Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 gave us everything we needed in what will go down as one of the most memorable Indy races

INDIANAPOLIS — The second and third place finishers were deeply hurt. They need the off week coming this week, the first in a decade that the NTT IndyCar Series didn’t immediately race after Indy, to get over their close defeats at the hands of the master Helio Castroneves in Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m going to be honest, it hurts,” Pagenaud said of his defeat on Sunday. “All I’m thinking about is the 500-mile race I just lost. Like I said, no disrespect to Helio. I’m super happy for him and he deserved it, but I do believe I had the chance.

“I need to just – how do you say – mourn my loss tonight and get back into the championship rhythm.

“Yeah, I’m hurting. I’m hurting in my heart. I drove my heart out and my soul out of this race car. My team did such a great job. I need a little bit of time to digest, switch my mind over to Detroit next week. At the moment my mind is solely on Indy. I want to come back and win this again.”

Pagenaud, started off with a bad handling race car early on but after his first stop, got things dialed in. He charged from 26th to finish third in his No. 22 Chevrolet. He passed Pato O’Ward who said he just wasn’t fast enough in the end to hold Pagenaud off on the final lap as they crossed the yard of bricks third and fourth respectively.

Pagenaud, had a front row seat for the end of the race battle between Castroneves and second place finisher Palou. He said that he felt Palou tipped his hand too soon which allowed Castroneves to pounce when he did.

“Alex (Palou) was showing his game too early,” said Pagenuad. “No disrespect to him at all. He did amazing job, great race. Obviously he’s young, learning the draft and all that. It’s not easy on an oval of this size.

“I could see what Alex was doing. He was trying to find ways to keep Helio behind, but there were too many laps to go. Helio was just waiting in the back, keeping Pato behind, judging the timing. He knew exactly where he could get him, when he could get him. All of a sudden you saw him, he jumped at his throat like a tiger. That’s when the attack started. I believe it was 193, lap 193. I knew it was coming.

“I was waiting for Helio to do that because he disrupted the rhythm of the pack in front of me. That’s what helped me get Pato and maybe I could have gotten Palou quicker. It was very interesting to watch. Certainly there’s a lot to learn from that battle.”

Castroneves, said he felt like maybe his experience helped aid in that end of the race thriller. He said that his strong corners were both two and four.

“It’s just a matter of, like, waiting for the right opportunity,” he said. “When I saw the traffic, it was a bunch of it actually. I’m like, That’s it, I’m not going to wait because I need that traffic to pull me so I can get the same speed. When I made the move, I said, That’s it.

“It was fun. When I saw Hunter-Reay in front of me, Is he going to block? What is he going to do? I don’t know. Time again, make sure that Palou wouldn’t dive and bomb me. It was perfect.

“I was having a little bit of vibration towards the end, but didn’t bother me. I just kept on it, make the right tools to change the car a little bit.”

Palou, said combine all of that, he had nothing for Castroneves despite having a faster race car. That left him feeling hurt too.

“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” Palou said. “I didn’t expect that a second place would hurt that much until I crossed the finish line. I had the best car for sure.

“I was really confident. It was a close battle until the end. I tried everything. It hurts. But to be honest, it’s good to lose against probably one of the best.”

That final sprint to the end was just what the screaming fans in a capacity venue of 135k needed. After not having any fans last year, the fastest field in the history of the event in both qualifying as well as the race, treated the sold out house to an instant classic. You’re always going to remember where you were on May 30, 2021.

Castroneves finally knocked down the doors of the four win club and joined the house of AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. After trying for 11 years, he’s finally done it. He’s the first driver to win with Penske then change teams and for someone new.

The crowd, starved for someone new to join this elite. club, erupted at every Castroneves move all day. While he’s had his chances twice since his last win in 2009, this one just felt different. This day just felt more special. You could sense this was Castroneves’ day to join racing’s supremacy.

“I never stopped dreaming,” he said. “I never stopped believing it. I’m so glad I did that because I want to know those young kids, sometimes they think hard work doesn’t pay off. It just proof you still can believe in yourself and make yourself better.”

He said over the years he kept getting asked by fans practically begging him to see a four time winner. Now, they have. It’s been 30 years to the years since we’ve last seen one with Rick Mears’ triumph in 1991. That came four years after Al Unser Sr. did so in 1987. AJ Foyt did it 10 years before that in 1977.

This race was a pleasant surprise as I think most figured Scott Dixon would just run away and hide. He had led 111 laps last year, won the pole this year, was quickest on Fast Friday and Carb Day as well as on both qualifying days last week. Would this be his year?

One of the race record for fewest cautions in two hampered that. Dixon, ran out of gas and had to pit during a closed pit. His car stalled and they’d struggle to get it refired. He fell a lap down and took nearly 100 laps to get it back. Similar situation for Alexander Rossi. He’d never got his lap back.

Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay dominated early but faded late. Ryan Hunter-Reay sped on pit road and O’Ward’s car slowing up in the end saw the top drivers all day open the door for Indy lore to Castroneves.

The ending also saw Felix Rosenqvist, JR Hildebrand and Takuma Sato try to create their own Indy magic.

Castroneves may have bested Palou in a thrilling late race battle that saw the two swap positions several times over the final 25 or so laps, but the thing is, it wasn’t until six laps-to-go on before the duo’s battle was actually for the top spot.

See, Rosenqvist, Hildebrand and Sato were initially trying to stretch their fuel load. Rosenqvist, last pit on Lap 158. Hildebrand was Lap 155 and Sato on Lap 157. By comparison, Castroneves’ final stop was on Lap 172 with Palou and Pato O’Ward on Lap 173 each.

So, while the full focus was on Castroneves, Palou and O’Ward for what most thought was shaping up for the win, you really had two battles. Rosenqvist, was holding off Hildebrand and Sato who each were trying to save enough fuel and hope to get a lucky caution in the final laps in order to safely make it to the end. With only two yellows all day, they’d not luck out.

Hildebrand bailed out from second place on Lap 186. Rosenqvist followed on Lap 192. Sato a lap later on Lap 193. That handed the lead over to Palou who had an intense fight with Castroneves on his hands after.

Plus, with lapped traffic ahead, remember what the drivers told me all month. The top few cars could pass with ease, fifth on back couldn’t. They were all towards the middle of a train in which Palou didn’t get enough of a tow from a car in front and allowed Castroneves to make his winning move by. With Ryan Hunter-Reay now in front of Castroneves but a few other cars in front of RHR, Palou was in that danger zone of dirty air and couldn’t make a pass work.

That’s why you kind of saw what you did on Sunday. Some may have wondered why the passing up front early on was few and far between. That’s because fuel saving was so crucial and the leader was wasting too much fuel while being out front. No one wanted to lead. So, it was a high speed parade for a while. The drivers settled in and wanted to let the race play out naturally.

Plus, the cars fifth on back had a difficult time passing. So, with fuel saving up front when the cars behind could clearly pass, treacherous conditions behind, the first half of the race was an event on pit strategy.

In the end, you got two different strategies in what overall was a generally thrilling race. We saw the veterans (Castroneves, Pagenaud) take the kids (Palou and O’Ward) to school in the end with 40 year old Ed Carpenter finishing fifth.

We witnessed 35 lead changes, the fourth most ever, the fewest cautions as well as caution laps ever in the quickest race in the 105 year history of the event. A four time champion earned legend status in a race that left you wondering from start to finish who would end up winning with seven different teams represented in the top seven of the final finishing order. What else could you ask for?

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