Indianapolis 500 In-Race News, Notes And Thoughts

Speedway, IN – This column represents news, thoughts and notes taken during the race, not knowing how the 500 would play out.

• It’s the Purdue University band, Jim Nabors and Florence Henderson (though she was ill and couldn’t sing for this race). It’s “God Bless America”, “Taps”, and “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”. It’s the Flyover, Celebrities and legendary drivers (“Please welcome Mick Jones of Foreigner and Parnelli Jones of the 1963 Agajanian #98”) and “Drivers Start Your Engines.”

“The pre-race ceremonies leading up to the start of the Indianapolis 500 are perhaps the best and most tradition-filled opening entertainment in sports.

The Kentucky Derby has the tradition, the Super Bowl has the glitz and the World Series yells “Play Ball”, but for pure, spine-tingling drama, the 500 has them all beat.

There’s very little, if any commercialism involved, and from the time the cars are rolled to their pit boxes at 9:30am, until the flying start at 12:12pm, the opening show almost requires that fans to be in their seats early.

• The DW12 Dallara chassis, in its second season of development, seems well-suited for the rectangle-shaped Indy track. Named after the late Dan Wheldon, the race car bunches up in packs on restarts and drafts single-file like a long narrow snake with the hic-ups; the line constantly ebbing and flowing. Only complaint seems to be that once in the lead, a driver can’t pull away from the pack behind. Wheldon helped develop it, but never got to see it race. Sad.

• Pre-race talk centered on how even the field was and how the choice for a winner was a crap-shoot. Chevrolet dominated time-trials, but, just as last year, Honda worked hard to catch up in the days before the race. Honda’s better fuel mileage is likely to contribute to longer runs between stops. We’ll see how that affects the finish.

• At 100 laps, there had been 28 lead changes among nine drivers and most had been on-track changes.

• Tony Kanaan and AJ Allmendinger seem to be the fan favorites today. TK was the unanimous choice during his home-country race in Brazil recently, and that seems to have carried over to Indy. AJ returns to open-wheel after having his career revived by team-owner Roger Penske. Racing today needs more drivers who can compete in various series. Maybe Kurt Busch will go for the “Indy/Charlotte Double” next year.

• Hope you saw how busy James Hinchcliffe’s hands were as he worked to regain control of his almost-spinning mount in turn two.

• The crowd appears to be about the same as last year despite the cool, windy weather. Some stands were removed at the end of the backstretch, but attendance seems to be on the upswing in the time after the track Centennial in 2009-2011. Hope everyone is planning to be here for the 100th race in 2016. Not many sports events can celebrate that milestone.

• Alex Tagliani may be the most under-rated driver on the circuit. He’s giving the Herta-Curb-Agajanian team its best run since they won the 500 with Dan Wheldon in 2011.

• The race is averaging a record 190 +mph with only three yellow flags at lap 175. Rain appears to be 45-minutes west of the Speedway, and track position is becoming important.

• The present Indy cars may lack high-tech qualities, but they sure have the fans on their feet, now averaging almost 192mph and dicing wheel-to-wheel for the lead. How can you not like this?

• Sebastien Bourdais tagged the inside pit wall on his way to the pits as a multi-car battle for the lead was on. Other sanctioning bodies may have thrown a yellow flag, but with just 22 laps remaining, INDY CAR made a great non-call and kept the action going.

• Munoz, Castroneves, Kanaan, Andretti, Hunter-Reay all for the lead with 12 laps to go. Will a yellow spoil this classic race or who will blink first?

• AJ Dinger is the first car (in 8th) who might need to stop. Too bad.

• Yellow with six laps to go. Contact in turn two by Graham Rahal will likely spoil a great battle, but Hunter-Reay is a happy leader. Will anyone pit? Hope we go back to green! Record average speed is falling.

• Crash on the green flag lap with three laps to go and Kanaan is in the lead. Crowd going nuts for Tony as they know we’ll finish under the caution. Finally he wins the 500 after 11 tries. May be most popular win for any driver since Earnhardt in ’98 at Daytona.

• Franchitti’s crash brought out the final yellow. What a change from last year when he won his third. But what class as he got to victory lane very quickly and gave TK an emotional embrace. Franchitti really respects the history and importance of this race.

• I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in my over forty years of race coverage, but fans in all the front stretch grandstands stood and saluted the entire field as they returned to their pits after the race.

• If this race doesn’t fill the stands next year, I don’t know what will.

• Second-place finisher Carlos Munoz doesn’t have a full-season ride and will likely return to the Indy Lights series. Hope someone lets him show his talent.

• Great win for KV Racing and co-owner/former driver Jimmy Vasser and partner Kevin Kalkhoven.

• Sixty-eight lead changes among fourteen drivers, and five quick cautions contributed to a record event speed of 187.433mph (old Indy record, 185.981 by Arie Luyendyk twenty-three years ago). Fastest 500 of all-time, 189.727 by Al Unser Jr. at Michigan.

• The media isn’t supposed to show any emotion or cheer for a particular driver or team, but there was universal joy in the Media Center after this one. Rival crews also are saluting him as he returns to the pits just as they did for Earnhardt.

• TK’s victory lap in the pace car may have been the slowest lap turned this month, but there has never been a more heartfelt reception by the crowd for any winner in recent memory. They stayed in their seats by the thousands and, instead of heading for 16th street and home, they loudly saluted a most popular winner.

• In post-race talk, TK says Parnelli told him to win. TK says he admires legends of race Mears, Foyt, etc.

• Kanaan will be the 100th face to be etched on the Borg Warner trophy.

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