Five-hundred miles go by quickly when thirty-three cars cross the Brickyard in the 220s, in tight, yet mostly orderly formation. About lap 140, I tweeted that the ninety-eighth running of the Indianapolis 500 was an entirely clean race. Ten laps later, Charlie Kimball spun in Turn 2, bringing out the first yellow of the day.
This sort of thing inevitably creates a chain reaction, and ten laps later, on 160, Scott Dixon kissed the wall and brought out the second yellow of the day. A few laps later, the Indy 500 went green again, and James Hinchcliffe apparently turned in early on Ed Carpenter, who was on the inside of a three-car-wide row going into Turn 1, which took out both Carpenter and Hinchcliffe.
Hometown favorite Carpenter got out of his car, and looked like he wanted to punch Hinchcliffe. The entire Indy 500 crowd would have backed him up.
When the race got underway again, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay all vied for the lead, but then on Lap 192, Townsend Bell’s tail stepped out suddenly and he backed into the wall.
Cameras feeding the monitors from inside the Chevrolet suite where I watched part of the Indy 500 cut away before we could see Bell get out of his car. Having Chevy power himself, Bell showed up at the suite hours before the race to say a few words to the guests. Though he started twenty-fifth on the grid, he had been running as high as second, briefly. Officials red-flagged the race, ostensibly to clear the track of debris, though we were a bit worried about Bell. He was fine.
By dropping the red flag, officials were avoiding a finish under yellow. Castroneves and Hunter-Reay traded the lead a couple of times in the last two laps, though Hunter-Reay’s Andretti-Honda took the lead from Castroneves’ Penske-Chevy on the lap that counted, and Castroneves wasn’t able to stage a counter-attack until the fourth turn. It was too late, and Hunter-Reay finished 0.3171 seconds ahead of Castroneves.
It’s hard enough to take in all that the Indy 500 offers if you’re there to enjoy the race, as I was. It’s impossible if you’re a race reporter. There’s just so much going on at Indy. But it’s fast and real racing without the World Wrestling Federation feel of NASCAR and with far more passing than Formula 1. The drivers and teams are making Indy fun and relevant again, with not enough help from the series organizers. It could use another couple of engine suppliers to make it more interesting. Television ratings may still be sucking wind, but when you have to wade through thick crowds to make it to the pits, it feels like the Indy 500 is as popular as it deserves to be.