Thoughts and Observations on the 2014 Indianapolis 500

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2014 Indianapolis 500.  It was a race that seemed to have a little bit of everything.  It began as a caution free strategy race, which is unusual for the race in recent years.  That lasted for almost 150 of the 200 laps.  The last 50 laps saw more yellow flag laps and strategy went out the window, turning into a duel between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves.  For much of the early part of the race, it seemed most drivers didn’t want to be out front, they preferred to run behind the leader to save fuel.  Once the late stages of the race arrived, things became exciting.  It was good drafting-style racing without the waiting on disaster aspects of pack racing.  Hunter-Reay seemed to have a slightly better car and became the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion, but Castroneves definitely made him work for it.  Neither Chevrolet or Honda seemed to have an advantage; it was almost an even split between the two engine manufacturers in the top-10 – 6 Chevrolets to 4 Hondas.

Here are some of my observations from the race based on some of what I tweeted while watching: 

Anyone who watched Karam at Sebring is not surprised by that pass on the outside. 

Sage Karam drove for Chip Ganassi at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring earlier this year and anyone who watched Sebring in particular was not surprised at how well Karam performed this past month at Indianapolis.  At Sebring, Karam seemed to be Ganassi’s go-to-guy when he needed an aggressive driver and Karam got the job done for him.  For Indianapolis, Ganassi partnered with Dreyer & Reinbold to run Karam in the 500.  His starting spot of 31st may not have seemed like much but Karam drove the field, got caught a lap down, then drove back ninth place finish.  Not bad for an Indianapolis 500 rookie!  It may not look as great as the second place finish that Carlos Munoz put up as a rookie last year but I consider it just as much an accomplishment.  Karam is part of IndyCar’s future and if he keeps performing like this, the future is in good hands.

This is either going to be a very clean race or all hell is going to break loose in this 2nd half. Good to see no yellow so far. 

That was my observation as the race went over 100 laps caution free and it turned out to be a fairly accurate forecast.  The race went caution free for almost 150 laps with a number of drivers working alternate strategies that could have put them in the catbird’s seat had the race gone caution-fee.  It wasn’t to be however, as Charlie Kimball crashed on lap 150.  Afterwards, there were four more caution periods totaling 21 laps – 4 for contact and 1 for debris.  The caution periods may have broken up the race, but there was some fierce racing between the caution periods.  They would also lead to a bit of controversy…

I don’t see this as Bell’s fault. Carpenter & Bell were already side by side, Hinchcliffe is the one who decided to make it 3 wide. 

On Lap 176, Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell went into Turn 1 side by side with Carpenter towards the middle of the track and Bell towards the outside. They made minor contact and Carpenter began to come down the track as James Hinchcliffe made the decision to make it three wide in the turn by going inside of Carpenter and Bell.  As I watched this, the only thing that went through my head was “No, no, no, no…”  I didn’t see it ending well and it didn’t, the hole was closing and Hinchcliffe and Carpenter made contact and both went into the wall ending their races.  Hinchcliffe’s fan base is much larger that Bell’s and I think that’ why many blamed it on Bell, but in my opinion Hinchcliffe was the one that decided to make it three wide, the other two were already side by side.  Yes, Bell and Carpenter made contact, but had Hinchcliffe not made it three wide, Carpenter and Bell would have come out the other side find, it was just contact from hard racing.  Once again, that’s just my opinion – you may disagree (that’s one of the fun things about racing!).

Good race between Hunter-Reay & Castroneves for the win. Once again, Munoz was right there – a future 500 winner? 

I mentioned Carlos Munoz above while writing about Karam’s race, but Munoz deserves his own mention as well.  In the 2013 race he finished second as a rookie and in 2014, in his second Indianapolis 500, he finished fourth.  Munoz still doesn’t have a lot of experience in IndyCars so it’s hugely impressive that he has finished so well in his first two 500s! Just like Karam, Munoz is part of IndyCar’s future and I reiterate, if these guys are the future of IndyCar then IndyCar has a bright future indeed.  I think we’re on the eve of a “changing of the guard” in IndyCar as long time favorites approach retirement and Munoz and Karam are two the drivers that will be taking their places.

Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to be impressed with Kurt Busch. P6 in his first Indy 500. He drove a better race than some veterans. 

Let me qualify the following by stating that I am not a Kurt Busch fan.  He has a lot of faults, but he is a talented driver and he proved it this year at Indianapolis. Busch’s background is in NASCAR and stock car racing. Although NASCAR also races at Indianapolis, the way stock cars race the track and the way IndyCars race the track are vastly different.  They’re very different animals, to use a well worn cliché – they’re apples and oranges.  Busch came to Indianapolis this month and adapted not just well to IndyCars but quickly.  He qualified twelfth and if it wasn’t for doing the 500/600 double and having to go back to Charlotte before qualifying was over he may have qualified higher.  Once the race started, he took a cautious approach to get used to how the cars raced then kept his nose clean, raced better than some of the veterans in the race, and finished sixth in what was not only his first Indianapolis 500 but his first IndyCar race of any kind!  It was a great motor sport story whether you’re a Kurt Busch fan or not.

As I look back on the race a few days later, some more thoughts have come to mind.  Andretti Autosport practically dominated the race.  It seems that Juan Pablo Montoya has gotten his feet under him.  Rookie of the Year for 2014 was a tough choice (and I’m glad I didn’t have to vote on it).  I found myself hoping for a Castroneves win even though I’m not a Castroneves fan.

  • Andretti Autosport put four of the five cars in the top 10, including first, third, and sixth!  If Hinchcliffe hadn’t crashed out, it’s entirely possible that they might have put all 5 of their cars in the top 10.  Perennial favorite Penske Racing put all three of their cars in the top 10 but to put 4 of 5 in the top 10 is just an incredible accomplishment.  Andretti Autosport should be proud.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya has had a slow start in his return to IndyCar racing and I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much from him this season.  I was surprised to see him finish fifth in the Indianapolis 500 this year; I’ll be very interested to see how he does this weekend in Detroit.
  • Kurt Busch was voted the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, but it had to have been close between him and Sage Karam.  Busch’s story is good, and he did have the higher finishing position but Karam’s drive, to me at least, was more impressive.  To come from a lap down to finish ninth on the lead lap as a rookie is just massively impressive.  If I was voting, it would have been a tough decision but I think I would have had to vote for Karam.
  • As the race wound down and it became obvious that it was going to be a battle between Hunter-Reay and Castroneves I found myself surprised to be hoping for a Castroneves win.  I think it was about the history that could have happened.  There was something special about seeing that yellow Pennzoil liveried car up front; it reminded me of watching Unser, Rutherford, and Mears racing at Indianapolis.  All three of those legends made history in those colors and it would have been amazing to see more history be made in them.  It wasn’t to be, but it was close… Mr. Penske, can we see those colors again in 2015?  Please?

Overall, I think it was the best “Month of May” in recent history.  I was skeptical about the Grand Prix on the road course to start the month but for me it turned out to be a good way to start the month.  It wasn’t the greatest race in the world but it was better than endless practice sessions and two weeks of qualifying when there’s no chance of bumping.  In essence, it put the month back in the “Month of May.”   Now that the “Month of May” is over, it’s time for the “Month of June” and the 24 Hours of Le Mans; it’s a great few weeks for the motor sports fan!

And hey, ABC – next time let’s do without the gimp


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