The 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the books, and a new face will soon adorn the Borg-Warner Trophy. Marcus Ericsson took advantage of an unfortunately-timed yellow flag against one teammate and an inexplicable mistake by another to put himself in place to hold off a late-race charge set up by yet another of his teammates. It was certainly a race with a lot of twists and turns.
In the end, Ericsson had a dominant car when it mattered, and the fact INDYCAR officials decided to red flag the race with four laps remaining ultimately didn’t end up changing the results.
When we look back at the 2022 running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, I don’t think most people will consider this race to be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but there were still many reasons why this was a fantastic race.
But first, let’s talk about the crowd!! Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have said many times this was the largest crowd since the 2016 race with attendance over 325,000. And, man, did it feel great to be amongst the masses again!! Though last year’s attendance was (officially) capped at around 135,000 fans, it felt quite well attended at the time. This year, however, felt like we were really part of something spectacular. Everywhere you looked and went on the Speedway grounds was packed on race day. Even better, the buzz in the surrounding areas was back. Having enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Dawson’s on Main the night before the race, I know Main Street in Speedway was abuzz with people just excited to be welcomed back to 16th and Georgetown.
It was also the first year that many fans were able to attend a race at IMS under the new ownership of Roger Penske. Without a doubt, most of the changes have been for the better. However, there are some things here and there that I didn’t necessarily care for. Not unexpectedly, prices on everything from the IMS Museum admission to tenderloins to programs to tickets have gone up in price. Given that inflation is pretty much out of control throughout the country and that Mr. Penske has invested massive amounts of capital into IMS without much return during the pandemic, rising prices were to be expected. However, I did notice one other sneaky way where they seem to really be twisting the knife.
Not only have prices on pork tenderloins and programs increased, but IMS has gone to a totally cashless universe throughout most of the facility. While that is generally a good thing, it’s also allowed the Speedway to sneak in a bit more of a hidden price bump. When people bought merchandise or snacks previously, sales tax was almost always included in the price of the item. You want a souvenir program? Had the guy a $20 and he trades you for a program. Now, that $20 program has an extra $1.25 tacked on for sales tax. That $6.50 pretzel now actually sets you back closer to $7.00. That was tough to do with cash, so going to the all-credit card model makes that bump much easier.
But alas, I don’t want this to be an article that sounds too much like my dad writing it, so I’ll just leave my price gouging complaints there.
As usual, the build up to the start of the race was very well done. I actually thought all the performers during the pre-race songs did a fantastic job even though I had never heard of any of them except Jim Cornelison.
What I enjoyed ever more, though, was that the flow of the pre-race ceremonies didn’t seem to be drug down by television timing as much as it had been in previous years. I’m still not a huge fan of the rearranged order of ceremonies from their traditional spots, but at least there were not long, awkward pauses between segments as has been common in many recent years. The only one I really noticed this year was between the National Anthem and “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The flyover of the US Air Force Thunderbirds was scheduled for 12:26 pm and Jim Cornelison was set to start singing at 12:36. That was a bit too long of a break.
Oh wait, it wasn’t a total break because we had Blake Shelton tell the drivers to go to their cars at 12:29. When did this actually become a thing?! I’m still not even really a fan of the formal driver introductions, but the call for drivers to their cars is really dumb. Yes, I know it’s really nothing more than an opportunity for IMS and NBC to put another celebrity’s face on TV, and the Kentucky Derby has been doing it for decades. But does the Indianapolis 500 really need someone to tell the drivers to go to their cars? It really is just awkward. Given that driver introductions started at 11:47, what are they doing in the intervening half hour if they aren’t at their cars? Anyway…
All in all, the pre-race ceremonies went off without a hitch. I did miss the tradition of the balloon launch, but the spectacle of the second Thunderbirds fly-over was admittedly exceptionally impressive. I guess I could get used to having a pair of flyovers replace the balloons. If I was going to complain about anything here, it would be that I wish that first flyover that is done north to south during the National Anthem was a bit more to the east than it is. I believe the squadron targets coming right down the front straightaway, which makes for some spectacular pictures, but many of the spectators, possibly a large majority along the frontstraight, are not able to see the planes at all due to having a roof overhead. It’s a real first-world problem, I admit, but it was nice the second flyover was viewable by a much larger number of fans.
Most days it’s probably good to be Chip Ganassi. At the end of the day, it was still good to be Chip Ganassi. But the road for Ganassi back to Victory Lane after a 10-year absence was undoubtedly lined with Rolaids.
