More Reflections On Sunday’s Race

After watching the entire telecast of the race, I’m not sure that I learned a lot of new information about the race that I didn’t already know. Instead, I think I gained as much from allowing a little time to elapse in order to reflect on what I had witnessed.

The cards were stacked against this race from the beginning. There was so much hype leading up to it for the last few years, that there was no way the actual race could match the build-up. Well, guess what – it did.

As I drove home from Indianapolis on Monday, among the discussions in the car and my own personal thoughts – it occurred to me how lucky I was to have been there on that day when Dan Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500 after leading a grand total of a few hundred feet.

I’ll remember this race for a long time. The 2006 race was exciting in its own way with so many different leaders in the last ten laps, but this one was different. Once the first practice day came to an early close with Ed Carpenter turning the fastest time, you had the feeling that this might be the year that a smaller team makes some noise. Then, when Alex Tagliani was at or near the top of other practice days – the sensation was that a team not from Penske or Ganassi might could at least shake things up on Pole Day.

Pole day came and found the Team Penske absent from the front row and Target Chip Ganassi Racing with two flubs that cost Scott Dixon the pole and Dario Franchitti a front row start. Instead, there were two other teams on the front row and several small teams among the Fast Nine. For once, Team Penske didn’t seem to be much of a threat for the race, but you had the feeling that Pole Day served as a wake-up call for the Target team. Most experts had already given the win to Scott Dixon.

Although the Target cars led more than half the race, they basically outsmarted themselves with a botched fuel strategy in the end. Dixon finished fifth, while Dario Franchitti ended up in twelfth. In the last few laps, we saw several different leaders. When Bertrand Baguette pitted on Lap 197, it was setting up to be a very popular win for a small team and an American rookie driver.

Panther Racing is one of the few remaining old IRL teams on the grid. They won two championships with Sam Hornish and had come in second in the previous three Indianapolis 500’s. On the brink of extinction just a few years ago, they had gained momentum in the past few seasons. With promising American driver JR Hildebrand at the wheel, this combination of team and driver had become very popular with the fans.

When Hildebrand hit the wall coming out of Turn Four en route to taking the checkered flag in his first Indianapolis 500, it brought quite a bit of heartache to the fans – not to mention Panther Racing and Hildebrand. But you’d be hard-pressed to find many hard-core fans that weren’t thrilled to see Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta in Victory Lane. Herta had been pretty well tossed on the scrap heap. I’ll be the first to admit that when he announced he had signed with Bryan Herta to run the 500, I thought he had lost his mind. To me, it reeked of desperation on Wheldon’s part. That shows how much I know.

That’s not to disparage Bryan Herta. One of the very first posts that I ever wrote here was entitled “Herta Will Emerge As A Great Owner” (here). I knew he had the know-how to be a great owner over time, I just never saw it coming this soon. I also think he is wise to not get caught up in the emotion of this win and rush their plans. He intends to stay the course and build towards a full-time season for 2012. This payday will help, but he shouldn’t suddenly put Wheldon on the track when they are not properly prepared.

Personally, I was ecstatic with the results. I was also happy that John Barnes and Panther chose not to raise a fuss over the finish. A great day and a great race didn’t need to end in a swirl of controversy to drag on for days or weeks.

I haven’t fully recovered from the weekend. I am taking today off just to rest up. I’ll have time to devote to a more detailed post for Wednesday and comment on different aspects of the race, the telecast and the Month of May in general. But I am still riding a high, as I reflect one of the best Indianapolis 500’s I’ve witnessed. Maybe by Wednesday, I can be a little more objective.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “More Reflections On Sunday’s Race”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    George, I have to agree with your over all assesment of this 500, it really had everything one could want in a race month. A disappointing day for JRH and Panther to be sure, but I could not be more pleased that Brian Herta with Dan Weldon won this race. To me, Weldon being absent from the regular lineup this season seemed just as impossible as Tony Kanaan being gone as well a couple of months ago. Weldon the road racer cum oval specialist with no ride??? It seemed impossible. These are the sort of weeks at the IMS that this series needs to keep fans off balance and almost afraid to take their eyes off what is going on. I think that Brian Herta while not always a big check mark in the win column, has always had the technical and organizational skills to help make a team competitive. And whether most people know it or not was one who helped do just that when he was at AGR (when Weldon was cutting his IRL teeth)… Some may view this win as a fluke, but if you aren’t running up front at the end you have no chance to win. All the experts coulda woulda shouldas pointing towards a Penske or Ganassi win don’t amount to a hill of beans now. The bottom line is that Hildebrand’s spotter and team should have been stroking him to relax ease up slightly and get out of it a bit to get around Kimball but instead they made the mistake of amping him up, which wound up costing him the race. Congrats to DW and BH racing. This is exactly what the league needs a whole lot more of. I sure hope we get to see a whole lot more from both…. (Sam Schmidt, Sara Fisher and HVM too)

  2. Yes indeed, what a racing spectacle. I am floored from what I saw and Wheldon with Herta in Victory Circle does make it special. I was on the edge of my seat from the start with Dixon and Tags dueling it out in the early stages. I will now expect the unexpected and I would like to see Herta sign Wheldon to a deal for 2012 so that we can see another top team develop in the INDYCAR Series.

