The Frontstretch: A Last-Lap Thriller For The Ages: Indy 500 Race Recap by Toni Montgomery -- Monday May 28, 2012

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A Last-Lap Thriller For The Ages: Indy 500 Race Recap

Toni Montgomery · Monday May 28, 2012


In A Nutshell: With new cars, new engines and no clear favorite emerging, the hype going in promised an up-for-grabs, wide open contest where anything might happen. So often, things don’t live up to the hype, but not this time. The 2012 Indy 500 featured a record 35 lead changes among ten drivers, sixteen cars finished on the lead lap, and the event was unpredictable right up until the final moments. Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti hadn’t run particularly well in the first four races of the season, qualified way back in 16th, and was barely mentioned before the race, but at the end of the day he was drinking the milk in Victory Lane for the third time despite a pit road incident that nearly destroyed his day.

Mission accomplished, IndyCar.

Key Moment: When the competition is as tight as it was at Indianapolis, the lead is not always the best place to be in the closing laps. NASCAR fans have seen the slingshot countless times at Daytona and Talladega. Dario Franchitti used the same move to get by teammate Scott Dixon with two laps remaining and opened the door for third-place runner Takuma Sato to get around Dixon as well. Sato tried to make a move on Franchitti entering Turn 1 on the final lap, but couldn’t close the deal and spun, bringing out the caution and guaranteeing Franchitti the victory.

With white Dan Wheldon tribute sunglasses in place, Dario Franchitti poured the milk over his head in Victory Lane in tribute to his friend.

Highlight Reel

- Seeing Dan Wheldon’s winning car make a lap during “Taps” and “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” brought a tear to the eye. We still miss you, Dan.

- Three of Dan Wheldon’s closest friends in IndyCar were Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan, the top three finishers. You can’t help but think Dan was present in Indianapolis today. Wheldon didn’t get a chance to defend his Indy win, so Franchitti dedicated his victory to his friend and essentially defended it for him.

- All three of Dario Franchitti’s Indy 500 victories have come under caution.

- Memorex isn’t as good as live but it’s better than nothing. Indianapolis Motor Speedway found a way to continue a long-standing tradition of Jim Nabors singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana by playing a video recording of Nabors singing the song. That song and Mari Hulman George giving the command to start engines have been a part of the race for as long as many of us can remember.

- In the latest twist in the sad saga of Lotus, the engine builder had only two cars in the Indy 500 and they were both woefully off the pace. Simona de Silvestro was 10 mph off the speed of the polesitter while Jean Alesi was 15 mph slower in qualifying. On top of that, Alesi had never run an oval race in his life, setting up a potentially dangerous situation. Race control removed both cars from the race by lap 10 because neither car could make the minimum speed requirement. IndyCar officials knew Lotus was about eight weeks behind schedule entering the season and they seem to continue to fall further behind.

- If you’re going to have problems at Indy, it’s best to have them early so you have time to fight your way back. Franchitti got spun in the pits 14 laps in and had to have a nose piece changed out. He restarted 29th and pedaled it hard on the next run, but he got where he was trying to go by the end of the day.

- How hot was it? Marco Andretti reported that his boot was melting to his throttle pedal during an Indianapolis scorcher, with temperatures reaching the mid-90s.

Championship points leader Will Power finished a disappointing 28th after being knocked out of the race after contact with Mike Conway that saw Conway’s car get up on top of the wall.

- Championship points leader Will Power was knocked out of the race after contact with Mike Conway on lap 80. Conway slid into a crew member on a pit stop, who fell onto the front wing and broke it. Conway went back out on track before the team discovered the problem and spun before he could make it back around to the pits. Power couldn’t avoid the spinning car. It was nearly a two-fer for Roger Penske as a stray tire from one of the cars bounced down the race track and struck a glancing blow to the right front tire of Helio Castroneves as he drove through the incident. Despite a 28th-place finish, Power retains the points lead by 36 over Castroneves.

- The Andretti curse continues. Marco Andretti set the fastest lap of the race on lap 59 and led 59 laps in the early going before the car started fading near the end. His day wound up disastrous after an accident on lap 187 of 200, and by then he was simply hoping for a top-10 finish.

- Did anyone else find it supremely difficult to read the numbers on the rear wings of the cars? It made it especially tough to tell Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti apart. Your only hope is to know which one has the “white” red Target car and which one has the “red” red Target car. Really.

Notable Driver: OK, so it didn’t end so well and he nearly found the wall on lap 71, but Takuma Sato ran a stellar race, leading three times for 31 laps. Sato never found much success in Formula 1 and wadded up a lot of cars in his first two years in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but sometimes something just seems to click and it has for Sato this year. He scored his first podium finish in Sao Paolo and proved it was no fluke by contending for the win at Indy. The question is, was Sato impatient, trying to force the pass too soon, or should Franchitti have given more room once Sato got his nose in there?

Quotes and Tweets:

“I’m disappointed, but we didn’t have speed from the beginning. I understand the call. We have to have more horsepower to be competitive. The guys really worked hard. We’ll see what happens next year. I’m pretty disappointed to get black-flagged after only a few laps. We were trying to keep up pace, but unfortunately right now we don’t have the pace, so now we have to work hard to get to the pace that we need to.” Simona de Silvestro

“My mistake coming into the pits. Came in a bit too hard and collected some of my guys, and that screwed up the front wing and we didn’t realize it till I got out. Through Turns 3 and 4, it felt a little wiggly, and I thought it was just tire temperatures. But down the front straight when I went down into turn 1, I could see one of the endplates sticking up in the air. I knew it wouldn’t be right turning in, so I tried to back out just going in. But I knew Will was close behind me so I didn’t want to back out too much, and the car got very loose, which I was able to correct it once. But it broke loose again, and I couldn’t catch it the second time and then I was just a passenger on board.” Mike Conway