The multi-time Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series Championship winning owner had five cars starting in the first four rows, and at various times, it appeared four of them could have won the race. Alex Palou and Scott Dixon dominated the first 70 laps of the race until Palou got caught out by another instance of IndyCar’s awful yellow flag/closed-pit rule, dropping the defending series champion to 30th position with a blow from which he would never recover.
Scott Dixon then controlled the next 100 laps of the race, allowing Conor Daly and Pato O’Ward to take turns at the point when he decided he wanted to save some fuel. In spite of Daly and O’Ward taking the lead sporadically, it was evident that Dixon clearly had the car to beat. Unless something unforeseen happened, Dixon was finally going to get the second Indianapolis 500 win he has been chasing for 13 years.
And then something unforeseen happened. Scott Dixon made a completely unforced error and was tagged with a drive-through penalty for exceeding the pit speed limit upon entering the pits at the conclusion of his 174th lap. Dixon has alleged – though neither he nor his team has provided evidence – that he was penalized for being one mile-per-hour over the 60 mph speed limit. (INDYCAR has yet to confirm or deny Dixon’s claim.) If that is the case, that is an even more cruel twist of the knife for the six-time series champion. To his credit, Dixon owned up to the mistake and didn’t try to say he shouldn’t have been penalized. He accepted the error, and the defeat, with the same grace and dignity that he exudes when he wins and when he loses. But this one will still for a long, long time. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that the downfall came about as a result of Dixon’s own action.
This wasn’t like 2014 when he tried to trim out his car and just spun in an aggressive attempt to hang with the leaders. This wasn’t like 2017 when he was collected by the disabled car of Jay Howard and sent hurtling through the south short chute, landing nearly on his head on top of the SAFER Barrier before the pieces of his shattered car ultimately landed right side up. This wasn’t like 2020 when a late yellow flag prevented his from having an opportunity to take one last shot at Takuma Sato. This wasn’t like 2021 when he was stuck on track and unable to pit under yellow before running out of fuel and losing two laps to the leaders.
This loss will fall squarely on the shoulders of Dixon himself. We’ll never know if Dixon would have been able to hold of his Swedish teammate over the final 30 laps. Given just how perfect Marcus Ericsson’s car was over the final stint, I’m not convinced Ericsson wouldn’t have gotten past Dixon anyway, but there is no doubt Dixon was the dominant force for the first 435 miles of the race.
Not to be overlooked in Dixon’s disappointment is the fact that Scott Dixon, by leading more than 74 laps, passed Ralph DePalma and Al Unser, Sr., to become the all-time lap leader in Indianapolis 500 history. Scott finished the race with an astonishing 665 laps in the lead, surpassing DePalma’s mark of 612 and Unser’s mark of 644, which had stood since Unser led his final race in 1993.
What’s going on with Turn 2
For most of its existence, Turn 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has gotten the lion’s share of fame and notoriety. And justifiably so. At the end of one of IMS’s massive 3,300-ft straightaways and surrounded by grandstands on both sides, Turn 1 is certainly the most famous turn in all of motorsports, and drivers have long claimed it is the most difficult as a result of the visual impact of those grandstands. However, it has seemed for the past several years that Turn 2 has been the hungriest and eaten the most cars, especially during the race.
Since 2018, Turn 2 has had its way with drivers of the likes of Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, and Graham Rahal. In this year’s race alone, the Turn 2 wall swallowed the cars of Rinus Veekay, Callum Ilott, Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson, and Sage Karam.
The prevailing notion seems to be that Turn 2 is the most wind-sensitive turn on the track as Turns 1 and 4 are generally surrounded and shielded by the grandstands and Turn 3 is open enough to where winds don’t swirl. However, with the west and southern winds finding their way through gaps in the grandstands, winds tend to be more fickle and gusty in Turn 2. When winds are from the north, drivers turn into the winds and find their nose pinned on corner exit, often creating an unstable and loose car.
Whatever the reason, it is interesting how Turn 2 has become such a nemesis to many drivers over the past several years.
The Red Flag
I decided I wasn’t going to touch on one of the hot-button topics – that being the Rookie of the Year award going to Jimmie Johnson. However, I can’t leave the other one alone.
My good friend George Phillips opined over at Oilpressure.com that he would rather see the race end under caution than have a red flag late in the race. This is one time I think George has totally missed the boat.
