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Monday, May 31, 2010

IndyCar Race Review: Indianapolis 500 (Updated)

Dario Franchitti took his second Indianapolis 500 checkered flag in the past four years after easily leading more than two thirds of the event.

Franchitti's victory, taken under caution over Dan Wheldon and Marco Andretti, made team owner Chip Ganassi the first owner to win the crown jewels of American stock car and open wheel racing in the same season.

This time, Franchitti managed to hang on in a full-length race, after winning a rain-shortened contest in 2007. He did more than hang on, though - until pit stops in the second half of the race shook up the running order, he utilized clean air to dominate much of the event.

The two major early stories of the race were Tony Kanaan and pit crew failure. Kanaan started 33rd after a disastrous qualifying weekend, but worked his way up through the field quickly. Meanwhile, the pit crews of Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Raphael Matos all made crucial errors in the first third of the race, with Power driving off with part of his fuel assembly and Dixon and Matos losing wheels on the same set of pit stops.

Blocking was also at issue during much of the event. Graham Rahal was black-flagged after blocking Franchitti and later Dan Wheldon. Wheldon was actually the victim of two huge blocks early in the event, with the other coming from John Andretti. A handful of drivers received black flags over the course of the race for blocking others, with a late-race penalty sabotaging the chances of Townsend Bell to score a good finish.

Turn two victimized a handful of cars over the course of the event, including Davey Hamilton, Bruno Junqueira, and Matos, not long after his pit issues. Franchitti continued to hold the point, however, with very few challenges - polesitter Helio Castroneves didn't lead at all until the latter stages.

Indy often can reward the perseverance of the less prominent teams in the sport with a legitimate shot at glory. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing had three of its four cars lead parts of the race, with Tomas Scheckter, Mike Conway, and Justin Wilson all briefly helming the point. Scheckter faded as better cars passed him, while Conway and Wilson had to pit for fuel.

Conway was the victim of a spectacular last-lap wreck that handed the race to Franchitti. He barrelled into Ryan Hunter-Reay's car coming out of turn three and flew into the catchfence, in an incident scarily similar to Kenny Brack's 2003 wreck at Texas and Alessandro Zampedri's incident on the last lap of the 1996 500. Luckily, Conway suffered only a broken leg, compared to the more serious injuries of those two drivers.

Indy can also victimize some of the best teams in the sport. Penske Racing, which attempted to win its 16th Indianapolis 500 as Castroneves went for his record-tying fourth, had a miserable day. Ryan Briscoe, who held a fuel advantage after his last pit stop, wrecked almost instantly after to finish 24th. Power and Castroneves came home 8th and 9th, respectively. Power led early before his pit issue, and Castroneves led with as few as nine laps to go before needing to pit.

After Conway, Wilson, and others had to pit for fuel within the last 20 laps of the race, Franchitti reinherited the lead over Kanaan, who was looking to become the first driver to win the race from the last row. Such a victory would have been redemption for Kanaan, especially considering that he had nearly missed the race this year, and considering his history of bad Indy luck. But he had to pit with a handful of laps to go, handing the bridesmaid position to Wheldon for the second year in a row. It was also the third consecutive year that Panther Racing finished second in the 500.

Andretti, who had been blowing through his Honda Push to Pass allotment all race, came home third after first being classified in sixth. Originally, Alex Lloyd had been classified third, Scott Dixon fourth and Danica Patrick fifth. But all three were ruled as having passed Andretti under caution on the last lap, and his position was returned to him, and those three drivers were knocked down one spot apiece.

Two rookies finished on the lead lap - Mario Romancini in 13th and Simona de Silvestro in 14th. They both got by Franchitti as he attempted to conserve fuel on the final lap. The best finishing Indy 500 special was that of Rahal, which placed 12th.

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