“It was pretty close and (Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato) got a run on me into (Turn) 1 there. Sato was definitely a guy throwing it in there all day, and he tried to do the same thing to Dario. I thought we were going to get really lucky because they touched, and I thought they were both going to end up in the fence. Credit to Dario. He had a bad start to the day and came through the field.” Scott Dixon

“It’s pretty crazy how it all lines up. Dan still owes me one, I think. Dario did a fantastic job. All of us wish Dan was still here racing with us. He’s a hell of a guy and left a big void and hole in all of our lives. I hope we put on a good race for the fans, and I’m sure he’s smiling down on us.” Scott Dixon about the podium being made up of Dan Wheldon’s closest friends

“I was going for the win. On the last restart, we jumped from seventh to fifth, then taking fourth, third, second. I kept pushing and overtaking. On the very last lap, I had a good tow from Dario. I thought I had the job done. But he kept pushing and didn’t give me enough room, so that I was well below the white line. But an outstanding job by the team. It was a very exciting race.” Takuma Sato

“On the last lap, I was trying to set up Scott. I knew I was a sitting duck on that restart, and then I see Taku going on the inside of Dario, and I know Dario. I said, ‘Either they’re both going to crash, and I’m going to have to pass Dixon for the win, or Dario’s going to win.’ And Dario won.” Tony Kanaan

“Tony came and got in the lead. I’m like, Damn, where did you come from? Kind of like old times, the three of us back and forwards. I thought, Dan is laughing at us right now going at it. But then coming down to after that last restart, swapping back and forwards. Takuma came into the last lap, got a good run on the inside. I moved over a bit, I saw him coming. I said, ‘No, I’m too late. This is well before the corner.’ I moved back up. We turned into the corner, I gave him a load of room, with the tight line, he lost the rear. Turn one was the trickiest corner. If you went in with a tight line, it tended to get a bit loose. He lost the rear, came around and hit us. I managed to catch it.” Dario Franchitti

What’s Next: After a busy month of May, there’s no rest for the IndyCar drivers. It’s off to Detroit and the 14-turn, 2.1-mile road course on Belle Isle, a 987 acre island in the Detroit River, for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on Sunday, June 3rd at 3:30 p.m. The IZOD IndyCar Series has made two previous visits to Belle Isle, in 2007 and 2008. Tony Kanaan won the 2007 event and Justin Wilson took the win in 2008. Television coverage will be on ABC while radio coverage can be heard on your local IMS Radio affiliate or on Sirius/XM Channel 94.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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05/28/2012 11:15 AM

Thanks for great analysis of a great race.

05/28/2012 11:53 AM

Great race, great finish, same ol’ boring crap in victory lane. Yet Another Ganassi/Penske.

Oh well, Sato gave it his all to release us from this burden.

05/28/2012 11:58 AM

Missed Wheldon a bunch. His passing was so sad.

MidWest Mike
05/28/2012 08:50 PM

A so-so 500 – decent racing…more lead changes than Charlotte. Sadly, this was all offset by the same tired old ending we get most years. It’s getting to be a real drag watching a race that has, for all intents and purposes, only two horses. Does help keep the suspense down, though.

05/28/2012 09:41 PM

Yes, Sato should have waited until the 3rd or 4th turn. But it’s the Indy 500, I can’t blame him for his excitement.

He’s always been over-eager, and this incident will likely cause him to lose his job at the end of the season. But it’s Indy! No other race in the world is as consistent as providing an exciting race finish as the 500.

Hope you hang around for the rest of the season. This site has improved this year and more Indycar coverage would double my pleasure.

05/28/2012 10:04 PM

We’ll be right here for every IndyCar race this year (and every year I hope!). This is a permanent expansion for Frontstretch—we’re looking to provide coverage for all your favorite motorsports series.

old farmer
05/29/2012 02:41 AM

So, another win for Franchetti, number 3. He’s good, but so far as I am concerned, 3 wins under the yellow do not make him a great at Indy. Let’s see him win a real one with the green flag flying until the checkers come out.

05/29/2012 12:36 PM

Four Indycar championships haven’t convinced you that Franchitti is good? 10 wins in CART, 21 wins in Indycar, plus wins at Sebring (ALMS) and Daytona (GrandAm)?

31 wins in Indycar makes it a three way tie for all-time wins among active drivers, tying Paul Tracey & Sebastian Bourdais. That’s more wins than Bobby Rahal, Gordon Johncock, Rodger Ward & Johnny Rutherford.

31 wins in NASCAR would put him between Fred Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts. Were they any good?

I think you’re an uninformed viewer that watches only one open-wheel race a year. Franchitti is not Mario Andretti. He’s not even Michael Andretti. But he’s only two career wins behind Rick Mears. Was that guy any good?

old farmer
05/29/2012 02:32 PM

Andy90: If you were referring to my comment, read again.

I said he is good. The fact remains that he has never had to fight to the flag at Indy—he’s been able to stroke it w/ no worries about being passed at the last moment.

05/29/2012 07:35 PM

Old Farmer – True, but Indy is about being in the right place at the end. I don’t know of any other track where the leader with 10 to go is so rarely the winner. And he earned it this time by holding the line tightly to block Sato and holding the wheel after Sato hit him.

Obviously, best case would be to see him hold off Sato in a drag race off the 4th turn. I would have been less excited by he and Dixon coming to the line in equal cars.

I think he’ll get 4 and Helio will finish with only 3. I don’t mind yellow flag wins but I give a heavy discount to rain-shortened wins.

By the way, Dario is 6th or 7th in all-time open wheel wins, after the Unsers, the Andrettis, and Foyt.


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.