Thoughts on this, that and the other:
The last time the Indianapolis Motor Speedway rocked like it did this past weekend was when Danica Patrick took the lead late in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, only to eventually lose to the late Dan Wheldon.
It was one of those rare occasions when the roar of the crowd could be heard above the roar of the engines.
But this time, the passion was directed toward a Brazilian, Tony Kanaan.
The scene and the noise repeated themselves every time TK took the lead, but especially on that restart pass less than three laps from the end. When Dario Franchitti slammed into the wall moments later—and let’s dismiss the ridiculous notion that Franchitti intentionally crashed to help his friend (but not his teammate)—and Kanaan’s quest for victory was finally assured, the masses at IMS rose, shouted and fist-pumped as one. It was almost as if Peyton Manning had found Marvin Harrison for another touchdown or Reggie Miller had just buried another three-pointer.
Thus, a simply sensational Sunday at the Speedway had come to a close. We were left with the fastest race in history, a record 68 lead changes exchanged among a record 14 drivers, and a victory by a driver as popular as any—including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bill Vukovich and Wilbur Shaw—who ever have competed in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“I finally get to put my ugly face on that trophy,” said Kanaan, whose self-deprecating style is one of the reasons he is so beloved.
In my view, it was the best of the 40 races I’ve personally witnessed over a 50-year span. But then, soon after the checkered flag waved, some stepped forward and voiced their disappointment.
For the fourth straight year, the race finished under caution, leaving critics to call for that NASCAR contrivance known as the green-white-checker, which essentially allows a race to go beyond its scheduled distance in order to ensure a full-throttle finish.
Memo to Mark Miles and all those now in charge at IMS: Just say no.
For starters, it is the Indianapolis 500, not the 502.5, or 505, or 507.5.
Second, how are race teams—who calculate fuel to the last drop—supposed to deal with a race that goes three or four laps longer than scheduled? For example, had Kanaan run out of fuel on the second or third extra lap waiting for the race to go green, the paying customers would have gone berserk.
Third, IndyCar, for all the right reasons, is not NASCAR, and the Indianapolis 500 does not need to be reduced to a three-lap trophy dash.
The last three Indianapolis 500s have been nothing short of spectacular, and no one has headed for the exits wanting their money back. Open-wheel racing has its share of issues, but its showcase event, and how it finishes, is not one of them.
Now then …
• I have come to the conclusion that the problem with the human element in the realm of sports is humans.
In order to achieve the perfect outcome in games played and officiated by humans, we are using technology to remove humans from the equation.
Therefore, what still is called “instant” replay is anything but instant. We have football referees disappearing “under the hood” for interminable amounts of time. The replay monitor is now standard at all NBA arenas and at most NCAA Division I basketball venues.
In golf, you can call in a rules violation from the comfort of your Barco lounger.
God bless—so far, anyway—the keepers of baseball for refusing to give in to the demands for instant replay in that sport, although it appears just a matter of time before America’s pastime relents.
Baseball fans who are clamoring for replay should be careful what they wish for. The game is long enough already.
• The last time I saw a falling-out-of-bounds baseline jumper like the one the Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson made in Game 4 against the Heat, Rick Mount was the shooter.
• Watching Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee work the crowd, and the crowd’s response to him, during the 500 Festival Parade, the thought occurred that few athletes have ever recovered from an enormously embarrassing incident—his infamous Broad Ripple canal swim—in such an overwhelmingly positive way. Plus, the guy seems to be everywhere in the community, and his bits on “The Bob & Tom Show” are must-listen radio.
• By the way, is it too late for the Big Ten to withdraw its invitation to Rutgers University? What a mess.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.