Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday, May 30, 1999
Start time: 11:00 AM CDT
Weather: Hot, partly overcast, humid
IRL historical: #3 of 10 in 1996 season, IRL race #27 overall
Track historical: IRL race #4, Indy car race #83 at this track (not counting pre-1911 races)
Track configuration: 2.5-mile, rectanglar
Wing package: speedway
A very large entry list served notice that unusual things were to happen in this year's 500, and that some people's expectations were about to be crushed. Coming on the heels of the tragically aborted Charlotte race, there was much nervousness at the beginning of practice, and although there were no truly serious events, veteran John Paul Jr. and Indy rookie David Steele were injured in practice and were unable to make qualification runs. The Byrd-Cunningham team hired Andy Michner (who had lost his ride just a few days prior to qualifying), but he was unable to get the car up to speed. Wierd weather shifts dominated qualifying weeked, with Saturday starting out very damp but drying out as the day went on, meaning that contrary to usual, it was a disadvantage to draw an early number in qualifying. Dick Simon miscalculated what speed his driver Stephan Gregoire would need to make the field, and accepted a run that turned out to be too slow. These events resulted in Gregoire, Michner, and Paul -- all drivers in the top 15 in IRL points -- missing the race. Five cars were bumped on Sunday, and at least five more more might have been had not rain washed out most of the session. Arie Luyendyk, making his last start in an Indy car, was the surprise pole winner, moving aside Greg Ray who had been fastest in practice. Billy Boat turned around a crash-filled week with a 3rd-place effort. Former IRL champion Tony Stewart, now contending for the rookie title in the NASCAR Winston Cup series, returned to the Speedway with his Tristar team co-owned by crew chief Larry Curry and Home Depot, his NASCAR sponsor, on the sidepods. With the intent of running both the 500 and the NASCAR 600-mile race in Charlotte the same day, he spent the practice week going back and forth; he practiced fast but due to schedule contstraints on pole day he had to take a subpar effort, and wound up starting 24th.
Drama started at the start-engines call when Jack Miller, driving a second car for the Tristar team, couldn't get his car in gear. On the final pace lap, Scott Sharp pitted with smoke and water coming out of his car; his crew had forgotten to remove an air damper from a sidepod, and the engine was badly overheating. He continued, but damage had been done and he would eventually retire with engine failure. At race start, Luyendyk ran off and hid, making perfectly clear his intent to become the race's 8th three-time winner. Robby Gordon, who had jumped into one of Ray's backup cars and qualified fourth after his own didn't get up to speed, was starting with a bruised calf suffered in a CART race the previous day; his car was off initially and he went backwards rapidly. Moving up through the field were Jeff Ward and Robbie Buhl, who had qualified in a third Foyt entry after a series of misfortunes to his own team.
Eliseo Salazar crashed in turn 2 on lap 9 to bring out the first caution. Several of the cars towards the rear of the field took the opportunity to make early pits stops and deliberately go off-sequence in hopes of being able to exploit an advantage on subsequent cautions. The decision led to both a strategic advantage and a near-tragedy for the team of rookie Robbie McGehee. During his stop, Jimmy Kite (who was pitted a few boxes behind McGehee) was pulling out of his pit when his car was hit by Jaret Schroeder. With its steering broken, Kite's car plunged into McGehee's pit and struck McGehee's chief mechanic, Steve Freid. The unfortunate Freid suffered head injuries and was taken to Methodist Hospital in serious condition.
After the green, Luyendyk took up where he left off, with only Ray able to keep pace. This continued through the next round of pit stops. Starting about lap 26, all the leaders began pitting; however on lap 35 a caution was thrown when Hideshi Matsuda (making his traditional once-a-year appearance with Greg Beck's team) ran out of fuel on the back stretch. With Sam Schmidt and the out-of-sequence cars having not pitted, many of the fast cars were caught a lap down, including Mark Dismore, Eddie Cheever, Boat, and Gordon, whose problems were compounded when he had to make an extra stop for a tire vibration. Suddenly, Luyendyk and Ray had a lap on much of their competition, and McGehee found himself in the top-10. Also moved up by the caution was Stewart, who had not made much progress to this point. Raul Boesel had advanced to 7th from his last-place starting position, and Buzz Calkins was up to 8th and the team was feeling confident. Unfortunately for Calkins, his gearbox self-destructed on the subsequent restart, and he spent most of the race in the garage having it replaced.
