PRUETT: Indy’s back

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

PRUETT: Indy’s back

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Indy’s back

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Fans are back at the Speedway. Speed is back at the Speedway. Explosive cheers are back at the Speedway. It was time to be ourselves again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and damn it felt good. The power of brotherhood and sisterhood, united in the grandstands, in the infield, and out among the campsites, was tangible and powerful. I’ll remember the 106th Indy 500 for the overwhelming waves of energy that poured out of IMS since the month of May got under way.

It started at the Indy GP where all of the wildness reached a fever pitch in the run to the checkered flag. The Indy road course race has often felt like an annoyance to get out of the way before the real month can get started, but for once, the GP delivered a thriller and sparked momentum that continued into the start of practice.

Epic speeds put up by Scott Dixon in qualifying pegged the wow meter. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Huge speeds, with drivers routinely reaching over 240mph into Turns 1 and 3 in monster tows or with the boost turned up, brought thrills we just haven’t seen in a while. If I had one overarching takeaway from this year’s Indy 500, it’s how much numbers matter. The shouts and wide-eyed looks of amazement as Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon put in qualifying laps over 234mph were magical as the fastest field in 105 running of the Indy 500 was set.

At this beloved place where the marriage of speed and innovation have been our Sunday sermons, we can’t allow ourselves to forget that both will always matter to our congregation. I expected pole weekend to be a bore with no bumping on the menu and a processional run to set the field of 33. I couldn’t not have been more wrong. It was non-stop drama as cars failed technical inspection, had engine issues, and rain fell as the pressure mounted.

When it was time to sort the Fast 12 and again with the Fast Six, more drama was on offer, and with those aforementioned runs by Carpenter and Dixon, the Speedway was whipped into a frenzy.

Last year, many were treated for the first time to seeing the crowning of a four-time Indy 500 winner with Helio Castroneves. The same ‘I was there when it happened’ vibe was expressed by those who witnessed the fastest qualifying runs of their lives, with exception to those who were fortunate to see Arie Luyendyk’s all-time blast in 1996.

And then we moved to Carb Day where huge lines to get into IMS were a positive sign, and while rain delayed the start of the action, another chapter in the month-long story of Chip Ganassi Racing being the best at the Speedway was written amid a crash by David Malukas and a scary crash and flight by Colton Herta. More drama was produced and our eternal thanks to the excellence of IndyCar’s AMR Safety Team was given.

David Malukas suffered a heavy crash on Carb Day (Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images)

Finally, we moved onto the reason this form of racing exists. Reports from fans stuck in slow-moving lines of cars nearly two miles away from IMS, hours before the start of the race, was yet another indicator that The Greatest Spectacle In Racing was going to have something close to a packed house.

The only letdown I found was the racing between the restarts; the final charge after the red flag — and kudos to race director Kyle Novak for thinking first about the fans so we didn’t end under a caution — was a thrill, just as the first lap or two after each yellow happened to give us, but I wouldn’t hail the rest as a classic.

To its credit, IndyCar keeps tinkering with adding downforce and asking Firestone to tweak its Speedway tires, and yet, what we get is the same old thing in this aeroscreen era where the first two cars in a pack can trade positions, any maybe even the third can get involved, but for the most part, it’s lots and lots of laps where most drivers are stuck in a long line and can’t pass. After three years of taking small swings at the problem, maybe it’s time to swing for the fences.

And in the end, what we had was the Next Man Up 500 where Ganassi’s Alex Palou looked unbeatable until the timing of a caution ruined his designs on victory. Dropped to the back of the field, Palou was among the few who could carve through the field, and while it was meaningless to him, coming home ninth was a big achievement.

Next, it was Dixon, who broke more records and became the all-time lap leader at Indy and had his second win seemingly assured until a small error entering pit lane ruined his day. Despite leading a race-high 95 laps, Dixon’s drive-through penalty on lap 177 relegated CGR’s leader to 21st, the penultimate driver on the lead lap.

The next Ganassi driver up was Marcus Ericsson who took the lead on lap 190 and proved the team’s unified approach to this year’s Indy 500 was too strong to be broken. It could have been Dixon, Palou, or Tony Kanaan drinking the milk on Sunday; Jimmie Johnson’s day went sideways somewhat early, but Ericsson was there, out-performing expectations as he’s done since 2021, and delivering on racing’s biggest stage.

The Indy 500 made another unanticipated star. More than 300,000 fans went to our happiest place on the planet and were treated to the sights and sounds and fellowshipping that sustains us until our next gathering here at our house of worship.

Indy’s back. We’re back. And a kid from Kumla, Sweden, just got to experience the American Dream. What an amazing place.

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