The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Breakdown: Indy 500 by Toni Montgomery -- Monday May 28, 2007

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Frontstretch Breakdown: Indy 500

Toni Montgomery · Monday May 28, 2007


In A Nutshell: Mother Nature wreaked havoc at the Indy 500 today but for those who were patient, great racing and great strategy combined to provide excitement and a surprise ending as Dario Franchitti gambled on fuel and ended up being in the right place at the right time to score a rain-shortened win. Until then, it appeared to be anyone's race as perennial frontrunners Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon took turns at the front, as well as Franchitti's Andretti Green Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti.

It was Kanaan who held the top spot when the race was halted for rain just past halfway, with Andretti and Danica Patrick completing a team sweep of the top three spots. Kanaan would have been happy to see a washout, but 30 other drivers had other ideas and got their wish as a break in the weather allowed for a successful track drying effort. With more weather looming not long after the restart, Franchitti stayed on track under a yellow flag on lap 155 while the rest of the leaders pitted, a risky move because if the rain hadn't materialized, he would have been forced to the pits for fuel under green and given up any chance he had to win. Well, the gamble paid off as a series of crashes, including a flip by teammate Marco Andretti, kept the field mostly under yellow until the skies opened up once again, leaving Franchitti to take the checkers in a downpour that ended the race early on lap 166 of 200. Scott Dixon came home second for his best career Indy finish, followed by Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish, Jr. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the Top 5.

Who Should Have Won: That's a tough call in what was one of the most competitive 500s in recent history. It's probably safe to say the winner would have come from the stables of Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, or Andretti Green Racing (which it inevitably did). However, that's about all that could be said as each team has multiple drivers, all of whom ran up front and could have had a legitimate shot to win if the race had gone the full distance. The Team Penske drivers suffered from some bad luck, but both Hornish and Castroneves were on the march to the front when the event was shortened. Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon ended up second, but thanks to cautions and weather never got a chance to really show if he had anything for Franchitti.

Five Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend

1) How did Tony Kanaan not hit the wall?

Kanaan got caught up in a melee on a lap 156 restart and spun toward the inside wall after getting tapped from behind. Usually, when a car is headed straight into the wall, it's game over, but amazingly, Kanaan managed to keep it together and get it turned off the wall, leaving him with only a flat tire in what should have been a race ending incident. Let's just say even Rusty Wallace in the booth was suitably impressed; it was easily one of auto racing’s best saves of the year.

2) Should they have even bothered to dry the track and restart the race?

Yes. More weather was threatening and they still didn't get the full distance in, but with enough daylight left to accomplish the drying, there was no question every effort would be made to put the race back under green; after all, this is the Indy 500. It's just like the Daytona 500 in NASCAR — for the biggest trophy in racing, every effort should be made to put all 200 laps on the board.

3) Did anyone even stick around to see the finish?

Ah, this is the good question. By the time they got the track dried and resumed the race, things were well underway in NASCARland at Lowe's Motor Speedway, raising the question of just how many viewers were willing to miss the beginning of the NASCAR race to stick around for the end of the Indy 500. We’ll find out for sure when the overnights come out this week, but unfortunately I predict a sad statement ahead for what was once the biggest race in the world.

4) Why was this Indy 500 so competitive?

Let's be honest, it might be their signature event, but the Indy 500 is not generally the best race the IndyCar Series holds; it's frequently a lot of long green flag runs and follow the leader racing with little passing. Well, not today; side-by-side racing throughout every green flag segment kept fans on their feet virtually all day long. One thing that might have made a difference is a new rule put in place this season for the 500. Indy style cars can adjust their fuel mixture in order to conserve fuel and run mileage strategies, but when they do that, it affects the speeds of the cars and as a result, the action on the track. This year, teams were not allowed to adjust that mixture, running the entire race on a full rich mixture. The only ways to save fuel this year were the old fashioned ways — drafting other cars and throttle control. If this was the reason for the great competition, it was a great call on the part of series officials. A nice little side benefit was the draft and the resulting slingshot passes that happened all day. It looked like the good ol’ days of NASCAR out there…but with much faster speeds.

5) Where is a backmarker to go?

There was one little problem to go along with all that good racing Sunday. Of course, anyone looking at qualifying speeds for the race could see there were going to be a lot of backmarkers that just couldn't keep up with the leaders. They were at least courteous, moving out of the preferred bottom groove to let the leaders pass, but unfortunately in many cases this courtesy cost them dearly as there really was no high groove to move into. More often than not, slower cars attempting to get out of the way ended up in the wall when they moved out of the groove, got into the marbles, and couldn't turn their cars.

