INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis 500 has produced some thrilling late race finishes over the course of its 104 year history here. How can you forget that 1982 battle between Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears. Then the 1989 fight with Emmo and Al Unser Jr. What about the 1991 battle between Mears and Andretti or a year later of Unser Jr. vs. Scott Goodyear.
Even 2006 with Sam Hornish Jr. and Marco Andretti.
I could go on and on.
After a span of five races ending under caution in a seven year span, the DW12 era led to even closer finishes.
Yes, 2012 ended under caution, but Takuma Sato crashed out while trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead. Scott Dixon was passed by Franchitti two laps from the end before that. 2011 saw JR Hildebrand crash on the last lap while leading. 2013, saw Tony Kanaan win in popular fashion.
On Sunday, we were shaping up for a late race battle between Sato and Dixon again. Then, Spencer Pigot crashed out on Lap 194 which brought out the final caution and froze the field. Everyone was clamoring for IndyCar to throw a red flag. I mean, they did so in 2014, why not again to set up a wild finish in front of a world wide audience?
Instead, they never did and Sato beat Dixon under caution for his second win.
An anticlimactic finish for a made for TV event. With so many fans watching from home in a difficult trying year, why not red flag it to set up what would have been another crazy Indy 500 finish?
“I definitely thought with five to go, I thought they were going to immediately because, one, the size of the crash, and two, where it was, it wasn’t going to be a quick cleanup,” said second place finisher Scott Dixon.”I was kind of surprised they didn’t. I kind of heard they said, Normally we don’t do that. History would tell you that’s not true either.”
I thought they would to. With such a mess on the front stretch at pit entry, a lengthy cleanup would ensue. There’s no way they could have cleaned it all up in a span of five laps to get this race green again. Plus, with so much debris, I thought maybe they would have to save the leaders from potentially cut a tire from running over debris.
But, they didn’t.
“INDYCAR makes every effort to end races under green,” a statement read from the series Sunday evening. “But, in this case following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart for a green-flag finish.”
I mean, they’re not wrong. It was coming to five to go on the first yellow lap. By time you got back around for the red, it would be four-to-go. Then, to get another lap under caution, you’re set up for a two lap shootout – if that.
I get why they didn’t then. I mean, it’s to preserve history too. It’s not like Sato fluked his way into the lead. He deserved this win. Why penalize him and throw a rare red flag at the end just because we want a thrilling green flag finish? Who’s to say we would have ended under green?
Restarts have been wild here and there’s a good chance we would have seen another caution which would have ended this race…under caution.
What happens if someone got injured for a made for TV red flag prior?
This was the safe way and I’m okay with that.
“Well, I’m really pleased they checkered the thing, obviously, as any team owner would be, right?” said Bobby Rahal. “I don’t know any team owner out there that would say, Let’s…
“You can prognosticate all you want about what if they red flagged it and you had a restart. Like I said earlier, maybe the guy in third would have been the guy in the upper hand, big tow, went by both of them. Who knows.
“All I know is we won the Indy 500 today and that’s what counts.”
Still, I get that this leaves with an empty feeling after witnessing a race in front of an empty stadium that seats over 230k in the grandstands and can fill an additional 70k in the infield. The last nine years have seen the final pass for the win over the final six laps of the race.
This year, Sato passed Dixon for what proved to be the win on Lap 172. We wanted a good finish but this one will have to do.