Indy was an instant classic

Updated: June 9, 2004, 12:44 PM ET
By Eddie Cheever Jr. | Special to ESPN.com

Eddie Cheever Jr.
Cheever
From a spectator's view, the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 was both bizarre and incredible. Funny, but that was the same view we had at Red Bull Cheever Racing. Bizarre and incredible.

The weather was forever changing, which constantly affected strategy. The race was rewarding because we achieved the best finish by a Chevrolet engine when Alex Barron came home in 12th place.

For the first part of the race, both of our cars ran quite well. Alex had a few problems with balance, but we overcame those. Ed Carpenter was having a great run. In many ways, both drivers probably would have had better outcomes had the race not been stopped because of rain 27 laps after it started.

Right from the beginning, though, it was obvious that Bobby Rahal's team was carrying on right where it left off in qualifying. Their cars were all incredibly strong. You could tell from the very start that Buddy Rice had what he needed to win the race.

Our cars got progressively better, but then we ran into more of the bizarre -- a silly accident involving Ed and Mark Taylor. When you look at the facts, Taylor made a mistake trying to pass someone on the outside in Turn 3 and then coming down on him. It wasn't really a smart thing to do on the 64th lap. In one fell swoop, the two Chevy rookies managed to eliminate each other. It wasn't necessary, regardless of whose fault it was. Again, I can't reiterate to Ed enough times, if you're dealing with somebody who doesn't know what he's doing, avoid him.

Ed and Mark have crossed swords before, but now they seem to have taken it out of the sandbox and onto the playground. I don't think that's healthy for either of them and I hope that Brian Barnhardt, Senior VP of Operations for the IRL, puts both of them in a room to watch that tape.

Strategy was vital the whole day. We would rush ahead when we thought it was going to rain, then throttle back and save fuel when we thought it wasn't going to rain. You'd come in for short fills, then come in for long fills. The strategic part of the race was very confusing throughout the day because of the weather, but we worked our way into position by not getting too carried away. Alex got stronger and stronger as the race went on.

Had it not rained at the end, the results would have changed. A lot of guys short-filled anticipating the rain, and they would have been caught without any fuel if it wouldn't have rained. But that's neither here nor there. The fastest car and the fastest driver won the race. That's the way the Indy 500 should be.

As has been the case in every race Alex Barron has run with Red Bull Cheever Racing, he has been a money player. He works very hard right from the beginning to make the car fast in the race. During the race, he gets the most out of what he has. In this case, the most he had was a 12th-place car.

We were very strong in the middle to the end of fuel runs. We could run in traffic, but there's no way we could lead. We have a lot of catching up to do, but we have the elementary aspects of it perfected. There were a lot of people -- good, established teams -- who seemed to have problems with the bare basics. Luckily enough, our team is well-prepared. When you don't fail at things, you don't realize how important they are. When you feel good every day, you don't realize how bad you would feel if you broke your little finger. Until it actually happens, of course.

There were a lot of things we did very well. Our pit stops were good, our strategy was good, and our fuel efficiency was good. We could gain fuel if we needed to, and we could spend it if we wanted to. Our strategy regarding the weather turned out right, although there was a fair amount of luck involved in that. All of the auxiliary pieces that have to be working at 100 percent in order to win races were working very well for us.

We were very happy with the balance of our race car. Other teams had a lot more trouble with their cars than we did. When you see cars coming in and out of the pits repeatedly -- wing in, wing out, wing in, wing out -- it doesn't really bode well for the decisions they made about setup. Our Dallaras were well-prepared and we had the right setup.

In all, it was an amazing 500, and I was pleased with the outcome of the race. I would have had a hard time watching Helio Castroneves climb the fence again. I was glad that an American driver won. Buddy and I didn't part on the best of terms last year, but we had spent a lot of time with him and were pleased to see him win. I have grown tired of people saying there aren't enough American drivers in this form of racing. No American-born racer had won the Indy 500 since my win in 1998, so I was proud of the fact that an American finally won it again. When I rewatched the race on television and saw the smile on Buddy's dad's face as his son grabbed the checkered flag; that was what racing is all about.

Rahal Letterman Racing had a superb month. Buddy won the pole, the pit-stop competition and the race. He was the fastest and most aggressive guy out there, and he didn't make any mistakes. It would have been a travesty if he wouldn't have won, because he was pacing the race the entire time. It was a great win.

There were so many different emotions involved in this 500. It stopped and started and then stopped again. The rain was coming, then it wasn't coming, then it was. The reactions to that, and the spectacular racing because of it, made for one of the more entertaining Indy 500s in history.

You work the whole year to wake up with that magic feeling the morning of the Indy 500. It's one of those anything-can-happen events. For us, the "anything" was both good and bad. What we'll take out of this are two things: Pride in knowing we have mastered the basics, and determination in knowing we have to get faster.

-- Eddie Cheever Jr.

IRL IndyCar Series owner Eddie Cheever Jr. owns the Nos. 51 and 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara Chevrolets driven by Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter, respectively. He provides a diary to ESPN.com. Cheever's team Web site can be found at www.redbullcheeverracing.com.