Worth Noting:

Davey Hamilton finished 9th. What makes that remarkable is that Hamilton was involved in a crash in 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway that left him grateful just to be alive and with questions as to whether he'd even be able to walk again. With both feet shattered and nearly severed, Hamilton underwent 21 surgeries to repair the damage and thought his career as an IndyCar Series driver was over. Well, not only did he defy odds by returning to race, but he posted a solid result, too. Nice job.

For the first time in history, three women started in the Indy 500. Milka Duno finished 31st, Sarah Fisher came home 18th, and Danica Patrick was the top finishing lady in eighth.

Only two rookies made a run at Indy this year, Duno and Phil Giebler, but neither finished the race. Both crashed, but Giebler won Rookie honors by default, ending his day in 29th place.

Will he or won't he? Michael Andretti says this is his last run in the Indy 500. He finished 13th and the question is, will he be satisfied with that and really walk away, or will he give it one more try?

“I can hardly believe it. Who would have thought it? I have to thank my team. Can you believe it? The reason we went for that strategy was because we cut a tire on some debris. We had to make the pit stop. And these guys called a great race. I was saving fuel uner the yellow. I was saving so much fuel. I can’t believe it. It’s the Indy 500!" Dario Franchitti

“Such a strange day. We were doing good at some point, and then when the rain came and cleaned the track, we just had no grip and we were really bad in traffic. We just needed some way to cycle to the front. Probably one of the worst races I’ve ever been in. There was no rhythm to it. There were crashes after crashes, and then obviously it rained twice. It is not the way the people want to see this race. Fans had to leave because of the rain, and obviously there’s not that many people left. We didn’t want to see it end when it did at (Lap) 113 because that was just totally unfair. Nobody really had a cycle through on their pit stops. It is tough for TK (Tony Kanaan), but that is the way it goes. It’s good on Dario. He was lucky he came in on that pit stop because he wasn’t going to.” Scott Dixon

"The car was just a rocket ship. When I looked on the board, it was (Lap) 160. That’s the time Rick Mears normally says go. And I went, and the car was real accepting. It is such a shame to not be able to finish green. It would have been such a battle. Congratulations to Dario and Andretti Green. They had five cars, and I guess they really took a chance and gambled, and worked it out for one.” Helio Castroneves

“We lost the mirror early, and they made us replace it. We lost a lap replacing it. We tried to manage our way back up through, to see if we could try to do something to get into the lead lap. And that wasn’t working. Going down on Turn 1, I had someone dive underneath me. I got up into the second groove and got all that stuff on my tires. And when I went into Turn 2, I knew it was going to be bad. I couldn’t turn down again because after going through Turn 1 and lifting, they were starting to get underneath me. And so I got into Turn 2, and the car wouldn’t turn at all, and the car just went straight. It wasn’t a very fast hit. I wasn’t going wide open because I anticipated what was coming, and it took off way quicker than I thought it was." John Andretti, who suffered a case of Andretti luck at Indy

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Travis Rassat
05/28/2007 06:40 PM

I was fortunate enough to be at the Indy 500 this year, and it was a great race.

The seats were packed at the start, but after the rain delay, it seemed like attendance dropped about 30-40%. Granted, it was about a 3 hour delay, but I thought it was strange that that many people would leave so quickly. I never thought that they might be leaving so they wouldn’t miss the 600.

Nonetheless, you are right on – the Indy 500 was very competitive, and a blast to watch. As soon as we got home (I live near Indianapolis), we caught the tape-delayed broadcast of it on ABC just to see it again!

05/29/2007 03:00 PM

Travis, my wife and our two friends were at the Indianapolis 500 this year as well, and I must admit, we left after the first rain delay at lap 113. Why? Well, my wife and one of our two friends were at the infamous 2004 Indy 500, where we waited out a rain delay in the morning, 20+ laps of racing, another rain delay, a shortened race, and a forced evacuation due to tornados in the area. This year we gambled on the track not being dry in time to restart the race (We knew there were storms forecast for later in the evening, and the last thing we wanted to have happen was to see another rain storm come through while they were drying the track). I’ve been attending Indianapolis since 1982 and I’ve gone through enough rain delays for both the 500 (2000, 2001, 2004) and qualifying that waiting it out in a bar with a beer or martini is preferable to standing under the grandstands.

We caught the tape delay at our hotel’s bar after we came back from dinner. I thought the race was very competitive, but I was very worried about some of the banzai charges people like Marco Andretti were trying.

BTW, I renewed our tickets for next year, rain or shine.

Travis Rassat
05/30/2007 07:17 AM

That makes a lot of sense when you put it in that perspective, mmack. We were so determined that we weren’t going to miss anything, we would’ve sat there all night!

Those late charges were pretty wild, weren’t they? With the impending rain, everybody was racing like it was the last lap every lap. It made for exciting racing, but like you say, it was worrisome – something was bound to happen and it did. At least nobody was hurt.


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.