Battle of the titans: IndyCar’s top names gave us a brawl for the ages

(From near to far side) Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Scott Dixon go three wide across the line during the closing laps of the Indianapolis 500.

Andy Frame/Photo: Andy Frame

INDIANAPOLIS – What made the finish of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 a race for the ages was the epic battle over the final 15 laps between the three best drivers in the sport. It featured a three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner in Scott Dixon, the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, and a driver who won the 1999 CART championship, the 2000 Indy 500, a seven-time winner in Formula One and a winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Juan Pablo Montoya.

Each of these three drivers have already established themselves among the best that have ever competed in IndyCar racing and the final 15-lap finish puts the 99th Indianapolis 500 into the category of one of the greatest races ever held in the long history of this epic event.

It was a fast, fearless, clean battle where the crowd – approaching 300,000 fans – stood and cheered for every moment during the final battle, aided with the addition of high-definition screens that were added to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the offseason.

But most of the crowd saw the race-winning pass for themselves when Montoya’s Chevrolet roared down the long frontstretch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and passed teammate Power on Lap 197 with a crowd reaction that was bone-chilling to hear over the roar of the engines.

“With the new screens, you could see it,” said team owner Roger Penske. “You never knew who was going to lead the next lap, down the front, down the back. To me, I said the same thing. Once I saw our two cars pull away and Scott Dixon was battling the 83 (Charlie Kimball), I thought it gave us a real good chance to win the race. The question was, was it going to be the 1 (Power) or the 2 (Montoya) car? It was great for the fans. I hope that erases some of the negative publicity we got earlier in the month.

“That kind of racing, 220 miles an hour, 222 miles an hour, inches apart lap after lap, it shows you how good they are. Again, anybody could have won this race the way it worked out.

“To me, the fan noise is what it’s all about. When you look down the straightaway, never saw so many people. To think we’re on the platform here is pretty special.”

It was the 16th time a Penske driver has won the Indianapolis 500 – by far a record for any team. And many of those wins have their own bit of history.

Relive the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 in photos

Montoya’s Chevrolet defeated Power’s by .01046-seconds – the fourth-closest finish in Indy 500 history. In the closing laps, Charlie Kimball passed his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate to finish third ahead of Dixon, who had played such a key role in this late-race battle and led 11 times for 84 laps. Dixon was in the lead with as little as four laps to go.

“We were there all day,” Dixon said. “We were knocking on the door. We led a lot of laps. We just didn’t lead the right one.”

Power was attempting to become the first driver win both the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 in the same month.

“It’s kind of funny – pole, win (in the Grand Prix), second, second (Indy 500 qualifying and race). Not what I was looking for,” Power said. “There was some great battling out there. I have to give it to the drivers in the race. Fair, clean, but close and hard. That’s all you can ask for.

“It was an intense battle. I kind of forget where I was in the end; I was so immersed in the race itself. Just a great day for the team to finish 1-2.

“If Dixon had stayed in the lead, because he was on lower downforce, I could stay out front. I saw Juan get him. I thought I might be safe. I actually felt I could get hit back. I just had an imbalance in leading. Out front, it was loose. When you get behind, I readjusted for that. There was no problem, I was running less downforce. I could draw up really quickly. It just came down to an imbalance. I just didn’t spend enough time in second place understanding what I need from the car. He comes back there, which is a smart move, because it won him the race.

Juan Pablo Montoya recaps eventful race at Indianapolis

“It’s a difficult position, right? If it goes yellow, you win the race. You want to lead. I really fought hard to make sure I was leading all the time. Then again, if it’s going to go green, you get a bit of experience behind the way these cars draft.

“If the car wasn’t in balance, I would have had no shot at him. Still, Team Penske, 1-2, pretty good.”

To see three big-name drivers slugging it out to win the biggest race in the world was what made this race so very special. It was a “Battle of the Titans” for IndyCar. But it was that way throughout the race, according to the winning team owner.

“I was watching the leaderboard from the beginning and you could see the top seven or eight cars, our cars along with Chip Ganassi’s, I knew he was going to be tough,” Penske said. “He’s so good here. You could see that Tony Kanaan jumped in right away. He wasn’t going to worry about the 9 car. Scott Dixon, he’s such a master around here.

“I knew as this thing went on, things would change, the track would change because of the heat and the rubber. I think Rick Mears said to Juan, ‘You got to keep changing your car.’ They kept dialing it in. In fact, we went the wrong way probably with Helio Castroneves at one point.

“But to me, we’re here for racing. It’s such a great place to run. Just to race everybody. For me it’s a place I’ve been since 1951 with my dad, and then just to see what takes place here every year. You forget it till you walk out there on race day, look up and down the straightaway and think, ‘Geez, what am I doing here?’”

Montoya takes home Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

Tim Cindric is the president of Team Penske and calls race strategy for Power.

“From my perspective, seeing those guys battle, it’s a shame for Will,” Cindric said. “As one of you guys said, I felt like the best cars were battling it out at the end. I think the only guy missing from that pack was Pagenaud. He drove a great race up until that time.

“The one thought that did occur to me as those guys were battling it out, I thought to myself, Whoever wins this race, gets their face on the 100th running of this race. To have his mug smiling, to have Roger’s group and team on that ticket after all he’s done here.”

Next year will be the 100th Indianapolis 500 as the “World’s Greatest Race” celebrates its long history. The finish of the 99th Indianapolis 500 added a special place to that history because of fierce battle between the very best drivers in the sport.

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