INDIANAPOLIS — Heading into the Month of August, Team Penske had to be the ones to beat for this year’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500. But, heading into Sunday’s race, this ended up being Andretti Autosports’ race to lose. By the end of it, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing topped the “Big 3” in putting two cars on the podium at Indy with one sipping the milk in victory lane.
How did this happen?
I mean, Borg Warner already had all 11 of the combined Penske and Andretti drivers’ faces sculpted with the only thing left just being which one would get inscribed on the historic trophy at the end of 500 miles of racing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Penske won this race each of the last two years. They were so dominant here in the last several seasons with Penske not only owning the track now, but boasting a race record 18 ‘500 wins overall.
Plus, they swept the last two races on the season which happened to be an oval at the Iowa Speedway last month.
But, they had a disappointingly quiet month. They were never really near the top 10 of the speed charts and qualified a disappointing 13-22-25-28 for this year’s race.
That led to AA as the favorites. I mean how could you pick against them? They were 1-2 on opening day of practice and had three of the top four speeds. They had 3-6-8 on Day 2. Fast Friday was 1-4-7-9. They put five cars in the Fast Nine on Saturday. On the no tow reports, they were 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-5 on the first two days too.
So, good in traffic and good on their own. With seven of the 33 cars belonging to them, this was their race to lose.
Oddly enough, they were never much of a factor on Sunday. They led a combined 33 laps all day.
Chip Ganassi Racing had Scott Dixon. The “Big 3” teams have combined to win this race in 13 of the last 15 years and 17 of the last 19 overall.
For Indy Car in general, they’ve combined to win 33 of the 40 races run entering the ‘500 since the new car came out in 2018 and 59 of 73 races since 2016.
Still, RLL beat them in the year’s biggest race on Sunday.
Marco Andretti won the pole but failed to lead a single lap himself. He’d finish a disappointing 13th for his fourth year in the last five that he failed to score a top 10 finish at Indy.
Alexander Rossi was their best pick, came up through the field early and looked to have arguably the second best car all race. But, he was penalized for exiting pit his pit stall and hitting Takuma Sato in a controversial penalty that dropped Rossi from third to 21st. The race was for Rossi to come back up through the field, but he found out what happens when you push too hard here and found the wall on Lap 144. He’d finish 27th.
Zach Veach stayed out long on his final stint but had to pit from the lead on Lap 184. He finished 15th.
Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn’t much of a factor and finished 10th. Colton Herta and Jack Harvey had quiet days and finished eighth and ninth respectively. James Hinchcliffe was the top finisher in seventh.
Yes, they had four cars in the top 10, but to come away without a top five furthers their frustrating 2020 season.
For Penske, they had to go off strategy early due to needing track position. With James Davison bringing out an early race caution on Lap 4, the Penske’s pitted to go off strategy. It would remain that way until Dixon was so good, he was ahead of them even during the third pit cycle. So, with another caution, the Penske’s threw in the towel and ended up on the same strategy of the leaders.
Other than Josef Newgarden, they just didn’t have it. Will Power finished 14th. Simon Pagenaud had contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay on the Lap 131 restart and had to pit for repairs. He finished 22nd. Helio Castroneves was 11th.
Newgarden, was in the top five on Dixon’s strategy and would finish fifth.
Dixon, was P2 for Ganassi.
That’s how RLL took it to them and earned their fourth win since 2018, double the rest of the competition and seventh victory since 2016. The next best other than the “Big 3” is two.