The 2020 Indianapolis 500 was not like any other Indy 500—and not just because NTT IndyCar Series fans weren’t in the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sunday’s (Aug. 23) racing wasn’t as exciting as it normally is during the Month of May. Takuma Sato snagged his second Indy 500 win but it came with controversy as NBCSN revealed multiple complaints had been made about him allegedly blocking other cars.
Race control also played a huge factor, between issuing Alexander Rossi a penalty for pit lane contact with Sato that ruined Rossi’s considerable chance to win his second Indy 500 and deciding to end IndyCar’s biggest race under yellow after a late-race caution rather than throwing a red flag and letting the drivers battle it out over the final three laps.
Here’s what we learned from the 2020 Indianapolis 500:
1) The red flag controversy
To red flag or not to red flag? That’s the debate after IndyCar decided to end the 104th Indy 500 under caution—a slow, anticlimactic and frustrating end. No race fan wants to see any event conclude under yellow, but particularly for this historic event, it was a huge letdown. It was hard not to ask, “We waited an extra three months for this?”
Race control could have thrown a red flag, waited for the tire barrier to be repaired, and let Sato, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal race to the finish. But here’s where it gets even more frustrating: RACER implies that TV coverage also played a factor in the decision to stay yellow. “IMS officials estimated it would have taken an hour to repair,” wrote Robin Miller, “NBC wasn’t about to fill that kind of a hole.”
If IndyCar made a choice just to keep NBC happy, then race fans have every reason to be upset.
We don’t know if Dixon could have caught Sato, or if Rahal could have caught Dixon. And it isn’t ideal to sit around for an hour. But professional sports have seen those kind of extended delays before and been able to fill time—and those drivers deserved a chance to fight for position if it was at all feasible.
2) Alexander Rossi’s latest angry drive
Alexander Rossi is becoming notorious for driving angry, and he’s never had a bigger reason to be livid than he did during this Indy 500. Assessing Rossi a penalty for unsafe pit lane release was questionable at best when both Sato and Patricio O’Ward also had a part to play in the contact that occurred. You could point a finger at all of them for the contact between Rossi and Sato, so why blame strictly Rossi?
Furthermore, the penalty crushed Rossi’s previously excellent race. He had been running right up front with Dixon and had a decent chance at catching the five-time champion. And it was being penalized and sent to the back of the field that caused Rossi to have to drive desperately, ultimately leading to the one-car wreck that shredded his car and ended his day. He wouldn’t have been pushing so hard if he wasn’t running out of time to drive through literally everyone.
Adding insult to injury is that this is the latest mishap in a terrible season for Rossi. He’s driven much better than the various pit lane foul-ups and now odd penalties have shown. If he could catch a break anywhere, he’d be in the title hunt again; as it is, the 2020 IndyCar season is rapidly slipping away for the 2016 Indy 500 winner.
3) What happened to Marco Andretti?
When the 2020 Indianapolis 500 started no one had a better story than Marco Andretti. He’d captured his first Indy 500 pole and had looked fast in just about every on-track session leading up to the race. Everyone not only thought he’d be in the mix but wanted him to be in the mix.
But Andretti didn’t even lead the opening lap. Dixon easily passed him after the green flag and from then on the No. 98 just didn’t have the pace of his competitors. Andretti ultimately finished 13th, which was his worst result in the last three years. He’s now ended up outside the Top 10 in four of his last five Indy 500s (he was eighth in 2017).
Where did all that speed from qualifying and practices go? It wasn’t as if he was good for part of the race and then had a slow pit stop or made a wrong tweak; he never showed that explosiveness that got everyone so excited. While Andretti drove the wheels off that car, it was as if the car itself never woke up. And that was sad not just for him and his team and fans, but for IndyCar as a whole. It would have been fantastic to see him finish on the podium or even with a win after what he accomplished in qualifying.
The 2020 IndyCar season continues Saturday, Aug. 29 with the Bommarito Auto Group Race 1 from Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, MO. The race airs at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.