to say, there’s not many races that I’ve done in my career where I can honestly say that the team executed 100 percent. And I have to say they did today. The National Guard Panther Racing pit crew were phenomenal.” Dan Wheldon

Roger got me up to second, behind Helio, and the car felt awesome. I really thought I had a car to win with, but we just didn’t have enough fuel. What a story Helio is. It’s just incredible. It’s just unbelievable for him. I’m so happy for Helio. It’s just a Cinderella story. He’s like a newborn kid and on top of the world.” Ryan Briscoe

“The Boost Mobile/Motorola guys did a great job in the pits today, and we had great stops all day. I had a really strong car for the last few stints and would have loved to see the last 35 laps raced green. I know we would have had no issues making it to the end without stopping. I was happy to keep the No. 7 car up front toward the end of the day. It was a great race for the fans, and I’m happy for Helio (Castroneves); he was super fast all day.” Danica Patrick

Contact Toni Montgomery

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Gordon82Wins
05/25/2009 08:30 AM
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Four leaders??? I’m glad I only watched the last 20 laps.

Ltaylor
05/25/2009 11:03 AM
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I hope that all you guys who constantly carp about the quality of Nascar racing watched the entire Indy 500. 4 leaders, limited passing, main excitement was the wrecks. Franchitti, a Nascar washout finished 7th and J. Andretti, a perennial backmarker finished in the top twenty, on the lead lap. What does that say about our level of talent. There were realistically only 5 or 6 cars that had a prayer of winning.

How many of you endured the F1 race? Won by 7 seconds, 9 cars on the lead lap, only 14 finishers. Talk about a series in trouble.

Nascar is far from perfect, but it is without question, the best thing race fans have going. We got Gordon, Johnson, Kurt and Shrub, Smoke, a 50 year old phenom named Martin, Cousin Carl, Kenseth, Biffle,Rocket Man, Sliced Bread, A fastass Aussie and Jr(honorable mention). All guys who are capable of going to the front at any race. Sorry if I left out any of you guys favorite-they’re all great.

We have a 600 miler coming up where there will no doubt be long stretches of green flag runs. But there will be periods of hard racing, all sorts of strategies, stories in stories, changing conditions, comers and goers, etc. I can’t wait-just hope the weather allows a decent amount of racing.

Those of you, who consistently waste your lives complaining about our sport, why don’t you watch reruns of the Indy and F1 races? Be sure to get lots of caffiene!

Douglas
05/25/2009 11:44 AM
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The IRL is back and is now providing the most exciting and fast racing in America!

NOTHING comes close to the INDY 500!

And a couple of notes, first, wonder how many NA$CRAP drivers watched these Indy cars on TV and said to themselves, mmmm? Here are open wheel race cars, a spec built car, built around driver safety, and yet they handle perfectly, they can be changed the way they handle during the race, and the drivers can actually drive them! GEE! wonder why the designers of our CUP cars’ couldn’t do that and they have 3500# of metal to work with?

AND! On top of that, they handle so well, teams were making TWO (2) FULL FUEL RUNS ON THE SAME SET OF TIRES, FIRESTONE BY THE WAY!

Remember that name, FIRESTONE! REAL RACING TIRES! REAL DURABILITY! REAL ENGINEERS, REAL THINKING! REAL PROFESSIONAL!

How neat is that? On a “safe”, “spec” car at that!

Gee, the NA$CRAP version of a “safe”, “spec” car gets a full five (5) laps on their tires before they become dangerous! (at the very same track!)

And I would hope that Danica’s strong third place will put some doubts about her ability to rest!

And Kudo’s to Sarah Fisher. Sure wish she could get a ride with a strong team. She is good!

JeffFlack
05/25/2009 11:48 AM
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Ltaylor. You prolly were cutting your grass all day. There was way more action than in any nascar race. 4 way, zig zagging all day long. Nascar is nothing but an Antfarm all lined up by one. Why do they have 40+ cars? Cuz they all have the “BIG ONE”. And what about Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon? No dominance in NASCAR? Come on.

mkrcr
05/25/2009 12:31 PM
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I enjoyed the race mainly because it was Indy. It’s hard not to get caught up in such history. But that aside, I still heard the same complaints from drivers as in NA$CAR. No passing due to aero. Across the board I thought I was listening to stock car drivers without fenders.
Even the winner said he had to have “Clean Air”.
The days of competition with innovation are gone and so will all series with “Spec” cars.

