INDIANAPOLIS - With all of its history, hoopla and tradition, there were certainly some good story lines for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, and this particular 500 could have been so much fun.
If 2007’s "Dancing With The Stars" winner Helio Castroneves could score his third victory at Indy, think of the field day the headline writers would have. How many would read “Helio Dances To Indy 500 Victory,” or “Castroneves Waltzes To Win At Indy.”
Could Danica Patrick, who last month became the first female driver to win an Indy-car race, etch another mark in the history book by winning the big one at Indianapolis?
After leading in each of his first six Indianapolis 500 appearances, would 2008 finally be the year for Brazilian fan favorite, Tony Kanaan?
Or maybe the teams from Champ Car would be able to mount a challenge in the race despite their lack of familiarity with the IRL cars. Perhaps 19-year-old upstart Graham Rahal could even give longtime team owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas their first victory at the Speedway.
However, when the checkered flag fell Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the guy who was fastest all month captured auto racing’s most prestigious prize.
New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, who was second to Dario Franchitti in last year’s rain-swept 500, parlayed his pole position and relied on strong pit work to win the May classic in the Target Chip Ganassi Dallara/Honda. The 27-year-old Dixon led the most laps — 115, including the final 29 to finish 1.7498 seconds ahead or Vitor Meira of Brazil.
“What a day,” Dixon said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I just thought something was going to go wrong. We seemed to have a good car. We just had to hold onto it and stay ahead of those guys on the restarts. There were so many yellows. It was hard to get rhythm.”
And yet Dixon did what Indy 500 pole sitters usually do. Since 1911, 18 Indianapolis pole winners have won the race. Eleven have won from second spot on the grid and 10 from third place, so the front row is historically advantageous. No other position even comes close.
That was expected, but in a race that has a mystique like the Indianapolis 500, the unexpected tends to happen.
For instance, there were eight caution periods for a total of 69 of the race’s 200 laps. Dixon averaged 143.567 mph, way below Arie Luyendyk’s record of 185.981 mph set in 1990.
The numerous caution laps gave the leaders the benefit of getting to pit under the yellow flag and keeping the lead pack together throughout the race. As a result, 15 cars finished on the lead lap (the most since 1962), and as everyone runs the same chassis/engine package, passing opportunities generally came during the restarts.
Castroneves ran with the leaders all day, but never led a lap and wound up fourth, more than six seconds behind the winner. Helio’s dancing victory remains his most recent claim to fame.
Accidents took care of Patrick and Kanaan.
On Lap 171, Ryan Briscoe’s car clipped the car of Patrick, putting them out of the race. Both were running in the top 10 at the time, but all anyone will remember will be the highlight footage of the angry Patrick storming down to Briscoe’s pit presumably to give him a piece of her mind.
Nearly 70 laps earlier, Kanaan had to slow while lapping a backmarker, went wide as Dixon and Marco Andretti swept by heading into Turn 3 and brushed the wall before spinning into the oncoming car of Sarah Fisher. Both were out of the race.
Earlier in the day, Kanaan told a local radio station: “I’ve led every race I’ve run here and I’ve led a lot of laps. I just haven’t led the right laps.”
Now Kanaan will have to wait another year to lead the right lap.
The unification angle with the IndyCar Series and Champ Car ending their 12-year civil war was a non-starter with Oriol Servia finishing 11th to lead the ex-Champ Car contingent and Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, finishing last after his car struck the Turn 4 wall on Lap 36.
However, those story lines resulted in what was clearly the most enthusiasm for this year’s race in a number of years and the near-sellout crowd proves that this race and series are now on an upward climb.
Who will win in 2009? Probably the fastest driver, but then again, you never know.
See images from the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Video: Motor sports coverage
Don't miss the Monaco Grand Prix
Don't miss the exhilarating 78 laps, 160 miles and hairpin turns of the Monaco Grand Prix. Watch live Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET only on NBC Sports Network.
Latest from MotorSportsTalk
The Indianapolis 500: Still alive and making a comeback1 hr 38 min ago
Denny Hamlin continues comeback with Coke 600 pole12 hr 1 min ago
A.J. and Larry Foyt have family team at top of IndyCar14 hr 9 min ago
United States GP wins Sports Event of the Year award16 hr 8 min ago
Sparks fly and cars spin out wildly when NASCAR drivers get into accidents.
Take a look at the history and records of the Indianapolis 500.
Indy 500 traditions
In a race celebrating its 92nd running, there are a number of traditions.