INDIANAPOLIS — We saw what transpired in the season opening Daytona 500 back in February. Team Penske had a 1-2 result coming as Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were battling for the win on Feb. 14. The two tangled in Turn 3 and instead of one of their drivers celebrating in victory lane at the Daytona International Speedway on Valentines Day, they were instead heartbroken.
A conversation was had since to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. So, with how close the cars are here at Indy this month and with drivers saying the top three or four cars being able to pass with ease, how would teams race each other if you have teammates duking it out for a win here in the end of May 30’s race?
I mean, winning the Indy 500 is for all the glory. Teammates go out the window sometimes at the end of races. You selfishly want to win. But, how do you manage that and ensure on a team side that at least someone from your organization at the very least wins.
“We’ve seen that, obviously, and how that turned out, and that was unfortunate for a lot of things and a lot of reasons,” Tim Cindric told me on Fast Friday.
“I think when you look back to watching — was it Will and Montoya going toe to toe there? Was probably the most recent one from our end.
“I think these guys know exactly what they’re trying to achieve, and it’s the biggest race in the world, and Daytona is right up there with it as far as prestige in the NASCAR Series.
“It’s really hard to tell these guys anything else but to go for it and just race each other fair and clean and hopefully they bring it home. I think they all know and respect exactly what it means to the team, to Roger and all the sponsors.
“I think even going back to Brad and Joey, they certainly didn’t want that outcome, but it’s part of racing. It’s part of the risk that you take. I think these guys doing it at the speeds they do it at, they’ve got a little self-preservation in mind, as well. I think it’s very, I guess, expected from whoever is first and second here to race right to the line.
“Roger has always said that you can race as much as you can, but just don’t hit each other. Sometimes it goes the other way.”
Will Power agreed.
“I think Tim hit the nail on the head,” he told me. “It’s self-preservation. It’s pretty high speed, and yeah, it’s not like NASCAR. You can’t bump, you can’t touch, and you know that.
“Basically if you put yourself in a position where you’re going to hit a car, you’re not going to finish the race and you’re not going to win it, so you know that, and you race accordingly.
“Obviously it’s a pretty big prize at the end, so yeah, it — yeah, I mean, just got to — it is what it is. You’ve got to race smart and that’s the only way you’re going to win the race.”
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing nearly had that done last year. They finished 1-3. Factor in Santino Ferrucci to the team this year and they return three of the top four finishers from 2020’s race.
“Probably not other than keeping all three cars in one piece,” Ferrucci said of the potential of battling a teammate at the end.
“I think you’ve got to be smart in that position,” Graham Rahal said. “It’s important that the team has a really good result. At the end of the day it’s the Indy 500, and you’re going to go try to win it.
“Like I said, I think last year, too, if you look at us finishing one, three, four with Santino being factored in there, it’s a pretty good run for the three of us, and it would be great to have that again.
“I thought we did a good job last year together at the front of the grid kind of after that last restart managing the race together and not racing too, too aggressively. I think clearly if it’s another car, strategy plays a different role as far as just where you want to be, how aggressively you’re going to race them, the chances that you’re willing to take.
“But as I said, no matter what, it’s the Indy 500, and I can guarantee you anybody in that position is going to try their best to get it done.”
Chip Ganassi Racing has the best chance to be doing this on Sunday. All four drivers are starting in the top nine. Tony Kanaan says that if he messes it up, he’s probably fired. The other say that they’re not thinking championship or a teammate but just trying to be respectful and give each other room.
Kanaan notes that by the last lap, you know whether you’ve got it or not. If you don’t, you have a decision to make to either go for it, or just ride it out. If it’s a teammate in front, you probably play it more conservative.
James Hinchcliffe told me that inside of 10 to go, teammates go out the window. You can apologize for it later and that they’ll probably understand when things settle down why you did what you had to do because they likely would have done the same thing.
So, do we see teammates race each other for the win this weekend? If so, refer back to this story.