The race restarted with Luyendyk leading Ray, Schmidt, and Kenny Brack. On the restart, Ray got the jump and took the lead for the first on-track lead pass of the race. The racing in this segment was closer than before; with the track changing rapidly, there were a number of position changes up front between laps 40 and 60. Luyendyk began to fade on lap 57 while Brack moved up, passing Ray for the lead on lap 60. Schmidt was trying to move up when he had to check up abruptly to keep from hitting his teammate Luyendyk in turn 4 on lap 63; the sudden maneuver upset the car and Schmidt spun and crashed. He was unhurt and pounded his steering wheel in frustration as the safety crews arrived quickly on the scene.
The subsequent pit stops saw McGehee move up to fourth -- an incredible performance for a rookie making his first offical IRL start -- while Scott Goodyear was getting better and appeared in the top-5 for the first time. Luyendyk got the lead back during the pit stops, while Stewart and Larry Curry made a decision that would prove fateful later; they changed their car's rear wing Gurney flap. Brack took the lead from Luyendyk on the restart as Donnie Beechler headed to the garage with engine failure, fortunately one that was not as spectacular as the flameout he had experienced the year before. Sharp, who had been struggling since that mishap with the sidepod air damper at the beginning of the race, was black-flagged for fluids. Some intense dicing began at this point; the leaders got bunched up as several of the fast cars that had been lapped due to the lap 35 caution were trying to get laps back. In traffic on the front stretch, Ray used traffic as a pick and shot by both Luyendyk and Brack on the inside to take the lead; then Luyendyk made an impressive power move and passed Brack on the outside for second. Goodyear slipped through on the inside as this was happening, but Brack almost immediately took that position back, and almost unnoticed in the melee Dismore cruised right throught the middle of the whole pack to get back on the lead lap. Had he looked to his left as he did it, he might have seen the Kelley crew trying to cool his teammate Sharp's engine off with fire extinguishers. This final act of desparation failed, and Sharp finally parked it on lap 90.
On lap 93, Steve Knapp, who had been running a steady race in about 15th position, lost it coming out of turn 1. He spun the car around to the left and then back right, and for a moment it appeared that he would save it in the short chute a la Danny Sullivan, but the car whipped around again and hit with the left side in turn 2. He was unhurt. Suddenly the character of the race changed again, as the caution put Dismore, Boat, Buhl, and several other cars that had unlapped themselves back in contention. On the restart, Luyendyk, who had been snookered on two restarts, got some revenge as he jumped Brack and retook the lead (for what would turn out to be the final time in his Indy car career). One driver who didn't get a jump, unfortunately, was Goodyear; on the restart his engine blew, bringing the yellow back out. After pit stops the running order was Luyendyk, Ray, Brack, the suddenly competitive Cheever, the steady rookie surprise McGehee, Boat, and Ward. At this point, 10 cars were on the lead lap. Much shuffling occurred when the green flew again, with Cheever going to work right away and moving up to 3rd, and Ward also gaining positions.
The stunners came next. On lap 118, Luyendyk got bound up as he tried to lap Tyce Carlson when Carlson's car made an unexpected move; Arie couldn't save the car and he crashed. And so a wonderful career, one of Indy's greatest, came to an ignominous end. A disappointed Luyendyk said later, "I was just stupid". If so, though, he wasn't the only one. On the subsequent pit stops, as Ray was leaving his pit, he appeared to pull out into the rightmost part of the pit lane, the part reserved for cars moving at the speed limit, before he was up to speed, and he collided with Dismore. Both cars spun and came to stop in a (fortunately empty) pit box, pointed towards the wall, a position from which they could not advance lacking a reverse gear. Ray suffered serious damage to his left front suspension and, just like that, was out of the race. Dismore appeared to be luckier; there was no obvious damage and the incident happened just short of his pit, and his crew was able to run to the car and get him pushed off in time to avoid losing a lap. But the car wasn't quite right after that, and questions remained about what damage might have been done.
With the top two contenders eliminated, the race changed again. First notice was that Cheever gained the lead during the pit stops, and a measure of vindication for a decision that he had made two months ago: to switch to the Infiniti engine. It appeared that, just maybe, the story of Nissan's efforts in the IRL was about to write a happier chapter. Cheever got jumped by Brack and Ward on the restart, but he quickly regained second, and it appeared that the Infiniti had the speed to win. It didn't have the reliability, though; on lap 139 the engine blew. Meanwhile, Stewart, struggling with his car, made a pit stop to reinstall the original Gurney that had been changed earlier. And again a lapse of concentration struck a contender; when the jacks went down Stewart took this as his signal to go, but the crew was still changing the wing piece. Stewart took off with the Gurney hanging out of the left side, and had to return for an extra stop to replace it; the whole affair cost Tony the Tiger two laps which he never regained, eliminating him from contention. As all this was going on, Brack was establishing himself as the car to beat; Ward was suddenly in 2nd and looking solid in the Pagan car with their new sponsor, the Yahoo! Internet site, painted on every conceivable square inch of the car (elicitling some amusing comments from the ABC announcers). Lurking in third was Brack's teammate Boat, followed by McGehee (who had just been informed that his chief mechanic Fried was awake and alert at Methodist), Brack and Boat's recently acquired teammate Buhl, and Dismore. Almost unnoticed at the time was that Menard's other entry, Gordon, had finally gotten back on the lead lap and was gaining almost half a second a lap on the leader. Meanwhile, the second of the three Infiniti-engined cars, Roberto Guerrero, retired with engine failure.
