Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

The 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is now in the books. As we all know, it is the first time full-capacity has been allowed since 2019. It is also the first time that a full-scale Indianapolis 500 has been run under Roger Penske’s ownership. There have been a lot of changes, both for the better and some not so much.

But what has not changed is the growing anticipation of Race Day morning at IMS.

I enjoy getting to IMS very early on Race Day. First of all, the traffic is a non-factor. Second of all there are a lot more Media Parking passes than there are Media Parking spots. Even arriving at the lot at 5:30 am like we did yesterday, the Media Lot was filling up. By the time I got to the Media Center, it was 5:40 and still plenty dark.

Even in the dark, you could feel the buzz and anticipation for what was to come. With each passing half hour, the crowds grew and so did the buzz. Susan usually takes all of the photos on Race Day – of cars, drivers and simply people. She has a good eye for that and enjoys doing it. I took very few photos this weekend, so if you’re looking for a lot of photos from the weekend – it did not happen.

One of the changes this year was fine with me, but probably ruffled the feathers of a few fans. The Spectacle of Bands seems to be a thing of the past. These were local marching bands from Indiana high schools that marched as a parade around the track performing. There was no mention of this on the schedule and I found out there was a reason for that – because it didn’t happen. Again, this doesn’t bother me in the least, but I heard a couple of fans complaining about it yesterday.

While I was (and still am) against the scrapping of the balloon launch that had occurred since 1947; I have to say I was mighty impressed with what they got to replace it with. The Thunderbirds did the usual flyover, as the National Anthem was coming to a close. But at the closing of (Back Home Again in) Indiana, where the balloons would normally be released – the Thunderbirds made another pass, this time from the east and then they fanned out just as they were over the main straightaway. It was actually breathtaking as they approached at a much lower altitude and you could feel the ground shaking. The best word to describe it is “exhilarating”.

The Race: The race itself had an odd feel to it. It seemed to never gather a rhythm about it. There would be a crash about every thirty-five miles, usually around scheduled pit stops. While that may have prevented a flow to the race, it certainly added to the intrigue.

I’m not saying I like to see crashes, because I don’t. But a race with no yellow flags can be processional and boring. Fortunately, all of the crashes were one car accidents and none of them produced any serious injuries. The only injuries I am aware of involved a sore wrist for Callum Ilott and sore muscular aches for Sage Karam.

Simply based on what I saw on the video boards and what my brother and I saw in the garage area after the race; the hardest hit appeared to involve Scott McLaughlin. He hit the wall, skated across the Turn Four grass nd hit the wall again – with the secondary hit being harder than the first. I don’t think his Pennzoil Chevrolet had any bodywork on it that wasn’t damaged

Probably the biggest name that crashed was front-row starter Rinus VeeKay. He lost control of his car and crashed on Lap 38, bringing out the first caution of the day – just after everyone had made their first pit stops. But when Ilott crashed on Lap 69, it came at a bad time for several drivers including last year’s runner-up, Alex Palou. The result was Palou going to the back of the field, a move from which he never recovered. Palou managed to salvage a ninth-place finish, but he was never in contention after that.

Of course, the story of the race was the dominating performance by Scott Dixon that should have led to a win. Instead, a pit lane speed violation led to a penalty that took him out of contention What looked like a second career Indianapolis 500 win for Dixon, turned into a very forgettable twenty-first place finish. You have to feel for Dixon, but it was apparently the right call and he has no one but himself to blame.

The penalty handed the win to his unheralded Ganassi teammate, Marcus Ericsson. Many people that are obviously smarter than I am said to not sleep on Marcus Ericsson. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it coming and I really didn’t give Ericsson much thought as a legitimate contender.

The Points Lead: Not surprisingly, with double-points, Marcus Ericsson is now your new points leader. He leads Pato O-Ward, who finished second in the 500 by thirteen points. Will Power had his first finish worse than fourth place (he finished fifteenth) and dropped from first to fourth in points. Previous points leader Josef Newgarden, drops to fifth in points with his thirteenth place finish on Sunday.

After a bad day by Colton Herta, he is now tenth in points. Teammate Alexander Rossi jumps to eleventh – one point behind Herta – by finishing fifth on Sunday.

The Red Flag: Once again IndyCar has decided to gimmick-up the Indianapolis 500, by throwing a red flag to try and preserve a green flag finish. I’ve seen the debates on social media where some ask “Would you rather see them finish the race under yellow?”. Well…yes!

When did it become taboo to finish a race under caution. All three of Dario Franchitti’s wins came under the yellow. It’s not a crime. It happens.

And another thing…in last week’s qualifying, it became a big issue that cars might not be able to cool properly between rounds of knock out qualifying. If proper cooling is so important during qualifying, why is it not such an issue in the actual race?

All in All: Overall, I enjoyed the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 immensely. There were surprises, heartbreak, strategy and luck involved. Most of all, there will be a new face adorning the Borg-Warner Trophy. The weather could not have been more perfect, and we didn’t even have to worry about it this year.

Congratulations to Marcus Ericsson. Something tells me he is about to become a weekly force to be reckoned with, each an every race.

