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Frontstretch Breakdown: 2010 Indy 500

In a Nutshell: Great Scot! Really. While most of the attention after qualifying fell to Tony Kanaan and his Andretti Autosport teammates having a rough month of May, drivers like Paul Tracy who didn’t make the field, or Helio Castroneves and his quest for a fourth victory, Dario Franchitti garnered very little attention. That’s OK. He let his right foot do his talking instead, going out and dominating the race. He led 155 of 200 laps, scoring his second Indy 500 victory and fourth overall for owner Chip Ganassi.

For the Record Books: So Castroneves missed in his bid to become the fourth four-time winner of the race. Roger Penske missed in his bid to be the first car owner to win the race four times with two drivers. But Ganassi did not miss getting his name in the record books. Franchitti, in tandem with Jamie McMurray, made him the first owner to win both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year.

The Highlight Reel

How awesome is it to watch the traditional three-wide start? It’s the only race out there where the field lines up for the first lap three-wide, and they do it while getting up to speeds of over 200 mph.

Speed is a matter of perspective, I guess. While watching Robin Roberts, this year’s celebrity pace car driver, it was noted that while the pace laps appear slow, she needed to maintain a speed of 100 mph and get up to 120 mph on the final pace lap. But then, I guess when you are talking about cars that qualified at over 220 mph, that is slow.

Just one question — how do I score a ride in that two-seater IndyCar on the pace laps?

It’s a long race and there’s plenty of time to gain position, but proving that racecar drivers just want to be up front no matter how much they might know that, Kanaan started the race driving like a man possessed, inhaling cars, driving the high line and passing eight cars in the first half a lap to move from 33rd to 25th.

The Indy 500, like many big races these days, has a celebrity in the flagstand to drop the green flag for the initial start. This year, it was Jack Nicholson. Usually, they throw the green and depart; but apparently, Nicholson was enjoying the job and had other ideas. He threw the green not once, but three times, flagging the first two restarts as well. If you ask me, it’s just nice to see the job go to someone that really seemed to appreciate it rather than to a star who took the photo op and ran.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but we’re still so busy covering Danica Patrick and her ill-handling racecar that ABC totally missed how Will Power took the lead from Franchitti just before the first round of green-flag stops.

I’m a fan of the Side-By-Side coverage and I want it to continue, but I do feel the need to point out that I’ve come to discover that, in spite of all the arguments that commercials make us miss racing action, most of the time very little happens while we’re “gone.” Most of the Side-By-Sides seem to happen when the field is under caution. Ironically, today seemed to be the exception as both Ryan Briscoe and Sebastian Saavedra crashed during one of these breaks, and we did see it as it happened.

It’s truly a team sport and the place where that is most obvious, pit road, can make or break a bid at Indy victory. A stuck fuel filler cost Power dearly. Raphael Matos and Scott Dixon were signaled to leave before all the wheels were tight, resulting in lost wheels and lost time for both. Castroneves stalled exiting his stall. All of these miscues likely took these drivers out of contention.

It’s been said that victory at Indy most often goes to the team and driver that make the fewest mistakes. There were a lot of miscues and strategies that didn’t work out among the top contenders, especially when it began to look like it might be decided by fuel mileage, but Franchitti and company did everything right. At the end of the day, they were drinking the milk.

Tony Stewart left one open spot in the field for the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora for the winner of the 2010 Indy 500. Will Franchitti take him up on that invite?

Driver Mike Conway, who led the race in the late going before stopping for fuel, suffered a broken left leg after a savage wreck that saw his car go airborne after contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap of the race. The car impacted the catchfence, then split in half while scattering debris all over the track. Considering the severity of the accident, I for one am happy to hear that is the only injury to Conway.

Worth Noting

  • Dan Wheldon finished second, for the second year in a row. Oh, what might have been if a caution hadn’t flown on the last lap, as there was some question over whether Franchitti had enough ethanol in the tank to finish under green. Wheldon apparently did, and he was gaining.
  • Marco Andretti, Alex Lloyd and Dixon rounded out the top-five finishers.
  • Castroneves missed in his bid to win his fourth Indy 500. After falling from the lead to pit for fuel with eight laps left, he finished ninth.
  • Kanaan started last (33rd), ran as high as second before being forced to the pits for a last splash of fuel, and ended his day in 11th.
  • Four women started the Indy 500, the most ever in the race at one time. Patrick finished sixth, Simona de Silvestro came home 14th, Ana Beatriz was 21st and Sarah Fisher was credited with 26th after retiring with mechanical issues.
  • The highest finishing rookie was Mario Romancini in 13th.

Quotable

“It became a fuel race toward the end, and I had no idea how much I had left in the tank. It came down into turn 3, and it just died. The car died, and that’s when Mike [Conway] latched over me. That’s probably one of the toughest races I’ve ever had.” – Ryan Hunter-Reay on the last lap crash

“I’m so lucky to be driving for Chip and Team Target, getting in good cars, especially having gone away after we won in ’07. To be invited back was pretty cool. To have won a championship and an Indy 500, I didn’t expect any of this. I said before, I expected to be retired by the time I was 35 (he turned 37 on May 19). This is all bonus, and it’s pretty cool.” – Dario Franchitti

“Well, we always say the one that makes the fewest mistakes wins the race, and I made one that put us too far back. We were fighting understeer and oversteer all day, but we were still there fighting at the end and we still managed a top-10 result. Congratulations to Dario. Those guys were on it today and they deserve to be Indy 500 champions.” – Helio Castroneves

Final Thoughts: Would it be too much to call Franchitti’s foray into NASCAR disastrous? Probably not. What it wasn’t was career-ending. Franchitti returned to IndyCar because he missed the racing and his friends; and after winning the championship last year and his second Indy 500 this year, it was clearly the right call. Maybe NASCAR didn’t work out, but two Borg-Warners on the mantel can assure Franchitti that he is, in fact, a success.

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