Green flag pit stops followed, starting on lap 141, with Ward getting a turn in the lead during the stops. The number 21 was looking very much like a potential winner. Dismore was gaining positions and also suddenly looked like a threat to win, moving up to fourth by the time a caution was thrown for Jimmy Kite's stalled car on lap 162. The caution was the break Gordon needed, putting him back among the leaders for the first time since the opening laps of the race. The Menard team decided to exploit their situation by making a late pit stop to top off the tanks on lap 164, just before the green, with the thought of trying to go the rest of the race without another stop. A lap after the green, on lap 167, Brack and Ward were driving away from Boat, Dismore, McGehee, Buhl, and Gordon. Schroeder, in the sole remaining Infiniti entry, was looking good in 8th, one lap down. Had Dismore's car been damaged in the earlier altercation with Ray? Perhaps; on the next lap, exiting turn 2, the car pushed up into the wall, ending Dismore's best Indy run to date. Pit stop decisions during this caution proved crucial. McGehee's crew went fuel only, while everyone else except Gordon took on fuel and tires, with all three of the Foyt cars taking out some front wing. Gordon, who had pitted late during the previous caution, chose not to pit and assumed the lead for the first time. Although McGehee was having a good race, another highly regarded rookie, John Hollansworth, was strugging with his car stuck in fourth gear. Each pit stop cost him laps as he struggled to get the bogged-down engine going.
The green waved on lap 174 and Gordon quickly built up a 4-second lead over Ward, Boat, and Brack. Was the talented but tempermental CART driver, making his only IRL start of the year, finally going to bring John Menard his first Indy victory in 20 years? First, some shuffling: Brack on lap 188 he took second. McGehee and Buhl diced for fifth; Lazier had moved up to seventh but was a lap down and had never really been in contention. After gaining second, Brack set about putting pressure on Gordon, forcing him to run a faster pace than he really wanted to given that they were attempting to go 35 laps on one tank of fuel. However, with the recent caution flag laps, it was a possibility.
Brack tried to press, while Ward caught traffic the wrong way and fell back. Around lap 192, Gordon caught traffic and Brack briefly closed to within 2.8 seconds, but Gordon quickly build the margin back to 4 seconds as soon as he got clear. Brack and Ward, both of whom had pitted on lap 170, were not trying to save fuel and they pushed Gordon to a faster pace than he wanted to go. Over the last several laps Gordon repeatedly radioed his crew and asked about the fuel situation, until he was finally told "We're fine on fuel. Just drive!". By lap 197 it was evident that Gordon was going to win if his fuel held out. But it was not to be: with less than two laps to go, in turn 3 of lap 199, Gordon radioed the fateful words: "We're out of fuel, guys", thus bringing about (in combination with Ray's pit accident) another heartbreakingly bizarre ending to a Menard Indy effort. Brack swept by and went on to an easy victory. Well, almost: he thought that when Gordon ran out of fuel it was the last lap, and Foyt had to quickly get on the radio and remind him that he had another lap to go.
