Race Weekend Central

Inside IndyCar: Indy 500 Roundtable

The 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 saw plenty of action, a few close calls, and its fair share of controversy. Josef Newgarden walked away the winner with Marcus Ericsson in second. Santino Ferrucci finished third, and all three drivers had some opinions to share after the race. For this week’s edition of Inside IndyCar, we’re taking a look at four key questions that arose from the weekend.

Lots of weaving to protect position this year and last year. IndyCar has been silent on the matter. Should weaving be policed?

Michael Finley: It’s hard to police weaving because then the leader really is just a sitting duck waiting to be passed. I think weaving should not be policed on the final lap or so, because the reality is that then nobody will make a move until the frontstretch half of the time. I do think above anything else that weaving past the pit road commitment line is incredibly dangerous and should be a five-second penalty on the finish for anybody crossing down there then coming back up.

Wyatt Watson: So far, I feel like the weaving adds to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The drivers know their limits, and I feel like weaving shouldn’t be policed by IndyCar officials. Dangerous blocks should continue to be penalized if done so, but weaving to break the draft is still okay in my eyes.

Tom Blackburn: I’m not a fan of the weaving maneuver. It seems like a reactive move in regard to the driver behind them, protecting the racing line. One weave is okay in defense, but isn’t a second or a third maneuver considered blocking? To me it falls in that description. But Newgarden mentioned in his press conference after his win he didn’t think it was blocking. So, if a driver of his resume doesn’t think it is so, then who am I to argue with that? Still, it’s challenging to accept that as a form of racing though. I feel it robs the paying audience of a finish – of course that is made up with a last lap restart from a red flag, so there is that.

What will be interesting going forward is now that drivers saw Newgarden beat it, does it go away? If drivers can overcome the maneuver, you’d think it would no longer be effective to use. IndyCar needs to consider the ramifications of allowing that type of frantic activity on track to continue. It seems hazardous (but so is a one lap restart, but I digress). Imagine Al Unser Jr. doing that to Scott Goodyear in 1992 coming to the yard of bricks. Time to start penalizing it as a block.

Alex Gintz: This one splits me down the middle. On one hand, any driver leading the Indy 500 in its waning laps should – and likely will – defend their lead within an inch of their life. However, the defense we saw from Ericsson and Newgarden at the end of this year’s running was on another level. I can recall being skeptic of Simon Pagenaud‘s defense against Alexander Rossi at the 2019 500, but watching the two leaders go beyond track limits, below the pit road attenuator even, left a sour taste in my mouth.

On principle, I err on the side of letting them race. These drivers are adults, we trust them to play with their own lives the moment they’re strapped into their cars. The right thing to do is to let them police themselves on track. That said, were IndyCar to adopt something like assigning a time penalty for going below track limits to defend a position, there won’t be any loud protests from me.

There were controversial measures taken to end this race under green. Was it appropriate or does it take away from the victory?

Finley: I don’t think it takes away from Newgarden’s victory but it was very poorly officiated. I think going forward there should be a rule that clearly states that a caution coming out after lap 195 means that the race will end under caution. I also wouldn’t mind a rule that states that a caution from laps 180-195 is an automatic red flag. If those rules aren’t put in the rule book, though, it just looks very bad- the officials should not be in the business of calling balls and strikes, only in enforcing the rules in the rule book.

Watson: As a fan sitting in the stands that day, I was more than happy that point was made to finish the race under green flag conditions, and if IndyCar can get a green flag finish by throwing the red flag and getting the field restarted promptly, then why not do it? This race wouldn’t be as legendary as it turned out to be if it weren’t for the late red flags, and I applaud IndyCar for how they handled the situation.

In terms of if it takes away from the win, I think the polar opposite. It makes such a win more spectacular. If I were watching on television, Indy 500s that end under caution tend to slip my mind because I don’t have those core memories of the winner flying past the finish line in a close battle. Newgarden vs. Ericson will forever be remembered. Without the red flags, the fans don’t get that experience.

Blackburn: IndyCar’s actions don’t take away from the victory. Newgarden will be on the Borg-Warner trophy and there isn’t any changing that, unless a yellow shirt drops the trophy by accident and the faces chip off. I bet Borg Warner folks have had nightmares about that. 

Anyway, the history of the Indy 500 has some level of controversial finishes, and someone is going to come out of it with a bad taste in their mouth. It was clear many if not the majority of the crowd wanted a finish under green, so IndyCar made a decision in-line with entertaining the 330,000 people in attendance and millions worldwide. But now the series has put themselves in a unique spot – the precedent is set. At future Indy 500’s or even this coming weekend at Detroit does race control do the same thing? Is the series willing to put the driver’s safety at stake to throw a red flag to always ensure one last green flag lap in a race? 

