Countdown to Indy: 99 Races, 99 Problems (Chapter 4: 1992-2015)

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

As the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is making preparations for the historic 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it is a wonderful time to take a trip down memory lane and examine the rich history of this uniquely American event.

Each of the 99 previous races has produced a winner that will forever have his name etched in motor racing history. 67 race winning drivers, and two relief drivers have their images on the Borg-Warner Trophy. There are, however, an untold number of heartbreaking stories of missed opportunities, bad luck, and tragedy.

This is the last of four installments as we examine 99 races and 99 problems. Previous entries may be found here Chapter 1: 1911-1937, Chapter 2: 1938-1966, Chapter 3: 1967-1991.

76 ) 1992 Michael Andretti:  In the same fashion as his father in 1987, Michael dominated the race until the late going. After leading 160 laps Andretti had a full lap on the field. His car slowed to a stop on lap 191, setting up the history-making battle between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear.

77 ) 1993 Raul Boesel : “In my mind, this race was mine,” said Raul Boesel at the conclusion of the 1993 500. He led from the green, and pitted under yellow on lap 17. He was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for passing Mario Andretti in the warm-up lane. Losing a lap in the process, he eventually worked his way onto the lead lap. In the late going, he was given yet another stop-and-go for entering the pits while they were closed. He still managed a fourth place finish.

78 ) 1994 Emerson Fittipaldi : Team Penske arrived with the innovative Penske-Mercedes 209I pushrod engine in 1994. Fittipaldi and teammate Al Unser Jr. dominated the month, and dominated the race. With only 20 laps to go, Fittipaldi had a one-lap lead on the entire field, when he backed off slightly to conserve fuel. He allowed his teammate to unlap himself, and on lap 184, he got loose and hit the turn four wall, handing Unser Jr. the win.

79 ) 1995 Scott Goodyear : There is no doubt that Scott Goodyear had the 1995 Indy 500 in the bag. The Canadian driver was leading with ten to go, as the pace car led the field to green. Moments before the flag, Goodyear roared around the pace car, as the rest of the field checked up to stay behind. When Goodyear was shown the black flag, he chose to ignore it and crossed the finish line first. USAC ceased scoring him on lap 195, and credited him with a 14th place finish.

80 ) 1996 Scott Brayton : In the first Indy 500 after the CART/IRL split, Scott Brayton took the pole position in dramatic fashion. He had qualified the car safely in the field, and then chose to withdraw the entry, feeling that it was fast enough for pole. With less than 30 minutes remaining in the session, Brayton snagged the pole with a speed of 233.718 mph. Sadly, Brayton would be killed while practicing his back up car during the second week of time trials.

81 ) 1997 Scott Goodyear : Arie Luyendyk was leading Scott Goodyear when the caution came out on lap 198, but oddly, the pace car did not come out. The drivers assumed that the race would finish under yellow, when the green flag waved unexpectedly at the start of the final lap. The entire field was caught off-guard, effectively robbing Goodyear of a decent shot at Luyendyk.

82 ) 1998 Tony Stewart : One of the early stars of the IRL, Tony Stewart was considered among the favorites for the Indy 500 win. An Indiana native, Stewart had led 56 laps in 1997 en route to a fifth place finish. In 1998, he put his car into the lead on lap 21, and his engine expired on the very next lap. “This has been my number one goal, and every year I get shit on,” said an angry Stewart on live television.

83 ) 1999 Robby Gordon :  When the caution came out on lap 169, Robby Gordon and Team Menard took a major gamble when they stayed out and attempted to stretch their fuel to the end. Gordon had pitted five laps prior, and was hoping for one more yellow. The yellow never came, but Gordon nearly pulled it off. He had a decent lead on Kenny Brack when the white flag waved. At the same moment, his car sputtered, out of fuel. Gordon headed down pit lane as Brack took the win.

84 ) 2000 The CART Series :  Chip Ganassi was the first full-time CART team owner to enter cars in the 500 since the split in 1996. When his driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, dominated and won the race, it should have been a slap in the face for the IRL. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Montoya’s Indy win opened the flood gates for other CART teams to come to Indy, and eventually join the IRL full time. The exodus of top-tier teams like Ganassi, Penske, Green, Fernandez and Rahal was the beginning of the end for CART.

85 ) 2001 Scott Sharp : With many of the CART teams entering the 500 for 2001, the IRL regulars were intent on not being embarrassed again. In qualifying, Scott Sharp won out during a tense battle for pole with Greg Ray and Robby Gordon. Sharp’s start from pole would be short-lived, as he crashed in turn one of the opening lap.

86 ) 2002 Paul Tracy :  The controversial finish of the 2002 Indy 500 is still argued to this day. Late in the running, Helio Castroneves was leading Phillipe Giaffone and Paul Tracy. Tracy was able to slip into second, and make a move for the lead. With just two laps to go, Tracy passed Castroneves, who seemed to slow suddenly. At that exact moment, a crash on the opposite end of the track brought out the yellow. Castroneves claimed that he slowed because the yellow light came on, yet Tracy insisted that he completed the pass before the yellow. After reviewing the video evidence, the IRL sided with Castroneves, moving Tracy to second. This ignited a conspiracy theory that the IRL wanted to ensure that Team Penske was rewarded for joining the league full-time. Paul Tracy, who coined the term ‘crap-wagons’ to refer to IRL equipment, was about the last person that they would want to see win the 500.  Following a protest by Tracy’s team, the win for Castroneves was upheld through an appeal process.

