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Race Report: Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS May 30, 2021—The fans came back to the Indianapolis 500 and they left after watching history be made today! Helio Castroneves realized a dream by becoming a four-time Indy 500 winner and joined the elite trio of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

The elusive fourth which Castroneves had been chasing since winning for a third time in 2009, came while he was driving for Meyer Shank Racing. It was the first Indianapolis 500 that Castroneves drove a car not owned by Roger Penske.

In the final stint of the race, Castroneves traded the lead back and forth several times with a young Alex Palou and the cagey veteran waited until the penultimate lap to make his winning move. He had to fend off Palou and gauge the traffic ahead of him without getting boxed in. He managed to do just that and tied the record of four triumphs while also giving Meyer Shank Racing its first ever INDYCAR win at motorsports’ biggest stage – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The crowd roared its approval of the popular Brazilian’s victory.

Upon seeing the 46-year-old Brazilian take the checkered, A.J. Foyt, the first four-time Indy 500 winner remarked, “He deserved it, he worked hard to get it and he finally got it. It wasn’t given to him and when someone works as hard as he did, I’m glad it happened for him. As I said, he deserved it.”

Palou finished second in just his second attempt here, followed by Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward and Ed Carpenter.

JR Hildebrand finished 15th after starting 22nd in the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet. He was among seven cars that got caught out by an early yellow caused by Stefan Wilson’s accident on pit road which closed the pits in the middle of the pit stop cycle. Hildebrand had to pit for fuel (or run out of it on track) in a closed pit and then pit again for a full service stop. The penalty for the splash of fuel in a closed pit is to be put to the back of the field.

Hildebrand summed up his race, saying, “Honestly the car felt great for a lot of the race. We got caught out on an early yellow. We were making really good fuel economy so we didn’t pit before the yellow, and then we had to pit [for fuel] under a closed pit so that sent us to the back and that was really unfortunate. Even with a bunch of other cars that had to do that-- we ended up cycling to the back of those cars, so we were basically all the way to the back at the beginning of the race.

“At that point we just couldn’t catch a break,” he continued. “We were actually okay at passing cars on track but just kept getting knocked back on a couple of the pit cycles. From the halfway point forward, all we did was make ground back up. We were able to claw back up to 15th. It was one of those deals, if there were another 10 laps, I think we would have been in the top 10, once we were on the same strategy as everybody else. The car was really good. Bummed for everybody at AJ Foyt Racing and ABC Supply, all the guys on the 1 crew did an awesome job. Unfortunately, when you have one of those deals, and the car feels good and the guys are doing a great job in the pits, it just doesn’t pan out but that’s Indy and we’ll come back for more.”

Dalton Kellett started 30th and finished 23rd in the insulators USA Chevrolet in his second start at Indy.

Kellett in action.

“I finished my first Indy 500 because last year I didn’t make it all the way to the finish so that’s definitely goal number one accomplished,” Kellett said afterwards. “The No. 4 crew was great in the pits all day. Scott [Harner, strategist] and Mike [Pawlowski, race engineer] did a good job on the stand calling strategy.

"I didn’t quite have it in traffic to stay close and get good runs on guys," Kellett continued. "The car felt good by itself and in a small pack, but really struggling at the tail end [of the pack] with the big aero wash. Overall, it was definitely a good learning experience but we’ll put all this in the bank and come back stronger next time.”

Kellett ran his longest race to date in his 14th start in the NTT INDYCAR Series with this event. None the worse for wear, he found time to plug his new sponsor KITS Eyewear.

“It’s been an exciting week. We’re happy to have KITS come on board and if you haven’t yet, remember, FREEKITSINDY and get a free pair of sunglasses. They have all kinds and all you have to do is pay shipping.”

Sebastien Bourdais dropped back at the start in his No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet but then seemed to catch a break when he pitted and successfully wended his way through Wilson’s accident on pit road on lap 34. The same accident that cost Hildebrand and several others track position, netted out for Bourdais with a gain of six spots to restart in 18th.

As different fuel strategies began to play out, the team rolled the dice after the halfway mark of the 200-lapper betting that Bourdais would be able to save enough fuel while in the draft. However, he was in a pack of cars where no one wanted to lead because everyone was trying to save fuel. It soon became clear that unless there was a yellow late in the race, he would have to pit for fuel. And he did on lap 197, dropping from 17th to 26th.

“Not our day today for the ROKiT Chevrolet No. 14,” said the four-time INDYCAR champion. “Obviously, we gave it our best shot starting 27th, but never really made the huge leaps forward. We seemed to be gaining some positions but then with 80 laps to go, we decided to try the fuel strategy and make it on one more stop from there. Unfortunately, we just came up short and had to make a splash and gave up a bunch of positions, but at least the guys tried something. We’ll move onto Detroit and try to make it up there.”

One person who seemed thrilled by the whole event was motorsports star Tony Stewart who came as a guest of A.J.’s and a co-entrant on Hildebrand’s No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet.

“I had a blast,” Stewart commented. “It was such an honor to get the invite from A.J. to come do this. I hated that I missed practice and qualifying, but to be here on race day and sit on the box with him and us talk about what we were seeing strategy-wise in the race, and bouncing around between the 14 car and the 1 car and seeing what was going on and the strategy and trying to figure out how to make track position, and fuel mileage."

Stewart checks out the tires from Hildebrand's car after a stop.

“Fuel mileage races aren’t always the most exciting races here at Indy but to watch how everything shook out, that’s an experience of a lifetime,” said Stewart, who turned 50 on May 20th.

“For anybody that has a hero that they personally know to have a day like this where they get to sit in the box beside your all-time hero and enjoy the good things that are happening and listen to him complain about the bad things that are happening, those are experiences that you can’t put a value on. Hopefully, he forgets he asked me this year, he’ll get amnesia and he’ll ask me to do it again next year and I can come back. It was a lot of fun to be back here at Indy for the 500, and to be here with him, it’s the experience of a lifetime.”

Stewart also had an interesting perspective on Castroneves tying the record of most Indy 500 wins.

“That wasn’t easy at the end to see Castroneves set there and deal with lapped traffic and three cars that were right behind him for position,” Stewart said. “It’s hard enough when you’re leading the race and you ‘ve got guys behind you but when you’re catching a group of eight cars in the last two laps, that is, I guarantee you, a very, very stressful situation. I thought he managed the traffic well, didn’t get himself boxed in at the end if the race there. He managed the run he got on the lapped traffic and was able to hold onto the lead. I’ve sat here [in A.J.’s garage] and watched the replays here, and he probably ran a mile down the front straightaway and back celebrating so you can’t ask for a better return after a year when you didn’t have fans here, to have someone like Castroneves win the race, tie the record for most Indy 500 victories in a year when you have fans come back. For INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I don’t think you could ask for a better finish.”

The NTT INDYCAR Series has next weekend off and then moves to Belle Isle in Detroit for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader the weekend of June 12-13. The races will be broadcast on NBC at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12 noon ET on Sunday.


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