IndyCar – Indy 500: A First Time for Everything

indycar-2014-indy-500-rhr-kissing-the-bricksWhat constitutes a family curse being broken? The Andretti family curse at the Indianapolis 500 goes back almost 50 years when Mario won his first and only Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Neither son Michael nor grandson Marco have been able to win the race since then.

Since 1969, the Andrettis have won the 500 twice… as team owners. Michael’s team won the 2005 and 2007 races but he was just an owner. This year was the closest that an Andretti has come to winning the race but not thanks to Marco’s driving. It was Michael calling the shots on the pit box for race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay who picked up the win with a last lap pass of three-time race winner Helio Castroneves.

For the second-straight year, it was Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter who led the field to green in his own car. However, he didn’t lead the field into Turn One of Lap One. That was the second place starter James Hinchcliffe who made a power move around the outside of the first turn to take the race lead early.

indycar-2014-indy-500-startUnlike the 2013 race, passes for the lead weren’t a regular occurrence. Drivers had to work for the passes for the lead this time. There were 34 lead changes among 11 drivers which is half of the record 68 official lead changes in the 2013 500. Just because there were fewer lead changes doesn’t mean the race was less exciting. Drivers had to be more aggressive in making their moves rather than just drafting their way past.

Also unlike the 2013 edition of the 500, the race went to three-quarters distance before the first yellow flag. In the last edition of the race, the first caution was on the second lap.

indycar-2014-indy-500-carpenter-hinchcliffe-crashThat first yellow flag at Lap 150 set off a series of four more yellow flags for 21 laps over the last 50 laps of the race. Kimball’s crash started the yellow flags. Frontrunner Scott Dixon, whose fuel mileage made him a late race favourite, spun by himself next. That was followed by an ill-advised three-wide pass attempt by James Hinchcliffe that took out Carpenter.

The yellow flag string was ended by Townsend Bell crashing out of the top five. Hitting the wall left debris strewn across the track and forced a red flag for clean-up and repairing the SAFER barrier.

That left a six-lap shootout between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves for the win. The pair traded the lead three times over the final stretch of laps. The third pass saw RHR dive to the inside and just clip the grass as he forced his way by Castroneves. Helio tried drafting his way by on the final straight but came up 0.0600 seconds short.

indycar-2014-indy-500-rhr-victory-laneHunter-Reay’s win was his first in the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports and the first win for an American since 2006. Helio finished 2nd for the second time (3rd time unofficially since Paul Tracy actually won the 2002 Indy 500). Marco Andretti cursed- I mean, crossed the line in 3rd for his fourth podium finish in the race.

Carlos Munoz had the worst Indy 500 of his life by finishing 4th. If only we all lived such arduous lives. Juan Montoya also had his worst Indy 500 with a 5th place finish. Kurt Busch finished the first leg of the double in 6th. Unlike some of the men ahead of him, Sebastian Bourdais finished a career-best 7th in the 500. Will Power had a solid day in 8th. Sage Karam probably won’t win Rookie of the Year but deserves it after going from 31st on the grid to 9th at the finish. JR Hildebrand marked his 2014 return to IndyCar by rounding out the Top Ten.

By the way, the new IndyCar points structure means that Hunter-Reay has a massive advantage in the points standings after the 500. All Triple Crown races are worth double points now. That means that Hunter-Reay gained 52 points on Will Power based solely on their finishes. That gives RHR a 40-point advantage

I know I said that this is the closest that the Andretti Curse has come to being broken but there’s an interesting piece of Curse lore that ties into the Andretti team.

The two previous race winners for Andretti’s team signed with Chip Ganassi Racing for the season following their 500 win. Dan Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500 and immediately jumped ship to Chip Ganassi for the 2006 season. Dario Franchitti won the 2007 Indy 500 and went to NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing. He then returned to IndyCar in 2009 as a Ganassi driver, replacing Dan Wheldon.

I haven’t heard anything about Hunter-Reay leaving Andretti Autosport but you’d have to imagine that the next opening at either Penske or Ganassi would be his if he wanted it. With his run over the last three seasons, I don’t think he’d rush to leave AA, though.

Apart from the curse, the big story of the day was Kurt Busch attempting the double. No driver had won either race in the double when attempting it and only one of the previous attempts ended with 1,100 miles completed on the day.

Sunday, those statistics didn’t change. Busch had a fantastic day in the mid-West en route to his 6th place finish in the 500. A slow but steady climb as he improved his car all day. No, he wasn’t really in touch by the end but still acquitted himself well in open-wheel cars.

indycar-2014-indy-500-kurt-busch-helicopter-charlotteHis evening in Charlotte didn’t go quite as well. He had to start at the tail-end of the 43-car Coca-Cola 600 field. He climbed his way to the top 15 but suffered a left-rear shock failure that slowed him. It didn’t hamper his efforts as much as the blown engine that ended his day after 400 miles.

So it wasn’t the 1,100 miles that he hoped for but The Outlaw’s 900 miles in two cars and two races was sure impressive all things considered. I’m actually a little surprised that it was the Indy 500 effort that was better than his NASCAR run. I would have expected the other way around.

indycar-2013-detroit-conway-trackThe next time that we see the IndyCar Series is this coming Saturday. We don’t even take seven days off between races after the biggest event of the season. It’s right back to action at the end of this week for the first doubleheader weekend of 2014. It’s the Indy Dual in Detroit on the streets of Belle Isle.

Some, at the time, unexpected drivers took the checkered flag in last year’s two races in Detroit. Those two might have been underdogs 12 months ago but have to be favourites this year. Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud won their first races of 2013 in Detroit last year. This season, they each have a win under their belts heading to Belle Isle. Don’t be surprised if they can add a second to that total this weekend.


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