  3. There is so much to talk about this race, I don’t even know where to begin. Wow. Just, wow.

    That was an epic Indy. Even NASCAR pundits have to admit that the magic has returned.

    I still can’t believe that there was only one Ganassi or Penske car in the Top 10. (Shhhh. I’m pretending that Kimball & Rahal aren’t Ganassi. Humor me.)

    You couldn’t find a more deserving winner than Wheldon. I still think he’s the best of this generation at the Brickyard. (Sorry Helio)

    I know some will say he lucked into it, but to be honest, after 500 miles no one lucks into it. Just being around on the lead lap at the finish is a feat. I would have thought any of the top 10 drivers deserving of the win.

    Sure Target had the fastest cars on the day, but this is the Indy 500. It’s about more than speed. History has long shown that the fastest cars don’t always win. (Sorry Parnelli. Sorry Mario)

    My heart just aches for J.R. Hildebrand. I hope he can bounce back from this and deliver on the great promise he has shown. I’d hate to see this moment define his career.

    What a race. We won’t soon forget this one.

    • “couldn’t find a more deserving winner than Wheldon”?

      Tagliani? Dixon? Servia? Franchitti? Racers who led dozens of laps?

      “I would have thought any of the top 10 drivers deserving of the win.”

  4. I believe it was James Hinchcliff who said at the Victory Banquet that Hildebrand won’t be defined by what happened to him at the end of the race, but by how he reacted to what happened. Those are wise and true words.
    We saw the emergence of several young, talented, intelligent and well spoken young people who have identified themselves as the drivers/leaders who will take INDYCAR to levels is has never before attained.
    George, your assessment of the race at the beginning of this post was spot on. I was very fortunate to be there.

  5. Dan Wheldon ran in the top 5 all day long. While he didn’t lead until the end, he was always lurking, biding his time, putting himself into position to win. A perfeclty executed race that, with some luck, he won.

    Herta is/was underrated… At one time about 10 years ago, his name was tossed around as a possible Formula 1 driver

  6. Jack in NC Says:

    Of all the 500’s I have witnessed, both live and on TV, this will go down as my favorite. Not only was it a great race with an unexpected outcome, but it was a family reunion of sorts and I will long cherish it. Karen and I are already making plans for next year!

  7. I can’t help but think that Indycar should race the week after Indy. I know they’re thinking they can milk publicity and focus on the results of the 500 for two weeks, but I think it would be better if Texas or Milwaukee was coming up this weekend. I don’t know how Indy did ratings-wise, but they sure got some good press coverage from this year’s race.

    I would also put Hildebrand and Hinch–along with Simona!– in front of every camera I could find. To me, those three Americans* are the future of the series.

    *American in spirit, if not birth.

    • redcar,

      I agree. I think one of the most amazing things about this Month of May, has been the performance of those 3 young drivers. Not just on the track, but in front of the camera too. Damn impressive.

      This was one of the most competitive fields in a long, long time, and the youngsters had a lot to do with that. We’ll see a wave of retirements in the next couple of years, both series regulars, and Indy only drivers. It’s good to know the next generation is ready to step in.

    • I agree with the idea of the flat Milwaukee oval or big Texas Motor Speedway & its twin races on the weekend immediately after Indy 500, televised on the same network, and advertised during the 500… momentum…

  8. Mike Silver Says:

    I agree. I’ve seen 45 500’s in person, aand listened/watched to many more since 1953, and Sunday was probably the best start to finish race ever. I felt like I just watched my favorite basketball team win in triple overtime. My friend and both remarked as wegot home that our hearts had just stopped punding.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      I will also add that the crowd was way more engaged in this race that I’ve seen in the last few years.

  9. james t suel Says:

    I agree it was a great500. It was my 51 500 and a good one for the 100th anniversary!I had 20 other people in my group, everyone seem to enjoy.

  10. […] More Reflections On Sunday’s Race [Oilpressure]There’s only one reflection you need to make, George – AND THAT IS THAT THE RACE WAS A GARGANTUAN CONTAINER SHIP FULL OF AMERICAN-MADE AWESOME. It was the Dos Equis Guy of Memorial Day motorsports! Keep it simple, my man. […]

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