How about that for a race?! After a few years of trying, and thanks to a well-timed red flag, we finally saw The 500 finish under green flag conditions. I welcome the use of the red flag instead of arbitrarily adding extra laps. The race pace was blistering fast even with the 150 laps of quasi-fuel save running, and turned into a one-on-one knife fight in the closing laps. 500 of the ages? I’m not so sure, but it was at least one hell of a race. The 3-6 drivers in the lead were reminiscent of a pack of sprinters biding their time until it’s go time. If we only have a handful of ovals on the schedule, then I’m glad we can kick them off at Indy. It’s only fitting.
Lead 3 – Unlike 2012 and 2013 where literally anyone in the top ten could draft to the front and lead a few laps, 2014 presented something totally different. Marco, Helio and RHR were in the top 5 all day long and were able to pull a lead and fight amongst themselves multiple times through the day.
Sure, Ed was playing up there during the first 80% of the race, but he was already out of the game when he met the wall. It was the first time he found himself playing with TBell and Hinch all day long, and that was because he had already lost the plot of the race.
Montoya and Dixon were able to cross the gap from the front of the chasing pack to the tail of the leaders, but they could never make any real progress to the pointy end. Looking back, there was no question of who would be in contention for the win.
Fuel Mileage – The manufacturer fuel mileage seemed to be nullified for the 500. Neither mark had a clear advantage, and it looked like it would eventually come down to driver controlled fuel mileage. One guy had a clear advantage all day. JPM went deeper into the race than any other driver and did so each and every stop until his pit lane speeding penalty. He was able to stay out 1 lap more on the first stop, 3 on the second, 5 on the third and 8 on the fourth when compared to RHR.
Literally unbelievable. He must have learned something about fuel savings during his time in NASCAR because he was clear of the field on every single stop. Although he didn’t show the speed, he could have had it given his economy had he been in the final fight at the end of the race. Pit lane speed limits bite JPM once again…
150 Laps of Green – For 150 laps of green flag racing that included four pitstops, the action was incredibly close. There was never any doubt who had the fast cars at what time in the race, but the field was able to thwart off the spread out field that usually accompanies long green flag oval runs. This was a pristine example of how a bobble in the pits can cost you the race. TK lost his race early on due to sitting in the pits for nearly a lap. However, you could almost still muff a stop and climb through the draft if your car was fast enough. See: Juan Pablo Montoya.
Ryan Hunter-Reay – Ok, I’m on board. RHR has always struck me as the guy who is always there to pounce on another drivers’ missed opportunity, not a guy who makes opportunity himself. What we saw on Sunday was the fastest guy covering the field all day long. He executed veteran moves in the closing laps of the race. Specifically, returning every strategic move that Helio made right back to him, but with more finesse, skill and force. There was no way RHR was not going to win that race, and it was amazing watching two of the most skilled oval drivers fight it out tooth and nail. Marco lost the track with 20 or 30 to go, and Ed was plain robbed. It was always going to come down to the two bright yellow cars, and it was nice to see the stars and stripes in victory lane in Indy.
Kurt Busch – Hard to talk about 2014 without mentioning the double outlaw (a silly marketing name I’ve always thought). Kurt did a great job throughout the entire month of May and definitely turned some haters into supporters with the way he handled himself. Everyone thought it would be the same ol’ KuBu yelling and screaming and cussing, but he held himself with poise, class and welcomed the rookie label. A hard fought sixth place was the reward for all of his travel stress and strain.
I truly think Kurt Busch was in awe for the first time in a long time. Hopefully he speaks well of his time with no fenders. And who knows, maybe this was exactly what he needed to regain his focus in NASCAR. It is good to note that although Busch didn’t fall too far into the field, he also didn’t make any real on-track progress. His sixth place was mainly due to the plethora of high runners crashing out in the last quarter of the race.
So that closes what can only be described as an epic month of racing at Indianapolis. Don’t blame the locals for loving their race, especially after the huge TV numbers the series pulled locally. The fire is back in the city and that always goes a long way for indycar racing as a whole. RHR leaves The Brickyard 40 points ahead of the competition with P2-4 separated by only 42. The championship race is so very close with a single dude shot out of a cannon up front. It will be interesting to see how the double headers and remaining Triple Crown races play out. Detroit in 2 days… wow