Story By Brant James / INDYCAR Series Media
Photos By/ INDYCAR Series Photo Staff
INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power finally got the prize that eluded him for so long. And then he let his emotions loose again.
The 37-year-old Australian controlled the final quarter of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, but didn’t hold the lead for good until Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey were forced to abandon a fuel conservation play in the final laps, allowing the Team Penske driver to give owner Roger Penske his record 17th win in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ greatest event.
For a driver who has seen championships and Indianapolis wins fade away under circumstances either bizarre or because of admitted mental laps, the 2014 season champion – as has been his aim in recent seasons – was calm and methodical in victory. That is, until he reached victory circle for a manic celebration with his team and wife, Liz. The couple hugged and screamed joyously, almost disbelievingly, at each other.
Pole sitter Ed Carpenter finished second, 3.1589 seconds back despite leading a race-high 65 laps, followed by former Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I feel like collapsing,” said Power, who led 59 laps in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I want to cry. … I was wondering if I would ever win it. And thoughts went through my mind during the month I guess. My career, I’ve had so many wins, so many poles. that everybody always talks about the 500.”
The 102nd Indianapolis 500In the first superspeedway oval use of the universal aerodynamic body kit for both Chevrolet and Honda, 15 different drivers led on Sunday, tying an Indy 500 record set last season. The new kit changed the tenor of racing, as predicted by drivers, with turbulent air in traffic, aggressiveness on restarts and handling in corners becoming a critical factor. That was harshly illustrated by veterans Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais, among several whose races were truncated by spins through corners that ended in contact with the SAFER Barrier.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato lasted just 47 laps in defense of his 2017 race victory, plowing into the back of a much slower James Davison in Turn 3. Davison had struggled with control throughout the race in the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet for the Foyt with Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi team.
Sato cited high closing rates in the incident and said he was powerless to avoid it once he came within close proximity of an “air pocket” behind Davison’s car.
“I tried to avoid everything, but sorry, I couldn’t avoid it,” Sato said.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones lost control coming out of Turn 2 and spun into the wall on Lap 58, mashing the right side of his Honda. He was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital complaining of neck pain.
Jones’ crash served as a precursor for the final professional racing moments of Danica Patrick, who spun in similar fashion on Lap 68, bashing the front of her No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet into the SAFER Barrier and careening back into the interior retaining wall.
Patrick had returned to Indianapolis to conclude her career at the epicenter of the fame that made it so notable. As a rookie in 2005, she became the first female to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500, finishing what was then a gender-best fourth. Patrick was third in the 500 in 2009.
This was not how she imagined the professional chapter of her notable racing career ending. The 30th-place finish was the worst of her career at the Indianapolis 500, a stark contrast to the six top-10s she produced in her previous seven starts from 2005-11.
“I do feel like it was pretty unexpected, but on the other hand the car was a little bit positive today and was turning a bit more than I wanted to,” Patrick said. “I was just having to chase (the car) a lot. Turn 2 did seem a little bit more edgy than some of the other corners, but I can’t say that at that point in time I was on edge or that I felt like it was.
“It just swung around as soon as I recommitted back to the throttle – so I wasn’t expecting it by any means. I think it just goes to show that the cars are tough to drive.
“It was definitely not the way I wanted to end, of course. I wouldn’t want to end any year like that – but, of course, being the last one it makes it a lot worse. I did have some good moments here this month and I won’t forget that, either.”
Patrick, who said she was unsure exactly what happened during the crash, didn’t complete her final NASCAR race, either, wrecking after 101 of a scheduled 200 laps in her final Daytona 500 NASCAR race in February.
Just laps after leading on a pit cycle, Bourdais lost control coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 139 and backed the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda into the SAFER Barrier in Turns 3 and 4. Bourdais’ caution period allowed race leader Power and pole sitter Carpenter to reach the 200-lap distance on one more pit stop.
The race lost another nostalgic storyline on the ensuing restart as veteran Castroneves, in his ninth attempt to capture a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, crashed similarly out of Turn 4, he said, after misjudging the tires while racing in the top five. Hunter-Reay plied through tire smoke to barely avoid contact as Castroneves skidded hard backward into an interior SAFER Barrier.
A frustrated Castroneves, who moved to Team Penske’s sports car team full time this season but returned to run the INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indy 500 this month, implored team owner Roger Penske to let him try again next May.
“Please Roger, I gotta go back!” he said.
Penske was noncommittal about the plea but called Castroneves “one of our best guys.”
Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, brought out the last of seven caution flags when he spun and crashed off Turn 2 on Lap 189. The restart came with eight laps to go and Power trailing Oriol Servia, Wilson and Harvey. All three were lean on fuel, however, and when Wilson and Harvey had to stop for a splash of ethanol four laps from the finish, the track was clear for Power to drive to the victory.
The win allowed Power to become the first driver to sweep both IMS races in a year, following his May 12 INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course. With the race paying double points, it also put Power into the championship lead after six races, two points up on Alexander Rossi (who finished fourth) and 10 ahead of Josef Newgarden (who finished eighth).
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the only doubleheader race weekend on the schedule. The races air at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.