Drivers are supposed to be happy for their teammates when they win races, but how can you be happy when a teammate steals the biggest prize in racing from you by a few fumes of fuel?
As Carlos Muñoz proved after Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500, you can’t.
“I cannot say I’m really happy, I’m just really sad and disappointed,” Muñoz said.
Running in arguably the biggest edition of North America’s grandest race in recent memory, Muñoz appeared to do everything right. His Andretti Autosport team seemed to have played the varying strategies to perfection. His No. 26 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda-Dallara was handling well, and he had maneuvered it to the front.
On the final lap, Muñoz trailed only his rookie teammate Alexander Rossi, who was desperately low on fuel, needing to go 36 laps to make it to the finish. Rossi had a significant lead, but the odds still looked strong the the 2013 Indy 500 runner-up.
Rossi would surely run out of fuel… right?
Ultimately, yes, he would. But unfortunately for Muñoz, Rossi had stretched his gas far enough to take advantage of his lead. When his car sputtered coming off of turn 4, Rossi was able to coast to the checkered flag a full four seconds and change to the good.
Muñoz screamed down the front straight, narrowly beating Josef Newgarden in what many thought would be the battle for the win, but the Colombian would have to settle for a runner-up result for the second time in four years.
While teammate Rossi put on the wreath, drank the milk and kissed the bricks, Muñoz was left fending off tears and looking for consolation.
“I was really disappointed when it comes with fuel and you lose the race because of that,” Muñoz said. “Half a lap short. That’s what it took.”
Muñoz suffered similar heartbreak in his 2013 Indy 500 debut. Running the fifth entry for Andretti Autosport, he excelled in that opportunity, running toward the front and putting himself in position to compete for the win in the closing stages.
Then, too, Muñoz was beaten by something outside of his control – a caution flag that prevented him from making a charge at eventual winner Tony Kanaan.
Seeing a potential second opportunity at the elusive Borg-Warner Trophy, Muñoz gave it his all in the closing stages.
“I was pushing the last three laps with the same set of tires,” Muñoz said. “I don’t know how many laps. I was all over the place on the rear.”
Unfortunately for the young star with an acumen for IMS, the door to opportunity again shut in the last, painful seconds.
Opportunities like Muñoz had on Sunday are fleeting and rare. Some drivers go years between legitimate chances at a 500 win. Others never see them a single time.
Unfortunately for Muñoz, he appears to have taken after team owner Michael Andretti. Opportunity continues to come knocking, only to vanish when it matters most.
Still, the third-year IndyCar driver will continue on. Should the opportunity for an Indy 500 win ever come again, Muñoz will likely do exactly what he did on Sunday.
“I’m going to keep it flat,” Muñoz said. “If I crash, I crash. I don’t want second; I want to win.”
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