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5 reasons this Indy 500 deserves classic status

– A day later, and here come the history wonks, the archivists, the OCD warriors trying to find the exact pigeonhole for the 98th Indianapolis 500.

Me?

I say Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves stalking each other to the end across a glorious May afternoon sits somewhere north of Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear in ’92, and somewhere south of Sam Hornish and Marco Andretti in ’06.

It wasn’t the best finish I’ve seen in 29 500s, but the difference isn’t worth talking about. Love it for what it was, a hell of a scrap. And for the five best things about it:

1. The start.

They ran 149 clean laps before Charlie Kimball spun and tagged the wall off turn two, and no one saw that coming. The thing whooshed by so fast, NBC could have aired an entire quarter of Notre Dame football in the time it took to run 300 miles.

Well, OK. Maybe half a quarter. Plus 50 commercials.

In any case, it was jaw-dropping. And let’s face it: Something of a relief.

2. The finish.

Two men. Two yellow cars. Everything out there for both – for Castroneves, a fourth victory to vault him into Indy’s stratosphere, and for Hunter-Reay, retribution for a missed chance a year ago that still haunted him.

“Second doesn’t really count, you know,” Hunter-Reay said.

Do tell.

3. The pass.

It wasn’t the pass – that came on the front straightaway as the white flag flew – but it’s the one everyone will remember: On lap 197, Hunter-Reay dived so low in turn three he cropped the grass as he dirt-tracked underneath Castroneves at 220 mph to retake the lead.

“The move that won the race,” car owner Michael Andretti said.

“I was going to be in the gray, do anything I could to win this race,” Hunter-Reay said.

Do tell, again.

4. The gracious loser.

When it was done, and he had missed No. 4 by fractions, Castroneves did this extraordinary thing: He put the greater good above his own.

Which is to say, he acknowledged, as a Brazilian, why it was important to IndyCar for an American to win the 500 for the first time in eight years.

“It’s great to see American drivers succeed,” he said. “I mean it.”

They call that class, boys and girls.

5. Here’s karma in your eye.

It’s a home truth, allegedly: Indy hates any and all Andrettis.

It’s why Mario’s Slowing Down is the third most familiar catchphrase in Indy history, allegedly. It’s why, allegedly, the place tortured his kid, too, letting Michael Andretti lead 431 laps without ever letting him win the 500.

Then came Sunday, and there was Michael in Victory Lane with one of his drivers, looking up at a scoring pylon that showed four of his cars in the top six.

Yo, Indy. Allegedly this.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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