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.