Indy 500 Thoughts a day after Sato’s win

INDIANAPOLIS — As always, the action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway flew by in the blink of an eye. It seems like we were just gearing up for the opening day of practice and here we are crowning Takuma Sato as champion of the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Here are my main thoughts a day later.

  • Lets address the elephant in the room first. Everyone wants to talk about the red flag situation, or lack thereof, at the end of Sunday’s race.  I get the calls to throw one and set up a late race shootout. Hell, INDYCAR would have loved to do it too. But, it just wasn’t feasible and I applaud the series for coming out and addressing it. They didn’t have to. The race is 200 Laps/500 miles in length. They don’t have have to throw out a red just to give us a wild finish. But, they gave a statement and they were spot on. With so few laps left, it was have been difficult to even get a red flag and then get back to racing. There would have been what, 1-2 laps max to race. Who’s to say we weren’t going to crash again? Restarts were crazy and with a cold glass of milk waiting for the winner and racing immortality on the line, I have a feeling more carnage would have taken place. Plus, with such a lengthy cleanup ahead of them from Spencer Pigot hitting the attenuator at pit entry, there’s no way to have done it. Officials estimated the cleanup would have taken 60-90 minutes, that’s well outside of the NBC window. Then, you have the cars having to stop somewhere. They couldn’t get down to pit lane due to all the debris. Where do they stop? How do you get people to them to restart them? It was the right decision to end how they did. Takuma Sato was a deserving champion.
  • Speaking of Sato, how did we sleep on him all month? He never was really listed as a true favorite as I had him always under my “sleeper” category. Sato, was in the top three of the final race practice of last week. He was third on Carb Day practice. He qualified third too. Both times now that he started in the top 10 for the Indy 500, he won.
  • Sato’s record book of six wins wouldn’t necessarily make him an Indy legend. But, when you look at some of his wins, he’s going to be mentioned for a long time. Half of Sato’s six wins are at Indy and Long Beach. He won the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach then won two of the last four Indy 500’s. He’s won the big races that’s for sure. Only 20 drivers have ever won the Indy 500 multiple times, Sato is one.
  • Track Position was key – That was discussed all month that this year’s race would be a track position race, more so than years past. Sunday proved that true. It was hard to pass, but as Jay Frye noted last week, it should be. It wasn’t like this race was a dud, there still was action through the field too. But, the top two finishers came from the top 2 Rows. The last four Indy 500 winners have come from fourth,  third, first and third. Make note of that for next May.
  • Sato and Dixon were close on fuel – While the late yellow made this point for not, you still have to wonder, what would have happened if that caution never fell? Scott Dixon said he was sure Sato didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end. Heck, he didn’t feel like he did and Sato pitted one lap before Dixon. Everyone wanted to know why Sato was maintaining a late lead on Dixon before the yellow and that was why. Dixon was saving fuel. When he closed, it wasn’t that Dixon was gaining on his own, it was that Sato was saving and dropping back into Dixon’s clutches. Bobby Rahal said Sato was good on fuel but Sato says that he was close. Still, it wasn’t meant to be to see if we were going to see a wild end of a race fuel run.
  • What’s Dixon got to do to win here? He led 111 of 200 laps and shot up to third on the all-time lap leaders chart at Indy. He finally won on the road course back in July, but as we sit here in 2020, his 2008 Indy 500 triumph is his lone oval win here at IMS. That’s crazy to think about. The Ice Man has won 49 times in his Indy Car career, third most ever. 47 of those 49 wins came away from Indianapolis. He had as good as a shot as ever on Sunday, but fuel strategy and a late race yellow ruined that.
  • Penske was quiet all month. That was one of the biggest shocks to me. They had won each of the last two, check that, dominated each of the last two Indy 500’s and coming off of an Iowa sweep in the last race weekend. But, none of their four drivers had outright pace all month. Yes, they looked good in the draft, but passes were difficult too. They tried a strategy game for Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves early and it nearly worked, but by the third stint, Dixon was just too good for it to work and they had to get back on his strategy. Josef Newgarden was their best shot but he had nothing and finished a respectable fifth. Just odd to see the Penske’s struggle at Indy.
  • Speaking of quiet, how about rookie Pato O’Ward. He sat back and watched fellow rookies Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou steal the early month headlines with VeeKay qualifying fourth and Palou being in the top 10 of literally every practice session. He started seventh. O’Ward wouldn’t be undone. He was fastest on Carb Day and backed that up with a sixth place finish in Sunday’s race which should earn him Rookie of the Race honors. The kid is fast and is now third in points at the halfway mark. He’s a future star.
