Carpenter had a few challenges on the way to finishing fifth, with an early stall on pit lane and shifting issues, but he persevered and recovered to finish 1.2424s behind the winner. His team, led by Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly, ran up front for 72 laps on Sunday, but both faded with VeeKay taking eighth and Daly 13th.
“We were pretty fortunate to get up into the top five,” Carpenter said of the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. “I stalled it. Fought hard, kept my head in the game. The guys were great in the pits. At least we were able to fight our way back in it. A lot of things to be happy about. Not a bad day.”
After Carpenter, the top 10 was rounded out with Santino Ferrucci maintaining his incredible Indy 500 finishing record, taking sixth with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing — adding to his seventh and fourth places — in the No. 45 Honda. The driver with the longest haul was Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam, who raced from 31st to seventh in the No. 24 Chevy.
VeeKay was eighth in the No. 21 Chevy, AMSP’s Juan Pablo Montoya was ninth in the No. 86 Chevy, and Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan, who started fifth and fell towards the back after the first pit stop sequence, charged back to 10th in the No. 48 Honda.
Outside of Pagenaud, best of the rest among Penske drivers was Josef Newgarden, who tried an alternate pit strategy that helped him to improve from 21st to 12th.
As high as the highlights were for the finishers up front, the bottom half of the field was littered with dashed hopes and big disappointments.
Chip Ganassi Racing went from the strongest overall team heading into the first round of pit stops to the biggest losers as the team’s plan to run long was dashed when Stefan Wilson crashed entering pit lane. With no response from his brakes, the Andretti Autosport driver pumped his brake pedal and when they caught, his car slewed sideways and hit the right-side wall. The timing of the ensuing caution was everything race leader Scott Dixon and fellow CGR top-10 runners Kanaan and Marcus Ericsson didn’t need.
First yellow, first out: Trouble on pit lane for Stefan Wilson… pic.twitter.com/ravYw7MABS
— RACER (@RACERmag) May 30, 2021
Forced to make emergency pit stops, Dixon suffered most as he coasted into the pit stall with his motor silenced by an empty tank. He’d sit and lose an immense amount of time as the car refused to fire, and by the time it did, and he returned when the pits were open to receive full service, a lap was lost. His other teammates, barring Palou, would go through the same emergency procedure and tumble to the rear.
Palou, by chance, was able to circulate under the caution and make a normal stop that kept him in contention all day, but for the former points leader, leaving Indy with the pole and a finish of 17th as Palou claimed the championship lead was well shy of expectations. Ericsson, like Kanaan in 10th, never gave up and got back to 11th by the finish.
“It was just unlucky with that yellow,” Dixon said. “Unfortunate day for us. It hurt a few of us from the team. Tried to go longer on that first stop and it hurt us.”
Ahead of Dixon, Colton Herta spent most of the afternoon in the mix up front, but fell back over the last two pit stops to an unrepresentative 16th. Remarkably, it was the best result among the six-car squad. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was another strong presence for Andretti, but the no-brakes-then-full-brakes snake bit him as he blew past the point where he needed to be at the pit lane speed limit; a penalty for speeding dropped the 2014 Indy winner from a top five to 22nd. And the misery for Andretti Autosport wasn’t over.
Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi went through the same out-of-fuel anguish as Dixon, and the two spent a lot of the race running in tandem at the rear of the field. Dixon’s choice to go into hyper fuel-saving mode to eliminate a pit stop is what helped the No. 9 Honda to take 17th; without a similar tactic for Rossi’s No. 27 Honda, he was left two laps down in 29th.
Penske’s Will Power made great inroads from starting in 32nd, but like Wilson, going from no brakes to locked brakes in an instant on pit lane caused his car to spin, and while he didn’t hit anything, his day was ruined on the way to placing 30th.
Paretta Autosport’s Simona de Silvestro didn’t have a ton of speed to offer, but she kept digging until the same absence and rapid appearance of braking spun her car into the inside pit wall, damaging the rear suspension and relegating her to 31st.
Graham Rahal went from leading to crashing after his crew sent the No. 15 RLL Honda from the pit stall without the left-rear wheel held in place with a nut. He was uninjured and credited with 32nd. And behind them, Wilson had the unfortunate distinction of being first out in 33rd.
There wasn’t a lot of action of interest until the important laps arrived, as drivers focused on saving fuel for most of their stints. In-car footage confirmed that passing attempts were indeed possible for most of the race, but big lifts to improve fuel mileage on a day that only had two cautions is what kept a flurry of passing from taking place.
Nonetheless, it’s the finish that we’ll remember, and what an amazing finish is was with the second-oldest driver in the field of 33 schooling two of the youngest race winners in the series with Palou and O’Ward in that final blast to the checkered flag. And then there was Pagenaud, quiet all month until it mattered with a late pass to demote O’Ward.
And Carpenter, representing for his team, and Castroneves’ old crew chief Matt Swan from 1999 coming back to lead him to victory at the 500. And Shank, who loves nothing more than drinking Busch Lites with fans, knocking back a can on national television during the post-race interviews.
The magic, of Indy, with all the pageantry and surprises, in front of 135,000 fans at Roger Penske’s facility, closing with the happiest driver in the world receiving the one thing he waited 12 years to achieve by earning his fourth spot on the BorgWarner trophy.
It was a Penske-perfect day, with a upset win by a former Penske driver. How incredible.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 30, 2021