Jun 7, 2004
Indy 500: Sound and FuryBy JR Nerad
It's over, more with a whimper than a bang, and Buddy Rice has emerged as the winner of the 2004 Indianapolis 500. No one can ever take that honor away from him, despite the fact that he was one of few Indy 500 winners not to drive 500 miles on race day. The fact that he took the checker under a yellow flag and 20 laps shy is a bit of a shame because there is the good chance that Rice, who has endured some hard racing luck in the last couple of years, could have won the race without the assist from the Rainman.
With more than a dozen drivers on the lead lap when the final caution flag came out, it is more tempting to think of what could have been, rather than what was. Due to the propensity of the rookie drivers to bang into the wall, the field was bunched for what could have been a NASCAR-style donnybrook at the end. It was certainly more exciting than watching an obviously "moved" David Letterman (an Indianapolis native) try to express his sincere feelings about the life-long dream victory by a team he co-owns with Bobby Rahal. (Note to Dave: A sincere Letterman is an oxymoron.)
Aside from Rice's rags-to-riches story of winning the race, the other major -- if under-reported -- aspect of this year's Big Race was the dreadful performance of the rookies and back-of-the-packers. Yes, the Indy Racing League did scare up 33 starters for the race, something we in this corner were skeptical about going into May. Scare up might just be the operative term because some of the back-markers' performances were pretty horrendous. Not necessarily their fault, since they were driving equipment that had no chance of winning, but it was tough to watch nonetheless. And the IRL might want to re-think encouraging field-fillers in next year's Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing.
Perhaps the worst instance occurred when Greg Ray, who started 27th, and rookie Darren Manning, who started 15th, gathered up Sam Hornish Jr. on their way to bashing into the pit wall. In all, six of the eight rookies in the race crashed out before it was over, including Ed Carpenter (who started 16th), Mark Taylor (who started 14th), Larry Foyt (who started 22nd), P.J. Jones (who started 31st), and Marty Roth (who started 32nd.) Only Kosuke Matsuura, who turned in a decent performance to finish 11th, and Robby Mcgehee, who used others' crashes to move up to 22nd, were still running at the end. In all it was an entertaining three hours to watch which ABC managed somehow to stretch into over eight hours of live coverage. With luck, things will be better next year, because, say what you will about Daytona, Indy is still it.
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