Ltaylor
05/25/2009 04:15 PM
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Flack, you “prolly” don’t have a clue how i spent my day, but i “prolly” watched more racing than you.

I enjoyed the 500 and will always watch but to compare it in it’s present state to Nascar is ludricrous.

They don’t have the talent or the competitive teams to make the racing as good as it could be.

True, they really “zig-zagged “ a whole bunch but it take a little more than that to make a great race.

I think that the IRL’s cars are fantastic and they have put on some really good races over the last 2 years but the fact is without Danica they wouldn’t get the press that they currently get. Too bad.

The burning question is-If you hate stock car racing so much, why are you here?

I would appreciate an honest answer.

Douglas
05/25/2009 04:16 PM
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Hey mkrcr, you are correct about the “spec” cars, but in the IRL the aero concerns seemed to only occur at the Indy 500, it does not seem to apply to all the other tracks as they race side by side, nose to tail almost all the time.

Guess I need to be watching for more “aero” problems! But never seen that before in the IRL, certainly not to the extent you see it with the CoT!

And personally I am torn between “spec” cars, and open “innovation”. Seems to me that growing up with “open innovation” applying, you end up with things like “Formula One”, where this open innovation killed the sport, or almost anyway. Certainly made it totally dis-interesting!

“Innovation” at that point in F-1 meant $3,000 gallon fuel! (among other things!)

So, bottom line? Are “spec” cars the best way to go?

Or is “open innovation” the way to go!

Based on history, I think “spec” cars provide the best and closest racing, year in, year out!

(disclaimer: except for the CoT, it just appears to be a poorly designed and developed car that NA$CRAP refuses to acknowledge).

Thoughts?

Bad Wolf
05/25/2009 05:45 PM
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Ltaylor; The big differance is in the broadcast coverage. It was nice watching a race without all the cheerleading and inane senseless banter from the booth, and seeing action back in the pack. I watch Nascar and feel like all the shills in the booth are Vince trying to sell me the latest version of the ShamWow. They were also right in the pits when teams had trouble to let us know what was up. They did show way too much of Danica “Dale Jr of Open Wheel” Patrick, but it was somewhat expected as her sponsor shelled out the coin to be the main sponsor of the 500.

I used to attend the Indy 500 untill the split in 1996, and the introduction of the spec car and spec motor package. Indy racing was at it’s best in the late ’80s and early ’90s when we had Chevy vs Ford powered independant chassis, and to that throw in the Buick V6 and Penski’s version of a Mercedes V8. Before that we had the Offy and other assorted engines powering the likes of Eagles and Johnny Lightning Specials. The split, spec car and big money from Japan brought down the once mighty Indy series, and having been there I can say Nascar is going down the same road, but with crappy Fox coverage to boot.

Take a look at the stands at Indy, and compare that to the stands in Nascar now. The common denominator is a spec car, spec engine, big money from Japan and in Nascars case terrible infomercial style broadcasting to squeeze every last dime from the rubes watching at home.

I’m just glad I was there from the late ’60s on to see the real deal every week. It’s gone and it aint never gonna be the same.

mkrcr
05/25/2009 06:45 PM
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Douglas, I agree about being torn between spec and open innovation. I guess where I lean is more towards a “spec” type car but with a little looser rules. A team should be able to take a common design car and have some freedom to work to make it better. It’s like this piece of crap COT, I know that if NA$CAR would allow teams the freedom to just make minor tweaks the level of competition would increase dramatically. These teams know what it takes to make the Car of Sorrow work, but NA$CAR and King Brian isn’t about to let that happen.
Don’t open up the rules, just loosen them a bit in the interest of competition.
I too see better racing from the IRL on other tracks. I’m just concerned that, with the tighter rules package this year, they run the risk of ruining all they have worked hard to achieve.

Ltaylor
05/25/2009 08:02 PM
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Cannot disagree with you Bad Wolf.

I think the vast popularity of NASCAR really hurt the sport in the long run.

Coverage was better in the ESPN days with educated announcers, less demanding sponsors, no cartoons, Shorter tracks and management that seemed to want to cater to their dedicated fans.

If Nascar would be a little more flexible the racing could improve dramatically. Loosen up the rules on the COT, get back to tracks that are better suited to 3500lb cars, continue to try and reduce costs.

The talent is there for incredible racing.

But, like you said , those days are gone and i don’t believe they ever be back.

 

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.