Former winners struggle in 98th Indianapolis 500

The No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet of Scott Dixon gets towed after crashing during the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25, 2014.

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – Before Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500, there was good reason why several former winners of the race thought they had a good shot at becoming a multiple Indy 500 winner.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy champion, thought he found the right setup on his Dallara/Chevrolet on Friday’s final practice session on Carb Day. Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, was second quickest that day and had confidence he could score a second victory. Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, was actually the second-fastest qualifier but started 10th because he did not make the final group of nine drivers that would fight it out for the pole.

Jacques Villeneuve was back at Indy for the first time since he won the 1995 500-Mile Race, and Simon Pagenaud had already won a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May when he won the May 10 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The best Pagenaud could do was 12th place.

“We struggled today,” Pagenaud admitted. “We had a lot of inconsistency in terms of balance between different sets of tires. One of the tires blistered in the second half of the race, and we lost a lap when we pitted early to change it.

“I’m quite pleased with 12th in the end when you consider how difficult our day was. We were able to gain several spots on the last restart, but on normal running we weren’t where we needed to be today.

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“This sport is interesting. In our last Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, we were the class of the field and won. Today that wasn’t the case, but congratulations to Honda on winning the Indianapolis 500. I’m so proud to be part of the development of their engines, and a Honda win for any driver here is special. They work so hard, and it’s nice to see them rewarded.”

Montoya was back at Indy for the first time since he led 167 laps to win the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Montoya was able to stretch his fuel mileage longer than any other driver on the track before he was assessed a penalty on pit road that dropped him way back in the pack.

Montoya was able to race his way back to a fifth-place finish for Team Penske.

“Unfortunately I made a mistake on one of the pit stops when I was resetting the fuel,” Montoya explained. “I pressed the wrong button. We got a penalty for that but we came back. I was proud of the way we fought. I don’t think we had anything for the (Ryan) Hunter-Reay or Helio (Castroneves).

“But I was happy with the Verizon Chevy and it was good to be back in Indy. It was cool to watch them swap the lead back and forth of the final laps. I had a good seat for it. I just wish we were in the middle of it, but we just had too much understeer at the end. We didn’t have anything for the guys up front; we just had too much understeer in traffic. But, I’m happy for the Verizon car.”

Dixon led the race two times for three laps and appeared to be one of the drivers in contention for a victory before he lost control of his Dallara/Chevrolet in Turn 4 and smacked the wall on Lap 168.

“All of a sudden, it just started to slide mid-pack (mid-apex),” Dixon said. “I tried to catch it and there was no catching it. I feel really bad for the guys. We had a pretty strong car all day. I think Ed Carpenter really looked like the one to be beat. He crashed too, so it could be anybody. I’m just bummed for Team Target, Chip, and everybody on the team.

“I just slapped my hand a little bit. Nothing too much."

Kanaan led just one time for one lap in last Sunday’s race. He was running at the finish but an engine issue left him 23 laps off the lead lap.

“It’s tough really,” Kanaan said. “Our day was pretty much over before it started with the issues we had on pit lane. When you go that many laps down you simply cannot recover. I always say this place chooses the winner and unfortunately today she didn’t choose us.”

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Villeneuve was never a factor during the Month of May. He started 27th but managed to make it all the way up to 14th at the checkered flag.

“Today went according to plan,” Villeneuve said. “I started toward the back, so I took a very easy start and didn’t go for broke on the first lap. Early on I wasn’t very happy with the car, so I hung back and focused on not losing a lap. During the pit stops we steadily improved the car, and luckily we got our lap back somehow. At the end of the race I felt that my car was really starting to catch its stride, and I drove more aggressively. I was amazed at how many laps we did without a yellow flag.

“Normally this race feels like a marathon, but today I felt like it was flying by. It was almost like nothing was going on. Everyone was just minding their own business turning laps. I definitely want to come back, because 14th isn’t good enough. After being away for 19 years I was happy to be running quickly at the end, though. We ended on the lead lap and stayed away from the wall, so I think that’s an acceptable result for being away for so long.”