2018 Indianapolis 500: Did We All Watch the Same Race?
How do you write about a 500 mile race with so many storylines (I can confidently say there were at least thirty-three storylines plus a few bonus like…the weather and the new aero kit)? I can’t write about each and every driver because I’m not going to write that much and you, dear reader, won’t read it. There were a few over arching themes going into this race and a few things to take away from the race. We had a track that took it upon herself (himself?) to take out nearly all of the fan favorites. We had people complain there wasn’t enough passing, yet everyone in the last row made gains (one making it all the way to third at one point). Finally, we had great one-off stories like a lot of the great one-off drivers.
One of the biggest things repeated this year, is that the Track chooses the winner. It also can wreck the days of many fan favorites. In 2018 that was seen most noticeably when Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Danica Patrick all ended their days sooner then they would have liked. Danica crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 68 and had actually been on the radio most of the race indicating her car felt very loose. She lost it in Turn 2, which if you’re familiar with the layout of the track that corner gets more shade and wind. It’s the same corner that took out Tony Kanaan later in the race*. Helio spun a bit wild into the pit area, ending his attempt at a fourth, but he will be back. He may have been one of the most popular drivers out there. We sit on the front stretch, and as you watched Helio start down pit lane, you could hear the roar of the crowd grow closer as he came closer to us till we were up on our feet cheering him. He’ll get his fourth, and that place will go wild.
The Last Row party participants were the ones to watch this race. After bump day and qualifications, given how the car hadn’t been able to find speed, I wasn’t completely unsurprised to see Conor Daly in the last row (I did not want him there). I was more surprised for Jack Harvey to be there, as the SPM/MSR car and team had been fairly sound going into the race. I was absolutely panicked when Alexander Rossi was there. I panicked so much so I told people not to pick him for Fantasy IndyCar league (though I did let them know I picked him because I’m still #TeamRossi). At the end of the race Conor had jumped up twelve spots*; Harvey had jumped up fifteen spots, and Rossi had jumped up twenty-eight spots, and actually, it was twenty-nine because he did sit in third place for a bit before finishing fourth. He gained around six spots within twenty-one laps. Some people complained there weren’t a lot of lead changes, but when you see the amount of position changes, you have to figure some passing was going on.
I suppose I enjoy racing because there’s a primordial feeling of watching cars stream past you on a racetrack. I grew up in Speedway, I always say people who live in Speedway either (a) love racing or (b) hate racing there is no in between. For me, seeing cars go fast, watching drivers set up to make the pass is a beautiful thing. I know that for every pass that’s made on track there have been countless conversations between Driver and Spotter. Fuel consumption has been labored over. Even more, there has been countless years of engineering into those cars to make them run smoother, and with this new aero kit, the promise was they would be able to run closer. A strategist came over the team radio (I believe it was Robert Wickens’ team but I’m not one-hundred percent sure) and said that everyone was having issues with passes and to “be smart and time your runs”. Some people felt they didn’t get what they were promised with this race – I disagree.
This race was exhilarating. As I talked about above, everyone who started in the last row didn’t end on the “last row” of the finishers. Aside from those three, other drivers made heavy gains in track position. Carlos Munoz gained fourteen spots, J.R. Hildebrand gained sixteen spots, and Graham Rahal gained twenty. Furthermore, it wasn't just following the leader up front. There were quite a few laps where Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter kept passing each other for the lead. Passes don’t just happen, you have to set up for the pass, and your front two leaders aren’t going to throw caution to the win and get super aggressive in the middle of the race. First and foremost this is a very long race and halfway isn’t when you decide to go nuts. Secondly, the new aero kit had less downforce, and the cars were lifting slightly on passes. Finally, Ed* and TK are veteran drivers, they have passion sure, but they’re not going to get stupid.
I’ll end my longish rant on how this was an exciting race (j/k my random take away thoughts are also why the race was exciting) with this: at one point you had cars four or five wide on a restart, and Dixon just scotched on through nearly kissing the wall. To quote Robert Wickens “are you fucking kidding me”. Dixon was doing Dixon like passes. Rossi just decided to play the IndyCar version of Frogger on the meanest track in the whole series…what more excitement could you need?
How about a car catching on fire? I liked Zach Veach’s yellow paint scheme. It was bright and pleasant to look at, but the car must have decided it needed some flame action so…it caught fire at least twice. Also, shout out to Stefan Wilson’s pit crew who threw a Rubbermaid container of water at the fire. Someone from Rubbermaid needs to snag that Instagram photo because that’s marketing gold.
Race control still isn’t enforcing their commands. The heck are you doing Arie Luyendyk? They came over the radio multiple times indicating cars had been Black flagged and yet – they were still going.
I know everyone kept talking about how this track chooses the winner, and this track decides who can enter the race. I will add this caveat, this track also protects its favorites. Sure, James Hinchcliffe did not end up with a seat this race. But after James Davison ran his mouth about Hinch…who was the first out? I think we saw the track yell out “talk shit, get hit”.
Finally, congratulations to Will Power for securing his Indianapolis 500 win. This was the race that was the proverbial monkey on his back. He now is the first person to sweep Indy and the first Australian to win the Indianapolis 500. I have always admired Will as a driver and am very excited for him to win the 500.
* (a) if you’re going to give Danica shit for crashing out – best be saying the same thing about TK and (b) how can TK be reviving the AJ Foyt team if he crashed out? Why did people keep saying that?
* For the love of god, can someone give Conor a full time ride next year? He was in a one-off who didn’t get on track until
* This is a post-race, post-victory banquet statement. Can a younger driver take Ed Carpenter shopping for new suits? He rolls up looking like he’s late to his job at H&R Block. Nothing crazy, but maybe a tailor.