George Phillips

Please Note: I am going to take a slight break this week. I’m tired. This will be the last post until Friday June 3. Check back then and thanks for following along all of this month. – GP

19 Responses to “Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    IndyCar has discussed finishes with the teams and the teams agree that if possible they want the races to finish under green. So before each race IndyCar notifies the teams that if a race finishes with more than X number of laps left they will red flag it and try to finish under green. If there are less than X number of laps left, meaning they won’t have enough time to get things cleaned up and restarted, then they will let it finish under yellow. The number is different for each track due to varying track lengths. Personally, I’m ok with this strategy and far prefer it to how NASCAR always forces a green/white/checker. And the teams are ok with it, so I don’t have an issue with it.

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – We are also all thinking about Susan.

    How is she doing and was she able to be released in order to travel back to Nashville?

  3. Marcus Ericsson is an Indy 500 champ If you told me that one of the 2018 Sauber drivers won the 500

  4. Big Mac Says:

    Source? Because I have not read about this in any of the articles I’ve read about the race that mentioned the decision to red-flag the race. Jenna Fryer of the AP wrote that Graham Rahal, in response to a question from Emma Davies-Dixon about why this race was red-flagged when the 2020 race was not, said, “Because there’s no consistency. They do what they want.” The guys on the radio network didn’t seem to know that the race would be red-flagged automatically using previously announced criteria. So a lot of people who should know about the specifics of this policy don’t seem to have known.

    • Big Mac Says:

      That was intended to be a reply to Brandon Wright, BTW.

      • Brandon Wright Says:

        The policy was explained by the IndyCar officials after last year’s Detroit race was red flagged and it has been in place for several years. The fans in attendance let out a huge cheer when it was red flagged so it’s safe to say the majority of them, after waiting three years for a proper 500, wanted a green flag shootout. I never want them to add laps to force a green flag shootout but I’m ok with the red flag policy since it’s what the teams want.

        • Big Mac Says:

          That’s not what you said. You said that IndyCar notified the teams before the race that if a yellow is thrown with more than a certain number of laps remaining, which you called X, the race would be red-flagged to permit it to finish under green. I am unaware of any instance before or after any race where IndyCar has told the teams that the race will be red-flagged if a yellow is thrown with, say, six laps remaining. Jeff Gluck of The Athletic wrote an entire article today about the question of whether the race should have been red-flagged, with extensive quotes, and no mention of such a policy.

          Personally, I’m fine with thie general idea of red-flagging a race to permit it to finish under green. But let’s not pretend that IndyCar has spelled out the criteria they use to do this (although it would be a very good idea for them to do so).

  5. Patrick Says:

    I suppose at some point George will watch the tv replay and I’d like to hear his thoughts. The broadcast was ok but could have been better. In my opinion one of the most tense times is the drivers putting on their helmets, climbing in the cars, and nervously waiting for the start command. ABC always played that up big. NBC used that time to show commercials and some pre-recorded crap about Fenway Park. And I guess Roger plans to give a speech from now on before the command. As soon as the cars started NBC cut to commercial and didn’t even show them pulling away from the starting line, thus missing another dramatic moment. I don’t know where Steve Latarte was but I wish he would have taken Rutledge Wood with him. At least his “contributions” were kept to a minimum.

    • I keep wondering who Mr. Wood knows. I was a little behind watching so I was able to fast forward through his bits at least in the pre-race. Mute is a great button for the obnoxious!

  6. I don’t see the red flag as a gimmick. It’s a legitimate attempt to give the fans a green flag finish. They aren’t adding laps like in a certain stock car series whose gimmickery IndyCar have done well to not adopt. It’s the right balance between trying to satisfy the “Dorys” (people with short attention span, or easily bored), and the traditional fans like us.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I didn’t struggle with the red flag call because I believe most fans really do want to see a green flag finish, though I would be fine with a traditional yellow. Certainly this was an easier call than in 2020, where there was extensive barrier damage that required repair in addition to mopping up a wrecked car and a lap less to work with.

    Ericsson drove a flawless race, good to see that rewarded. Good to see Kanaan up front as well. Herta’s day looked terrifying. While Jimmie Johnson had the most notable rookie highlight of the month (in qualifying), his wreck should have given his ROY award to David Malukas (and even if voting occurred before that, Malukas probably deserved it more). Quite a contrast to Johnson’s excellent run at Texas.

    While I have no quarrel with Ericsson for doing it because it is not against the rules, Indycar might want to consider penalizing drivers for crossing the double white line at pit in, whether pitting or swerving to break the draft for a trailing car. Seems like a nasty wreck into the attenuator waiting to happen.

  8. agree with Patrick above.
    i could add more, but no.

  9. OliverW Says:

    I was 100% behind having the red flag. So were my fellow tv watchers which included rookies and die hards.

    • Myself and other diehards were very disappointed that Indy Car would lower itself to Nascar level by pulling this stunt. I’m just happy it did not cost Ericsson his win.

      Scott Dixon has to still be lamenting the one that got away.

  10. Completely disagree that Indycar “gimmicked up the finish”.

    Gimmicking up the finish would be using the NASCAR method of GWC which adds laps past the scheduled race distance. It was still the Indianapolis 500, not 505, not 510. There was nothing gimmicked about it whatsoever. It was an opportunity to try and finish under green. Certainly better than the lame effort in 1997.

  11. […] good friend George Phillips opined over at Oilpressure.com that he would rather see the race end under caution than have a red flag late in the race. This is […]

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