Time For An Upset

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Watching the hysteria following Saturday’s upset at the Kentucky Derby got me to thinking about how much the Indianapolis 500 would benefit from such mania. Even though every 500 is compelling in it’s own way, very seldom is the field stunned by an upset.

Curt Cavin, of The Indianapolis Star, has been criticized for saying there were only five favorites in this year’s race – Dixon, Franchitti, Castroneves, Briscoe and Kanaan. His response was that five is an unusually high number. He’s correct. Any of those drivers have an equal shot at winning. How many times leading into the Month of May, could you say that about five drivers?

For the past fifteen years, each 500 has had its share of drama. However, few have left people in disbelief over what they just saw, as did Saturday’s Derby. The last time that happened was in 1992, when Al Unser, Jr. held off Scott Goodyear at the line—only after Michael Andretti fell out on lap 189, after having the field covered all day. Little Al had been quiet all month, lucky to start 12th in a sled-like Galmer chassis. Scott Goodyear had been bumped and had to force teammate Mike Groff out of his car, in order to start 33rd.

The result? People talked about the finish for months. Matchbox Cars produced a two-car set complete with a “yard of bricks”. Valvoline capitalized and ran commercials showing that incredible finish, for the next year. To this day, the Bob Jenkins call from the last several hundred yards is still replayed many times over. It was my first year back to the Speedway after a long hiatus, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

In this decade, there has only been one winner that did not come from the big three – Penske, Ganassi and AGR. That was in 2004, when Buddy Rice won for Rahal-Letterman. That could hardly be called an upset, since he was also the pole sitter. The only thing that proved unusual about Rice’s victory was that it was the last year that the 500 winner did not go on to win the IndyCar Championship.

On one hand you want the team that works the hardest and is the best prepared, to come out on top. That’s the American way. But the Indianapolis 500 needs to regain the buzz that was generated by Danica’s strong showing in 2005, or the fabulous finish of the 2006 race. I’m not advocating a win by Mike Conway or Robert Doornbos, but it would sure be a great story to see Davey Hamilton in Victory Lane with Dryer & Reinbold or Vitor Meira finally getting there, giving Foyt a sixth win. These are teams and drivers that have certainly paid their dues over the years and would make for a different story line coming out of the Speedway, for once.

George Phillips

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One Response to “Time For An Upset”

  1. foyt14 Says:

    How about Rahal?

    I remember in 1966 when Graham Hill beat Jim Clark. That was kind of like an upset. Hill came from mid-field and there were some of us that didn’t know he was in front. However, Hill was one of the greats of Formula 1 and it should not have been a surprize at all.

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