Do I want to see a red flag at the end of a race? Not at all. I’d much rather see the race run to its conclusion uninterrupted and play out naturally. Unfortunately, that just isn’t always the case.
INDYCAR has shown a number of times over the years they are willing to use the red flag to give the greatest chance of having a green-flag finish. And despite of what Emma Dixon and others claim, they are not inconsistent about doing so. For all the gnawing and gnashing of teeth, the 2022 and the 2020 Indianapolis 500 finishes were not the same.
INDYCAR officials have said they would not use a red flag to create a one-lap shootout to the checkered flag. Working backwards, that generally means they will throw a red flag only if there are six laps or more remaining in the race when a yellow flag is displayed. Generally, it will take one lap after the yellow is displayed to get the cars lined up and one lap for them to stop under red flag conditions. Once the red flag is lifted, they typically need two laps under yellow before restarting the race.
When Jimmie Johnson crashed on the leaders’ 195th lap, the drivers finished that lap under yellow and the red flag was displayed. The cars were lined up at the south end of pit road such that they crossed the Yard of Bricks to complete Lap 196. Laps 197 and 198 were run under caution with Laps 199 and 200 to be run under green. Of course Sage Karam found the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier as the leaders were headed toward Turn 3 on the final lap so it became something of a moot point, but nonetheless, INDYCAR stuck with what they said they would do and threw the red flag because there were a sufficient number of laps left to allow two green flag laps of racing.
In 2020 when Spencer Pigot crashed into the pit wall attenuator and brought out a late-race caution, he did so as the leaders were nearly completing their 196th lap. At very best, the field would have completed Lap 196, been red flagged, and stopped at the conclusion of Lap 197. Again, needing two laps to get back to green flag, this would have brought the green and white flags out at the same time. Since INDYCAR started using the late-race red flag as far back as Fontana in 2012, they have avoided such a situation and, as such, were consistent with their implementation in both 2020 and 2022.
Now, just because INDYCAR can use the red flag, does that necessarily mean that they should? In my opinion, yes. I don’t like to see a race end under yellow flag conditions though I recognize that it is sometime unavoidable. In the end, IndyCar racing is a form of entertainment and the Series should do what is necessary, within reason, to make it entertaining. I personally do not find the red flag gimmicky or any more unfair than the a yellow flag. If Johnson had crashed on Lap 191, one would expect safety and track crews to work as quickly as possible to get the race to restart and finish under green. Why should INDYCAR not use another tool in its arsenal in an attempt to get a similar resolution if that crash happens a couple laps later.
I am not in any way, shape, or form advocating that INDYCAR should add laps to the end of the race and create a stupid overtime rule like NASCAR has. The posted race distance is the race distance unless unforeseen circumstances cause the race to be shortened. Never should a race be lengthened.
But a red flag isn’t lengthening the race. The red flag isn’t wiping out any driver’s on-track advantage any more than a yellow flag is. It is just simply hitting the pause button and allowing safety crews time to do their jobs without rushing to clear the track quickly.
What I really don’t like, however, is INDYCAR heavy-handed policy of not allowing a driver to re-assume his position if there is an issue getting his car restarted. On Sunday, Ed Carpenter was 11th when the red flag came out. When the field restarted engines, Carpenter’s car took a bit longer to start, but he still managed to pull away while the field was on its first caution lap. Carpenter could have caught up with the field and retaken his position, but INDYCAR ruled he would have to restart at the end of the line.
I do understand why this rule is in place – INDYCAR wants to get the race restarted a quickly as possible and not have to worry about confirming the running order before getting back to the green flag. However, I feel a bit more judiciousness and flexibility would have been well served here. Ed had plenty of time to safely return to his position with delaying the green flag or causing undue angst amongst his competitors. As it was, Carpenter dropped from 11th to 22nd, though he was remarkably able to pass four cars over the final two laps to finish 18th.
Once again, choreographic victory celebrations…
Once again, INDYCAR and NBC… please stop with these choreographed victory lane “celebrations.” I’ve railed on this too many times to count, but I will continue to do so until it changes or I no longer have my pulpit.
As Marcus Ericsson was pulling into Victory Lane and having his car maneuvered onto the victory platform, he started to climb out of his car, already ready to celebrate with Chip Ganassi and the rest of his Huski Chocolate #8 team. However, he was about half way out of his car when an INDYCAR official held him up and essentially pushed him back into his car. He was made to wait another 3 or 4 minutes as the car was lifted to the platform, photographers and TV cameras were positioned as needed, and then told to get out of the car and “celebrate.” It looked fake, choreographed, and past the real moment. Because it was.
