FUEL MISTAKE HURTS, BUT READY FOR MILWAUKEE
Honestly, this was a tough Indianapolis 500 to take, but it only proves how difficult this race is to win. This was my ninth 500, and for a time I thought it might be my second win, but we made a mistake with fuel and it cost us dearly.
But there are positives we can take from it. Both Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars were fast. My teammate, Dario Franchitti, and I combined to lead more than half of the race, and both cars were good enough to win. That bodes well for upcoming races and contending for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
I have to say that this 500 had a different feel to it. There were more fans, more enthusiasm and a change in the overall vibe. The lead-up – Carb Day and the parade – had an energy that we haven’t felt before. It seemed like there was much more buildup to the race. In hindsight, that was cool to experience.
And I was happy to see my former teammate, Dan Wheldon, win in a storybook finish. If Dario or I couldn’t win, then I was happy to see Dan get his second 500. It was such a great story, from what he’s been through recently to doing it as a one-off with a start-up team and winning in such a dramatic way. Seeing Dan win took the edge off a bit.
Throughout the race, we were straight-up quicker, so we knew it was going to depend on the strategy. We misjudged on our last pit stop and didn’t get the last couple of gallons of fuel in the car. It cost us the race, and that’s frustrating.
It was simply a bad call. We were trying to stay ahead of Dan at the time, so the decision was made to save a couple of seconds by not completing the fueling. We ended up a few gallons short, so I had to back off at the end to save fuel. We ended up finishing fifth. If we’d had a full load of fuel, we could have contended for the victory.
The thing that really bothered me about it was that Dan wasn’t really close at the time. He was about 10 seconds behind us, and even to sit for another 4 or 5 seconds we would have been OK. The crew was still changing the tires and the fuel hose was already disconnected. It’s the worst possible situation you could have.
Dario also had to back off at the end in order to save fuel, but his situation was different because his was a strategy deal. Ours was no different than the other cars around us. When you pit with 21 laps left, you should have more than enough fuel to make it to the end without backing off. You can do 34 laps on a full tank, which is why this was so frustrating.
Still, you have to take the positives from it. The cars were bloody fast, but we ran into strange circumstances during the race. A lot of times we pitted and then the yellow came out. Twice we pitted with the lead and came out eighth because the pace car was so slow to get on track, and that was frustrating, too. But the car was fast in traffic, so I know it will be fast in the oval races we have coming up.
A lot of times other ovals and Indy don’t really compare, but in our case we know we have flat speed. That always works well at places like Texas, where we’ll race June 11, and even at short tracks like The Milwaukee Mile, where we’ll be June 19 for the Milwaukee 225.
The whole team is extremely motivated to right the wrongs we’ve had recently. You can’t dwell on that stuff. The car has been good, and that will eventually lead to positive results. We just didn’t get one Sunday.
The more you race at Indianapolis, the more you come to understand how difficult it is to win here. None of my 500s have been easy. This is the second time I’ve led 73 laps in an Indy 500 and not won. I really thought we had this one, which made me appreciate just how difficult the race is to win.
I spoke to A.J. Foyt about it, and he said there were several times that he thought he was going to win and didn’t. He also said that his four 500 wins were probably the races he felt he was least likely to win. I understood exactly what he was saying.
It’s such a strange and challenging place, and I can’t wait to get back next year.