  • Rough day for the rookies – Speaking of VeeKay, Palou and O’Ward, if you factor in Dalton Kellett and Oliver Askew, this was a strong class. They looked good all month. But, they also saw just how difficult Indy race day is. Three of the five crashed. Another had an early pit road mistake. O’Ward was the only clean rookie all day long.
  • Andretti Autosport struggled in the pits – Heading into Sunday’s race, this was Andretti’s to lose. Five cars starting in the top 10 with the most outright pace out of anyone. But, none of their seven combined entries came away with a top five. They were beaten by two Rahal cars, a Ganassi entry, a Coyne, Penske and Arrow McLaren SP car in the race. The best Andretti finisher was James Hinchcliffe in seventh. But, that was due to a wrong setup on Marco Andretti’s car as they went with too much downforce and pit lane problems for Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. All month the drivers were telling me just how important pit road would be and the Andretti guys showed us.
  • Kanaan, Castroneves and Alonso’s futures? Do we see a 4-time winner or a Triple Crown winner in the future? – We know they all want to come back, but will they? Tony Kanaan doesn’t want his last lap to be without fans. He’s wanting another try at Indy but as he noted, he has nothing lined up. He finished 19th on Sunday with a top 10 car. He just had to go in fuel save mode in the end and let everyone by him. For Helio, this was what likely is his final start in Indy Car with Penske. He so badly wants to win this race for a fourth time but also wants to be a full time driver here again. I think someone will give him a chance, but can he realistically join the 4-win club? Can anyone? I mean Sato is now halfway there, but he’s also 43 years old too. No one else in the field has more than one Indy 500 win at the moment other than Castroneves and Sato. Is the four win club reachable right now? Then there’s the Triple Crown. Alonso just didn’t have it this month. Will he ever? The last two years have shown just how difficult it is to win in Indy Car let alone the Indy 500. Alonso, now goes back to F1 for two years before wanting to come back in 2023. Is that too much time away? I think if he wants to win this race, he needs to be full time to make that happen and even so, he will be 42 in July of 2023. Does he have enough time to make this happen?
  • Honda vs. Chevy philosophies won by Honda – This was a big storyline this month too. Honda vs. Chevy. Both had varying strategies for the month ahead. For Honda, they wanted track position. They qualified well in sweeping the front row and taking 11 of the top 12 starting spot. They knew that if they focused qualifying week on more speed than race pace, they’d be in a good position. For Chevy, they knew it would be tough to pass, so they worked on outright race pace and stability in traffic and threw away worrying about qualifying. They took 12 of the bottom 13 starting spots. Who would win out? Honda’s did. They went 1-2-3-4 and took eight of the top 10 finishing positions. They also led 180 of 200 laps as well.
  • Aeroscreen – What can I say here? Awesome job by Jay Frye and his team. At speed, you don’t even really notice it. What’s good now is, I almost find it weird when looking at pictures last year with the cars not having it installed. We’re only halfway into the season and it completely seems normal to me now.
  • Weather – August proved to be just fine in terms of the weather department. It’s 2020 and we’ve seen hurricanes, wild fires, tornadoes and everything in between. So, for us to get all seven on track activity days in and doing so without any threat of rain, it’s saying something. Every day was beautiful on this famed facility as Mother Nature was on her best behavior for this year’s race festivities and everything leading up. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t too cold and moisture wasn’t a problem.
  • Championship – Lets focus ahead now. This is Scott Dixon’s championship to lose. He boasts an 84 point lead over defending series champion Josef Newgarden. Third place is Pato O’Ward but he’s a wide 117 points out. Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden are 121 and 123 points out respectively. To me, that’s way too much ground to make up on him. While it’s great that we have four different teams represented in the top four of the championship standings at the midway point, I just struggle to think anyone is going to top Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Next up is Gateway where Dixon has two podiums in his last three years on the St. Louis area race track. He has five top two finishes in seven races this season. With two races on tap on the 1.25-mile track, it will be tough to stop him. Then, all that’s left are doubleheaders at Mid-Ohio (hopefully in September) and on the Indy road course (October) and the season finale at St. Pete. Dixon, has won six times at Mid-Ohio and won the most recent race there last year. He also just won the most recent race on the IMS road course and has four straight top two finishes on the 2.439-mile circuit. He could be unreachable by time we even get to St. Pete which is a track to where he’s had two podiums in his last three tries there and four straight top seven finishes at.

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