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BENNER: The good, bad and ugly of this year's Indy 500

June 5, 2010

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing was, once again, a spectacle. Now that it’s in the rearview mirror, an accounting is in order. First, the good:

The best car won. Dario Franchitti and the Target Ganassi team had ’em covered.

Tony Kanaan’s stirring charge from 33rd to second. Surely the racing gods will get him to Victory Lane eventually.

Four women on the starting grid with Simona de Silvestro winning rookie of the year.

Thirteen countries and six continents represented in the field. This is the world’s greatest race.

Davey Hamilton calling Tomas Scheckter an “idiot” after Scheckter forced him into a crash on the second turn of the opening lap. Tell it like it is, Davey.

The sunshine. Hey, if I have to hold an umbrella, let it be for shade.

The strong runs of drivers from smaller teams like Alex Tagliani (Fazzt), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman), and Dan Wheldon and Ed Carpenter (Panther/Vision).

The crowds. I joke every year that it’s like Noah’s Ark of Humanity parks outside 16th and Georgetown and lets off two of everything. I read estimates from a low of 240,000 to a high of 300,000. In any case, it’s beyond description. Oh, and the infield crowd is definitely back.

The reaction from first-time attendees. I was with a bloke from the United Kingdom experiencing his first Indy. As we walked out afterward, I asked what he thought. “Bloody stupendous!” he responded.

The pre-race ceremony. I just never get tired of it. And “Back Home Again” is without question my favorite Hoosier moment of the entire year.

The fact that Indy doesn’t resort to that contrived green-white-checker nonsense that NASCAR employs when there’s a late yellow flag. It is a 500-mile race, not a 502.5- or 505-mile race.

The Victory Banquet. Is there any event in sports where the victors and the vanquished stick around for 24 hours?

Izod’s presence. Those guys aren’t messing around with their marketing might.

The pendulum. I believe it’s swinging in a positive direction.

Now, the bad …

The start and restarts. Is the notion of 11 rows of three reasonably lined up coming out of the fourth turn gone forever? They don’t have to be absolutely symmetrical, but at the same time, the race ought to start at the starting line, shouldn’t it? And as for the restarts, why do they let them stand on the throttle in the north short chute?

Jack Nicholson. OK, it was good they got him here. But I wanted to knock that Lakers hat off his head.

The black flags. Let them race, for crying out loud.

Team Penske. Rarely does The Captain’s crew have such a poor day.

Yes, a greater American presence would be a boost. And the sagging television ratings remind us that IRL chief Randy Bernard has a lot of work to do.

Danica Patrick got booed—again—during pre-race introductions. Even women have turned on this woman. Amazing.

Kim Kardashian and Bruce Jenner. It’s sad that that’s what passes for celebrity.

Tony George, sitting apart from the family at the Victory Banquet.

Empty seats. Let’s face it, the seats closest to the track in the north Tower Terrace are bad because they’re too low and offer little perspective. For the last several races, no one’s been sitting in them. Unfortunately, it makes for bad aesthetics on the telecast.

The suggestion that Indy should move its starting time back to 11 a.m. and dangle a $20 million bounty to attract NASCAR drivers. The only reason Indy should consider 11 a.m. is tradition. And quite frankly, I don’t think most NASCAR drivers, with the exception of Tony Stewart, have the nerve to try open-wheel.

And, finally, the ugly ...

The awful last-lap tangle between Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay reminded us there can be severe consequences whenever open-wheel cars collide. Yet there was some good in the ugly. Conway’s car dissipated the energy of the crash by disintegrating and the driver-protecting tub did its job, leaving Conway with injuries from which he can return to race again. And even though two spectators suffered minor injuries, the catch fence also did as it was designed to do.

Still, never forget, this is one dangerous sport.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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