INDYCAR has got to stop making this celebrations so scripted. I know why it happens. It happens so TV and photographers can capture the moment they get out of their car. But these moments for people to see – either live or in photos – are totally sanitized. They are void of any actual motions. The drivers are literally just going through the motions. INDYCAR needs to allow the drivers to celebrate as they see fit when they see fit. They need look no further than the 2021 Indianapolis 500 to see what real celebration is like.
TV crews and photographs absolutely should be there to capture the moment, but they need to capture the moment as it happens naturally. They need to be in position to capture it when the driver’s and team’s emotions are raw and authentic. They should not be dictating when the driver’s required “Rocky Pose” happens at each race. If I’m a winning driver and just achieved my lifelong dream, I’m going to get a real good laugh when someone tries to keep me in the car and tell me how and when I celebrate.
One a personal note…
This year was very exciting for me personally because I finally got to experience the entire race weekend with my oldest son. Having always gone with my dad in previous year until 2019, and usually trying to fill a host of media desires and responsibility throughout race weekend, it would have been very difficult to experience the weekend with him previously. However, I decided this year to generally forego most media obligations over race weekend and take in the entirety of the weekend as a dad and a fan.
Though Carb Day had a bit of a weird vibe to it, it was still a fun day. I greatly missed having the Indy Lights Freedom 100, but Mr. Penske has been pretty clear that shipped has sailed. Carb Day didn’t quite have the festival atmosphere of years past, but that could have also been due to the fairly crummy, uncertain weather.
The crummy and uncertain weather continued through the evening when Jackson and I made our way out to Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park for the Annual Carb Night Classic. I remember watching this event for many years when I was younger and when the USAC pavement midgets were the featured series. Back then, it was held on the Night Before the 500 and always clashed with the Little 500 in Anderson. It was neat to see this event in person though the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 races were generally processional and not particularly exciting.
As always, the USAC midgets put on a great show and were followed by the USAC Silver Crown cars also showing well. It was a really fun night of racing that I hadn’t ever previously gotten the chance to enjoy, and I’m glad we went. However, it was COOOOOLLDDD!!! Like 1992 Indianapolis 500 cold. Temperatures were only in the upper 40s with a very strong NNW wind. We sat under blankets as much as we could and occasionally walked around just to stay warm. But no matter how cold it was, it still be rain.
We had originally planned on attending the Little 500 on Saturday night but ultimately decided against it. Given that our hotel was to the west of the Indianapolis airport and likely at least an hour from Anderson Speedway, we figured it would be between midnight and 1:00 AM before we got back from that race. With a 4:00 alarm set for Sunday morning, that was just a little less sleep than either of us were really willing to undertake.
Jackson loved getting to attend The 500. After hearing about it incessantly for his entire life and being subjected to more Indianapolis 500 broadcast and archived episodes of the Talk of Gasoline Alley than any teenager should be, I was afraid he wouldn’t enjoy it as I hoped he would. My fears were unfounded. He was disappointed that Pato O’Ward wasn’t ultimately able to make his last-lap pass stick, but he came away from the weekend loving the race and already wanting to go back next year. He is the fourth generation of my family to attend the race, starting with my dad and grandfather in the early 1950s.
All in all…
I think the 2022 race will ultimately be remembered a lot like the 2018 and 2019 Indianapolis 500s. They have been decent races with a couple highlights that you might remember a decade from now (though perhaps you won’t be able to pinpoint them to 2022), but unless you are the winner of said races, these races generally won’t stand out of legendary renditions of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
I also think time will eventually reveal that Marcus Ericsson will be a worthy and great champion of the event. As he isn’t often out front and in the limelight, he is often characterized as dull and unexciting. However, I remember how many people said that about a shy Alexander Rossi following his surprise victory in 2016. Within a couple years, Rossi had completely embraced the event and his role in it and has since become one of INDYCAR’s best ambassadors. I won’t be at all surprised if Ericsson takes on a similar role in the coming years.
Now that May is past – both figuratively and literally – it’s time to move and get down to business with the balance of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season, starting this weekend in Detroit. But another hot midwestern summer will come and go, following by another long winter. Before we know it, though, spring will return and we’ll start seeing the signs that it’s time to start shifting our focus again to the magical grounds at 16th and Georgetown in Speedway. And the annual tradition will have us back to the Crossroads of America for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Is it May yet??