Commentary

Indy magic missing for most

Updated: May 24, 2009, 10:42 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- At most races, it usually takes a driver a couple of days to bounce back from a disappointing finish.

At the Indianapolis 500, it can take a year to recover. Or a lifetime.

Helio Castroneves won the 93rd running of the great race, followed to the flag by Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick. But at least six other drivers walked out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday night knowing that they could have been the one drinking the milk and cashing the $3 million check.

Minus applicable taxes, of course.

Here's a chronological look at how the would-be contenders eliminated themselves from contention at Indy:

On the 40th anniversary of the Andretti family's lone Indianapolis win, Marco Andretti's day was ruined on the first lap when 20-year-old oval racing novice Mario Moraes pinched Andretti into the Turn 2 wall.

Maybe Marco was being a little too aggressive for the first lap, but Moraes was definitely guilty of some dubious driving. Andretti was certainly not impressed.

"Maybe it's my fault because I should have known who I was racing," he said. "I should have been smarter than that. I'm sitting next to him [on the outside], and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him.

[+] EnlargeTony Kanaan
AP Photo/Rance BarnabyRescue workers help Tony Kanaan from his wrecked racer after a Lap 97 crash ended his day.

"It's totally disappointing."

"I was in front," countered Moraes, whose seventh-place starting position was the surprise of qualifying. "I was holding my line, and he just hit me. I don't know from where."

Graham Rahal qualified a superb fourth but only made it to Lap 55 before basically duplicating the accident that eliminated him from last year's 500.

He blamed Milka Duno for the wreck that wiped the right side off the No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car.

"She was absolutely clueless," Rahal fumed. "She would go low like she was going to let everybody by, but then she'd go fast enough where you can't get by her. She come out on track and run you real tight. I tried to go half a car width up in [Turn] 4, and it just went straight.

"I'm really upset and disappointed."

Tony Kanaan's streak of leading in seven consecutive Indianapolis 500s came to an end Sunday. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion was running third when he had a bizarre accident on the backstretch.

Kanaan was taken for a rough ride when it appeared his Andretti Green Racing Dallara suffered a component failure in the right rear corner. The car veered sharply to the right into the wall on the back straight, and again clouted the Turn 3 wall a few seconds later.

"I don't know what happened," Kanaan said. "Something broke in the middle of the straightaway and I hit head-on on the wall. I don't think the cameras caught that on the first hit, and then I went for a wild ride.

"I'm just thankful that I can walk back to my motor home."

The Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti dominated portions of the race, leading a total of 123 laps. But pit stops -- generally a strong point for Chip Ganassi's team -- proved to be a weak area on Sunday.

Franchitti dropped from second to eighth during a yellow-flag pit stop on Lap 134, when he pulled away before the fuel hose was disconnected. Outside front tire changer Kevin O'Donnell appeared to start to wave Franchitti out but hesitated.

Franchitti managed to stop the car before the fuel hose broke, unlike Vitor Meira, who was engulfed in fire during the same round of stops.

Meira continued in the race, but fractured two vertebra in a later accident and Dr. Terry Trammell was scheduled to perform a non-operative procedure on him Sunday night at Indianapolis Methodist Hospital.

Franchitti was only able to regain one position in the last third of the race to finish seventh.

"Everybody has to be flawless to win here, and we had a problem in the pits," Franchitti said. "The Target guys are fantastic on pit lane, normally. They do a great job. But one mistake, unfortunately, is very, very costly. When you get too far back in the pack like we did with that problem with the pit stop, it's tough to get back to the front again."

The result put Franchitti back in the IndyCar Series points lead.

"We'll go back, regroup and try to get ourselves a championship," he said.

Disaster in the pits struck Dixon on Lap 163. He came in third and left seventh.

"We had great stops all day with the Target team, but toward the end there on that last stop, we fumbled," Dixon remarked. "I'm not sure which tire it was [it was the right rear, changed by Blair Julian] but you give up a few seconds here and there, and that's nearly your day. You lose six or seven spots and it's just too tough to pass when everybody at the end is full fuel and trying to go flat out.

"Pretty unfortunate -- I was looking pretty good there for a while."

Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe had an up-and-down day. The Australian led 11 laps but fell a lap down on Lap 65 when he got what he called "a bad set of tires" -- a rare lapse for Firestone in the IndyCar Series.

Briscoe got his lap back and in fact got all the way back up to second place. But that came as the result of short-fueling for track position during the penultimate round of stops, and Team Penske had to bring the No. 6 car in for a splash-and-go late in the race. Briscoe was credited with a 15th-place finish.

"After we got the lead, under the yellow, we put a new set of tires on, and after the restart, I just had nothing there," Briscoe reported. "I had no grip in the front. I thought a tire was going flat. We had to pit, and we went a lap down. From there, it was just catch-up.

"I really thought I had a car to win with, but we just didn't have enough fuel."

Of all the drivers who suffered near misses, Briscoe was at least able to be happy under the circumstances for Castroneves' triumph.

"What a story Helio is," Briscoe said of his teammate. "It's just incredible. It's just unbelievable for him -- a Cinderella story. He's like a newborn kid and on top of the world."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.