87 ) 2003 Michael Andretti :  The 2003 Indianapolis 500 was announced as Michael Andretti’s final auto race before he would hang up the helmet, and focus full-time on his duties as a team owner. Once again, he had a competitive car, and once again he led the field. He led twice for a total of 28 laps until, once again, he dropped out with mechanical issues. The lure of Indy would draw him back into the cockpit again in 2006-2007, but he never won Indy as a driver.

88 ) 2004 Tony Stewart : On the final day of qualifications, A.J. Foyt had a car available after a deal with Jacques Lazier fell through. Foyt approached Tony Stewart, who was visiting the track. A media frenzy developed when Stewart is seen in Foyt’s pit wearing his driver’s suit, helmet in hand.  After several phone calls back and forth with his manager, it is confirmed that his association with Chevrolet in NASCAR will not allow him to race Foyt’s car, which is powered by Toyota.

89 ) 2005 Dan Wheldon :  Why Dan Wheldon, you may ask? He won the 2005 Indy 500, didn’t he? In the aftermath of the race, Wheldon’s win became a mere footnote in national and mainstream media. All of the attention was focused on a rookie driver who led 19 laps and finished fourth: Danica Patrick. After Patrick appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Wheldon began wearing a T-shirt that said, “I actually WON the Indy 500.”

90 ) 2006 Marco Andretti :  The final laps set up a duel between 19-year old rookie, Marco Andretti, and Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish attempted a pass on Andretti with two laps to go, but got squeezed down low. This gave Andretti a one second lead as the white flag waved. Hornish reeled him in and pulled alongside in turn four. He passed Marco on the front stretch, coming to the checkers, taking the win by .0635 of a second.

91 ) 2007 Tony Kanaan :  With Tony Kanaan in the lead, rain fell over the Speedway, halting the race at lap 113. Because the race had run past half-distance, it could be called official. Kanaan, of course, hoped that the rain would continue. The skies cleared, and racing resumed around 6:00 pm. Kanaan continued his strong run and was leading when he took a yellow flag pit stop. Coming back to the green on lap 156, Kanaan tangled with Marty Roth. He spun, but managed to keep it off the wall. He was denied another shot at the front when the rains returned, ending the race on lap 166.

92 ) 2008 Vitor Meira :  Scott Dixon had the dominant car the entire month of May, but Vitor Meira was one of the few that were able to mount a formidable challenge for the win. On lap 159, Meira went three-wide, passing Dixon and Marco Andretti to take the lead. In the end, Dixon proved to be too much for the rest of the field, and Meira took his second runner-up finish at Indy in four years. Meira’s IndyCar career would be marked with the stigma of perennial bridesmaid, taking fifteen career podium finishes, but never winning a race.

93 ) 2009 Vitor Meira : The 2009 edition of the 500 featured a number of scary incidents. With only 27 laps left in the contest, Vitor Meira tangled with Rahpael Matos, and both slammed the wall hard. Meira’s car turned on its side, and slid along the wall for several hundred feet before dropping to the ground. With two broken vertebra, Meira was out the rest of the season.

94 ) 2010 Will Power :  In his first full season with Penske Racing, Will Power made a brilliant pass for the lead on Dario Franchitti in the early going. On his ensuing pit stop, Power roared out of his stall with the fuel hose still attached, dangling from the car. The resulting penalty dropped him to 25th.  He had managed to work his way back to the front when another problem in pit lane caused a long stop. He eventually finished 8th.

95 ) 2011 J.R. Hildebrand :  A long green flag run in the closing stages of of the Centennial 500 sees a few teams gamble of fuel strategy. Bertrand Baguette nearly stole the show until he needed fuel with only two laps remaining. Rookie driver, J.R. Hildebrand inherited the lead and was seemingly headed for an easy win. Coming towards the front stretch, he over corrected attempting to get around a slower car, and smacked the turn four wall. His mangled car managed to slide across the finish line, but not before Dan Wheldon zooms past, taking the win.

96 ) 2012 Takuma Sato : Japanese driver Takuma Sato had the fastest car in the final laps at the 2012 500. Battling with both Ganassi cars, Sato got by Dixon and began to work on Franchitti. On the final lap Sato got alongside Franchitti in turn one and attempted the pass. Franchitti squeezed him down and the cars touched briefly. Sato ended up in the wall, and Franchitti took his third Indy win.

97 ) 2013 Ryan Hunter-Reay : With 68 lead changes among 14 drivers, there was no clear favorite during the 2013 race. No driver had managed to lead more than 14 consecutive circuits, and it looked to be anybody’s race. The final laps produced a duel between Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay. After trading the lead back and forth five times in the final ten laps, Kanaan was out front when Dario Franchitti crashed on lap 198. This set up a finish under yellow that denied Hunter-Reay another shot at Kanaan.

98 ) 2014 Helio Castroneves : With a chance to win a fourth Indy 500, Helio Castroneves was battling Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead when the caution flew on lap 193. Officials briefly stopped the race to ensure a green flag finish for the fans. On the restart, Castroneves lead, as Hunter-Reay dove in deep, briefly onto the grass, to pull off the pass. The two drivers battled fiercely to the checkers with Hunter-Reay taking the win by .0600 of a second.

99 ) 2015 James Hinchcliffe : A number of practice crashes featuring airborne cars caused an abbreviated qualifying format in 2015 that saw the cars qualify in race trim. Qualifying went off safely, however there was another scary incident in post qualifying practice that saw James Hinchcliffe make hard contact with the SAFER barrier. A suspension component pierced the car’s tub and entered Hinchcliffe’s thigh. The efforts of the Holmatro safety team certainly saved the driver’s life, as he was experiencing major blood loss. Hinchcliffe would be sidelined for the balance of the season.  

This concludes the trip back through history as the 100th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to be run on May 29, 2016.


Image: IMS Photo

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,

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