FIRST IMPRESSIONS: 2014 Indianapolis 500

First Impressions, IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on May 25, 2014 9:12 pm
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The 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 is now a part of the history books. Our first impressions of the event are below. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section at the bottom of the page!

PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

This race will probably be remembered as a tale of two races. The first 150 laps of this race were somewhat processional when it seemed that none of the drivers were interested in leading or really racing. After the 3/4 mark, though, things changed dramatically and it seemed a candle was lit under the entire field.

Ryan Hunter-Reay emerged victorious to become the 69th driver to win the Indianapolis 500, holding off Castroneves by the narrowest of margins. The pass Hunter-Reay made on Helio going into turn 3 on lap 197 was the gutsiest I’ve ever seen in all my years of following racing — yes, even more so than The Pass at Laguna Seca in 1996. Hunter-Reay, having lost last year’s race on a very late restart, was simply not to be denied and did whatever was necessary to find victory lane. When it was time to make the move to win the race, Hunter-Reay got it done.

Hunter-Reay, as the first American to win here since 2006, was very popular with the fans and cherished his place as an American victor. Marco Andretti came home third, giving Americans two of the top three spots for only the second time since 1998. Marco seemed to be the sentimental fan favorite, but when the money was on the line, Andretti’s car just didn’t have the speed to keep up with the front two drivers.

It was another spectacular day at 16th and Georgetown that exemplified why the Indianapolis 500 is the World’s Greatest Race. The pageantry and emotion of the day was, once again, unmatched by any other sporting event in the world. It’s a shame we have to wait an entire year to do it again, but the countdown is on.​

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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

You’d be hard-pressed to create a more perfect day and more perfect race for an Indianapolis 500 than we saw here today. (Unless you’re a Canadian. But that’s another story.)

The weather was beautiful. The crowd was enormous. The buzz was palpable. The pre-race tribute to Jim Nabors was legendary. And the race itself was one for the ages.

It gave us an American winner for the first time since 2006, the longest opening green-flag running period the Speedway has on record, a strong start to the day for a NASCAR star running the double, and the second-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

Since the incidents and penalties were all explained well, there are only two points on which to opine that I can see.

First, given that several drivers have commented that the cars could use more power (including both Simon Pagenaud and Jacques Villeneuve on last week’s podcast), and that the race ran three-quarters of the way without a yellow this afternoon, the door does open to a discussion of whether it’s time to make the cars more challenging to drive — not because a race is no good with no crashing but because those 150 laps went by with nary a bobble from anyone, and a Sunday cruise is probably not quite what Indianapolis is about.

The second point that’s bound to be debated is the red flag period. As it turns out, the race would have needed to be red flagged regardless because repairs were needed to the SAFER Barrier in turn 2 after Townsend Bell’s impact. But on the broader subject of whether to throw a red flag within, say, the last 10 laps if clean-up is going to take too long to get back to green, I know some people think it’s too manufactured a concept for IndyCar but I see the merit in it. After so many years in a row of ending under yellow, it was very nice to have a thrilling finish again, and in this day and age I think the concept of giving the fans what they paid for can’t be ignored. This approach accomplishes that without resorting to a green-white-checkered finish, which is not only not a great idea for open-wheel racing but also compromises that whole Indianapolis 500 thing. I’ll join the many others out there offering kudos to Race Control for their handling of that last-minute decision.

It’s hard to believe that we’re done here at IMS for another year and will be back in action in just six days for a double-header, but we’re ready for it. Let’s hope this great momentum carries all the way through Detroit and the rest of the season!

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BASH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Wow — this 500 was another heart-stopper. While it would have been great to see the constant leap-frogging and 68 lead changes like last year, you just knew that the teams had learned from that and it wasn’t going to happen until near the end. And with so little attrition, there were so many folks who could win it still in contention and near the front at the end that it strongly built the anticipation for the last stint.

Kudos to Andretti Autosport for finishing four of their five cars in the top six, and props to Ryan Hunter-Reay for some brave passing to take the win. My heart breaks for Helio, knowing how much it must disappoint him to being *thisclose* to his fourth win. And if I had a vote for Rookie of the Year, it’d go to Sage Karam. He’s drawn praise from a lot of knowledgeable folks on his way up the ladder, and he showed us all it’s well-deserved all month.

So, it’s another 500 in the books. Always special, not always thrilling, but thanks to a stout field and the great call to red flag the race with six to go for SAFER barrier repairs, this year’s race is a keeper.

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