It was Foyt's first Indy victory as an owner since he himself won the race in 1977. Of the larger teams, only Foyt's had a good day, with cars in first, third, and sixth, as compared to Treadway and Kelley who had both of their cars DNF. Gordon pitted for a splash of fuel and defiantly ran the last lap to finish fourth, although as it turned out it didn't matter. Buhl and McGehee were lapped just before the finish, but they traded fifth twice over the last two laps with McGehee winding up with the position and the Rookie of the Year award. Lazier's 7th was his fourth top-10 finish at Indy, although it was also his lowest since 1995. Robby Unser for the second year in a row ran a smooth, consistent race, and placed 8th; Matsuda came back from his running out of fuel early on and passed Davey Hamilton just before the finish to end up 10th. Unfortunately for Infiniti, their last hope, Schroeder, after a fine effort lost his engine on lap 176 to place 15th, putting all three of the Infiniti cars out with engine failure. Dallara's sweep of the top 11 positions was unprecedented in the IRL new-car era. As for Stewart; his day was not even half over; at the end of the race he immediately got on a jet and flew to Charlotte, where seven hours later he finished 4th on the lead lap, making a total of 1,090 miles of oval track racing in one day, probably an all-time record.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 8 222.659 14 D/A/G Kenny Brack Foyt 200 Running 66 52 2 14 221.363 21 D/A/G Jeff Ward Pagan 200 Running 3 40 3 3 223.469 11 D/A/G Billy Boat Foyt 200 Running 36 4 4 223.066 32 D/A/F Robby Gordon Menard 200 Running 28 32 5 27 220.139 55 D/A/F Robby McGehee Conti 199 Running 30 6 32 220.115 84 D/A/G Robbie Buhl Foyt 199 Running 28 7 22 220.721 91 D/A/G Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 198 Running 26 8 17 221.304 81 D/A/F Robby Unser Pelfrey 197 Running 24 9 24 220.653 22 D/A/G Tony Stewart Tristar 196 Running 22 10 10 222.065 54 D/A/F Hideshi Matsuda Beck 196 Running 20 11 11 221.866 9 D/A/G Davey Hamilton Galles 196 Running 19 12 33 220.101 3 R/A/G Raul Boesel Brant 195 Running 18 13 12 221.698 42 D/A/F John Hollansworth Xtreme 192 Running 17 14 15 221.322 20 D/A/F Tyce Carlson Blue-Immke 190 Running 16 15 21 220.747 96 G/I/F Jaret Schroeder Cobb 175 Engine 15 16 5 222.963 28 D/A/G Mark Dismore Kelley 168 Crash T1 14 17 20 220.833 19 D/A/G Stan Wattles Metro 147 Running 13 18 16 221.315 51 D/I/G Eddie Cheever Cheever 139 Engine 4 12 19 26 220.297 12 G/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 133 Running 11 20 23 220.705 33 G/A/G Roberto Moreno Truscelli 122 Gearbox 10 21 2 225.073 2 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 120 Crash Pit 32 11 22 1 225.179 5 G/A/F Arie Luyendyk Treadway 117 Crash T3 63 11 23 29 220.092 52 D/A/G Wim Eyckmans Cheever 113 Timing Ch. 7 24 28 220.097 30 G/A/F Jimmy Kite McCormack 110 Engine 6 25 25 220.479 50 G/I/F Roberto Guerrero Cobb 105 Engine 5 26 13 221.502 35 G/A/G Steve Knapp ISM 104 Handling 4 27 9 222.387 4 G/A/G Scott Goodyear Panther 101 Engine 3 28 6 222.771 8 D/A/G Scott Sharp Kelley 83 Overheating 2 29 19 221.228 98 G/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 74 Engine 1 30 7 222.734 99 G/A/F Sam Schmidt Treadway 62 Crash T1 4 1 31 31 220.276 17 D/A/G Jack Miller Tristar 28 Clutch 1 32 30 221.197 92 D/A/G Johnny Unser Hemelgarn 10 Brakes 1 33 18 221.265 6 G/A/G Eliseo Salazar Nienhouse 7 Crash T2 1
Laps under green: 158 of 200 laps (69.0%)
Caution flags: 8 for 42 laps (21.0%)
#1: lap 9, crash (Salazar), T2, 6 laps
#2: lap 35, stalled car (Matsuda), T3, 5 laps
#3: lap 63, crash (Schmidt), T4, 6 laps
#4: lap 93, crash (Knapp), T2, 6 laps
#5: lap 102, blown engine (Goodyear), FS, 4 laps
#6: lap 118 crash (Luyendyk), T3, 7 laps
#7: lap 162, stalled car (Kite), T3, 3 laps
#8: lap 169, crash (Dismore), T2, 5 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 17, number of different leaders: 7
St: Luyendyk 1-32
#1: Ray 33
#2: Schmidt 34-37
#3: Luyendyk 38-44
#4: Ray 45-59
#5: Brack 60-64
#6: Luyendyk 65-69
#7: Brack 70-82
#8: Ray 83-95
#9: Brack 96-98
#10: Luyendyk 99-117
#11: Ray 118-120
#12: Cheever 121-124
#13: Brack 125-150
#14: Ward 151-153
#15: Brack 154-170
#16: Gordon 171-198
#17: Brack 199-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 21 / 13.3
G-Force: 11 / 24.5
Riley & Scott: 1 / 12.0
Aurora: 30 / 16.8
Infiniti: 3 / 19.3
Firestone: 14 / 17.1
Goodyear: 19 / 16.9