That doesn’t seem the way to go in IndyCar racing. I’m always a fan of fate deciding these races, so let the yellows and the safety crews dictate how long it takes to clean up an accident scene. I prefer that choice over putting drivers further at risk for a one lap hail Mary.

Gintz: It’s the Indy 500, not the Indy 502.5 or the Indy 505, that’s a given. This finish felt a bit too NASCAR-ish for my taste, but that’s more for the repeated crashes than anything else. I’m fine with red flags to end under green, and honestly fine with a one-lap sprint if need be. My hunch is these things need to be codified before they happen whenever possible. We shouldn’t be flying by the seat of our pants, lest we end up in an Abu Dhabi moment.

End under green when we can, but have a rule book full of scenarios to reference. It’s a bad look to appear as though the end of the biggest race in the world is being arranged on a whim. I can sympathize with both Newgarden and Ericsson in this instance.

See also
Marcus Ericsson Is a Star in IndyCar

The Ferrucci penalty. Is that cool or is it a joke?

Finley: That was a joke. It just screamed race control trying not to take an AJ Foyt driver out of contention for the win. The rules for an uncontrolled tire should be standardized and put in the rule book; it currently is not. And it should not be a “warning” and a fine of a still undisclosed amount.

Watson: I understand that the tire was uncontrolled by definition, but with a call that close and an Indy 500 on the line for the young Ferrucci, I believe that IndyCar made the right call. I think giving him the hammer for that would’ve been too egregious since the tire was on an empty pit road at the time and the crew member was able to get the tire while staying in the box (kind of like catching a football on the edge of the out-of-bounds line to come to think of it).

Letting the penalty slide was very kind of IndyCar, but it sets a precedent that they need to follow in future events.

Blackburn: IndyCar’s rule book gives race control the option to give a monetary fine for any penalty and the freedom to assess it in relation to the “gravity of the violation and its impact on the fairness of competition.” The series choose that option in this case probably after taking into consideration the result of the loose tire. Since the Firestone tire was saved quickly and therefore was prevented from hitting any cars and endangering crew members, the series must have deemed that fit for a fine and warning. If that’s the case, then they applied it as the rule book allows. No issue here.

Gintz: I’m with Tom and Wyatt here. The Indy 500 is on the line and a tire rolling to the border of the pit box seems unworthy of deciding this race. I would say an out of control tire is only worth a penalty if a crew member has to step outside of the box to retrieve it, or doesn’t retrieve it at all.

Regardless, the penalty criteria for such infringements needs to be so strictly defined that its implications transcend any language barrier.

See also
F1 Midweek: It's Time to Be Done With Monaco

Should the leader be penalized at all for mishandling the start?

Finley: Yes, but I also think IndyCar gives the leader way too much room from the flag to decide when to go. Cutting that down to past pit entry would make it much harder for the leader to make a palpably unfair restart.

Watson: I believe so if it is a big error or if it’s late in the race (let’s say after 20 to go). The leader making an error and not getting to speed in time at the end of the race is costly to the rest of the competitors and presents an unfair advantage in my eyes. Either a placement penalty or relegation to the tail of the field should suffice, similar to how NASCAR penalized Tony Stewart at Homestead-Miami Speedway for jumping the then-single-file restarts.

Blackburn: This one I am willing to jump on a soap box to wag my finger at a crowd of people and preach.

Absolutely the leader should be penalized for mishandling a start. While the lead driver gets the right to control the start, it has to be within a defined parameter that the rest of the competitors can expect. There’s too much possibility of mayhem behind. I was shocked that Marcus Ericsson didn’t botch the last restart to ensure the race didn’t go back green. That would have sealed the deal, regardless of what his competitors think. So IndyCar needs to be on top of this now.

One warning for a driver, and then to the rear of the line. One penalty like
that and there won’t be any further problems.

Gintz: I’ll differ from the group here and say no. I like the trickery, the need for drivers behind to be prepared for anything. I recall Formula 1’s 2020 race at Mugello very well, so I do sympathize with the others a fair bit, but at the end of the day, I’d lean toward letting the drivers manage themselves on this one.

In order to avoid a situation like Ericsson botching the final restart to win the race under yellow, let them run and call the driver into the pits or apply them a position penalty by the end of the lap. But with this one, like the weaving rule, I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see IndyCar step in for integrity’s sake.

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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