Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch Breakdown: 2008 Indianapolis 500

In a Nutshell: Scott Dixon took the pole for this race, his latest assertion that he is the driver to beat this year; and heading into the Indy 500, he gave no one any reason to think differently. Several drivers took turns at the front of the biggest event in open-wheel racing – including teammate Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti – but Dixon always lurked right behind them.

His No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew did their job and put him out in front on the final stop of the day; and while second-place Vitor Meira tried to mount a challenge, ultimately the speed Dixon showed all month carried him to the win. Meira held onto second, followed by Andretti, Helio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter to round out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Dixon. Did you get the sense that this was Dixon’s game and he just let the others play for awhile? Sure, other drivers led here and there, and some looked like they might be able to challenge at times. But when it came down to it, Dixon put an end to the illusion that anyone not named Dixon was going to win this race – he hit the pedal and put it away, proving that in reality, there wasn’t anyone who could actually challenge his claim on his first Indy 500 trophy.

Five Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend

1) Do you think someone is in big trouble at ABC?

Four laps to go in the Indy 500 – the Indy 500!! – and someone cuts away to commercial. Luckily, this is 2008 and not the 1960s, so instead of the Heidi Bowl, after sitting open-jawed and incredulous for one and a half commercials, when the race was put back on we rejoined with still four laps to go – apparently missing nothing. Still, that means that the finish we saw was live, but not live… wasn’t it?

2) Which track is meaner to rookies: Darlington or Indy?

NASCAR fans love to see rookie drivers try to contend with Darlington, a track that will reach out and smack any driver who isn’t showing the proper respect. But when it comes to open-wheel racing, Indianapolis has a way of doing the same, sucking many an unsuspecting and inexperienced driver into the wall for daring to venture off the racing line by even the teeniest bit.

To that end, most of the former Champ Car drivers had a hard day. There were 11 rookies in the field this year, and five of them failed to finish. To put it in perspective, in March Graham Rahal was celebrating a victory in his first IndyCar start; in May, Rahal finished last at Indy after smacking the wall only 36 laps in.

3) How much slack should teammates give each other?

Kanaan drives for Michael Andretti, and it seems the Andretti luck at Indy has engulfed him. Kanaan has been in front every year of his seven starts at Indy only to have his day cut short by accidents and mechanical failures. But this year, it was his own teammate, Marco Andretti, who took away the low line and pushed Kanaan up into the marbles, where he lost control and spun in front of the oncoming car of Sarah Fisher. Kanaan had been leading just prior to the incident.

4) What would have happened if they hadn’t headed Danica off at the pass?

Danica Patrick had her day ended early for the first time at Indy when Ryan Briscoe made contact with her on pit road with only 29 laps remaining. While Patrick didn’t have a car to compete with Dixon – a fact she made abundantly clear to her crew when she told them she was “Slooooooooowwwww” and couldn’t do anything with her car – she wasn’t appreciative of Briscoe for the accident. Patrick got out of her car and began a march down pit road to visit with Briscoe when security headed her off and rerouted her.

Patrick said maybe it was a good thing she never got there. I wonder why? What exactly did she think she was going to do? I also wonder how long Danica being a woman and being a superstar will continue to cover for her poor attitude toward the other drivers and the diva attitude her crew has to deal with.

5) Can anyone stop Dixon this year?

Or maybe the question should be, is the Indy 500 a representation of what the entire season is going to be like? Dixon finished second at Indy last year and second in the championship. It would appear he’s looking to improve on both of those statistics this year – and things are looking good. So far, he’s been successful at Indy and given his performance for the season to date, this is a driver on a mission. And when Dixon is on a mission, you have to wonder if he’s a man or a machine.

Worth Noting

Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the Rookie of the Race honors with a nice sixth-place finish in the 500. But an honorable mention in that category has to go to Hideki Mutoh, who finished one spot behind him in seventh. Two rookies bringing it home with nice solid top-10 finishes was a nice thing to see – although perhaps anyone familiar with Hunter-Reay would have to say this is not that big of a surprise.

Marty Roth, at age 49, was the oldest driver in the field. That’s a nearly unheard of age for anyone to be wheeling it around at Indy, but Roth made the race and made 50 laps before falling victim to the same wall that earlier claimed young rookie Rahal.

You have to feel for Fisher. Fisher has been bounced around like a pinball, often the victim of poor sponsor interest from companies who aren’t sure they are willing to take a chance on a woman driver. This year, she opted to field her own team, and after further sponsor issues, she made the race running on a shoestring budget. Just trying to stay out of trouble and make the finish, Fisher’s day hit a roadblock when the car of Kanaan spun down the track in front of her.

Kanaan said she apologized for hitting him, but it was Kanaan who actually felt worse about it, knowing Fisher’s situation and exactly what losing that car means for her. Fisher tried to put on a brave face for the camera and didn’t really succeed; but anyone who had seen the stricken expression on Kanaan’s face already knew how devastated Fisher really was.

Kudos to Meira. Meira drives for Panther Racing, once a big player in the IndyCar Series when Sam Hornish Jr. brought the team multiple championships. But in the current climate of giant multi-car teams like Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti-Green, Panther is now a small-time, small-budget one-car operation. To see them running competitively with the mega-teams and finish second gives some hope to the little guys.


“I think the month went so smooth that you were waiting for something to go wrong. I can’t believe we got here and nothing went wrong.” – Scott Dixon

“From what I can see, there was still plenty of room on the right side for her to get around, and there are people pointing fingers, but that’s not the way we are. We both have a brake pedal in our cars, and from what I can tell, there was still plenty of room for her to get around me. I was trying to get around [Dan] Wheldon, and I was staying in the middle lane. I got ran up in the back, and it’s a shame.” – Ryan Briscoe

“Probably best I didn’t get down there, anyway.” – Danica Patrick about being headed off by security on the way to confront Ryan Briscoe

“He’d better be. That was a very stupid move. Me being a good teammate, I didn’t want to turn into him and take out two cars. So I give up today.” – Tony Kanaan when told teammate Marco Andretti was sorry about the move that took him out of the race

About the author

A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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