Commentary

Five great things about the Indy 500

Updated: May 30, 2009, 2:04 AM ET
By Eddie Cheever | Special to ESPN.com

This year's Indianapolis 500 is in the record books. Helio Castroneves came back from the abyss after a bruising battle with the IRS and not only earned back his role as the lead driver at Team Penske by beating his teammate Ryan Briscoe for the pole but also went on to win his third Indy 500 and Roger Penske's 15th.

Before I get to my Top 5, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the respect shown by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ABC in reminding us of the brave men and women who died while in military service. The intense solitude of Sgt. Joe Young's perfect execution of taps during this year's prerace show drove home the magnitude of what Memorial Day means. No words can command the power and beauty of those simple, somber notes after the rifle volley.

When Jim Nabors followed with the traditional singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" and Mari Hulman George gave her order to start the engines, it was Indiana at its best, and we were all ready to enjoy another Indianapolis 500.

Here's my Top 5 Moments from the 2009 Indianapolis 500:

5. Richard Petty's 2009 Indy 500

The prevalent theory has always been that American race fans are myopic and interested only in their particular series. When John Andretti left the pits for his final qualifying attempt earlier in the month, the public went wild as they pushed John and his reluctant car around its four qualifying laps at a speed he hadn't seen all month and finally got him in the race. Racing fans like fast cars, hard competition, surprises and, above all, want to be part of a good story. And the King of NASCAR, Richard Petty, racing at Indy was just that.

4. Marco Andretti

[+] EnlargeMarco Andretti
AP Photo/Darron CummingsMarco Andretti had a lot of free time on his hands at Indy after a crash.

It was comforting to see Marco in his post-accident interview, keeping up the Andretti tradition of never having done anything wrong on the track. It was a classic example of passing the torch.

3. Danica Patrick

Danica was the best of the young drivers at Andretti Green once again and definitely Tony Kanaan's best student. She struggled with her equipment all month, but by the end of the race, with Michael Andretti guiding her from the pits, the only thing that stood between her and second place was her old pal Dan Wheldon. From a performance standpoint, I believe her third place is a stronger statement to the racing community than her win in Japan. She just keeps getting better at Indy. Put her in a Penske or Ganassi car and stand back!

2. Helio Castroneves

His third win has all the elements of a perfect story to live on in the annals of racing folklore. Of all the active IndyCar Series drivers, he has the best chance of becoming the first driver to own America's biggest racing honor, five Indianapolis 500 wins. Many have bet against Roger Penske at Indy and lost.

1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway

On race day, the track looked hungry right from the start -- taking little bites out of the young guns and anybody who tried to sneak something past her. Just a few years ago, the late-race accident involving Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos would have had catastrophic consequences if it hadn't been for the speedway's constant safety upgrades. Few American institutions are as vibrant, modern and capable of evolving as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been in the past 100 years. May the grand lady prosper and entertain us all for at least another century.

Eddie Cheever is a racing analyst for ABC and ESPN.

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