Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday, May 28, 2000
Start time: 2:05 PM CDT
Weather: Cloudy, humid, moderately cool
IRL historical: #4 of 10 in 2000 season, IRL race #38 overall
Track historical: IRL race #5, Indy car race #84 at this track (not counting pre-1911 races)
Track configuration: 2.5-mile, rectanglar
Wing package: speedway
Juan Montoya, in his first IRNLS start, dominated the Indianapolis 500 in fine fashion. Montoya, teammate Jimmy Vasser, and car owner Chip Ganassi came to visit from the CART series which they had dominated for the past several years, and made a big impression on everyone as Montoya won the 500 in his first attempt, setting records in the process for speed and laps led.
A very strange qualifying weekend saw Montoya set the fast mark on Saturday morning, only to be knocked back to second by Greg Ray making an unusual middle-of-the-afternoon attempt. The starting field was historic in that, for the first time in any major motor race anywhere, two women qualified; rookie Sarah Fisher put her car on the grid in 19th and veteran Lyn St. James, who had not qualified since 1997, bumped her way in Sunday afternoon to start 32nd. Several IRNLS regulars were missing from the field including Scott Harrington, who once again had hard luck on Bubble Day; Robby Unser, whose Riley & Scott ran fine in traffic but couldn't get going by itself well enough to qualify, and Tyce Carlson, who was injured in a practice crash on May 15. (After the crash Hideshi Matsuda took over Carlson's seat, but suffered three crashes including one on Bubble Day which broke his wrist, and the Hubbard-Immke team wound up with three broken cars and no car in the field.) Jimmy Kite, who had been very fast in practice, destroyed his Blueprint car in a qualifying crash, but the team made the field after Ganassi sold them one of their backup cars. Billy Boat, after crashing his Pelfrey car, had jumped into an entry owned by A.J. Foyt and 1999 winner Kenny Brack (who was not at the race due to CART committments) which already had two attempts on it. On the car's last attempt on Sunday, the engine computer reset during the run, but Boat kept going and wound up with a very unusual 191-MPH run which was actually in the field for a while. After being bumped he got into another Foyt entry, this one being Eliseo Salazar's T-car which had not turned a wheel all month, and bumped his way in as the 6:00 gun sounded.
On race morning, pesky showers that popped up over the speedway delayed the start for over three hours. As the race started it was variably cloudy with muggy conditions. When the race finally got under way, Ray and Montoya drag-raced to the line with Ray getting the advantage in turn 1, while Ray's one-race teammate Robby Gordon (once again attempting the Indy-Charlotte double this year) passed several cars on the start to move briefly up to 2nd, before Montoya retook the position. After four laps Ray led Montoya, Gordon, Eliseo Salazar (the other front-row starter), Jeff Ward, and Scott Sharp; the front cars were spreading out rapidly and Sharp was already 6 seconds behind the lead. Johnny Unser's day got off to a bad start as he was forced to pit on lap 10 with ignition problems; he would finish, but well back. The leaders began to hit lapped traffic on lap 13 and the fun began; Gordon repassed Montoya for second, but Montoya took the position back on the next lap. On lap 27 Montoya caught Ray in traffic and passed for the lead on the front stretch, but then he in turn got pinned in traffic and Ray retook the lead on the inside in turn 1 the next lap, only to give it back up in turn 3 as he headed for his first pit stop.
In the first round of pit stops, Montoya got a very good stop, but after his teammate Jimmy Vasser (competing in the Indy 500 for the first time since 1995) led one lap, Robby McGehee took the lead and held it for several laps as he was getting better mileage. Montoya assumed the lead when McGehee stopped on lap 33, and was not to give it up again for the next 143 laps, an IRNLS record. At this point, the race began to settle down a bit. Some of the favorites were strugging with handling and not performing as well as expected: the Kelley cars with Scott Sharp and Mark Dismore were both fading out of the top-10, while Gordon's car was never quite right after his first pit stop, and McGehee began to experience engine problems which would take him out of contention. Sarah Fisher had trouble with a sticking gearbox and stalled.
There were few position changes among the leaders for the next twenty laps. Montoya continued to lead followed by Gordon, Salazar, Eddie Cheever, and Ray, while Buddy Lazier had moved up from his 15th starting position to 7th. Cheever moved up as high as 3rd before falling back with a push condition. By lap 50 the top-10 was Montoya, Gordon, Salazar, Cheever, and Ward; the fast pace was putting many cars a lap down and at this point only 12 cars were on the lead lap. B. Lazier had taken sixth from Ray, followed by Vasser, Al Unser Jr. (making his first start in the 500 since he won it in 1994), and McGehee. Stan Wattles, who had surprised everyone by qualifying 8th, nicked the wall on lap 24 and lost a lap in the pits having his car inspected (no damage was found).
By lap 55, when the next round of pit stops began, Montoya had a half-lap lead on the field. The race had run all green to this point and lap records were being shattered, despite the very heavy traffic resulting from a surprisingly low attrition rate. Montoya again got a good stop (despite having lost all of the tear-offs from his helmet) , as did Vasser, B. Lazier, A. Unser, and Scott Goodyear. The Kelley team's woes continued as Sharp's crew couldn't get the fuel hose to engage on his stop, while Fisher had gearbox problems again and lost a lap. Gordon had a good stop but his team reported concern over unusually poor fuel mileage. The leaders had just all cycled through when Ray, who had taken out a lot of front wing on his stop in pursuit of more speed, pushed up into the wall on lap 66, bringing out the first yellow of the day. Ray's right front suspension was broken, and A. Unser ran over the debris and took a hit to a radiator, forcing both to the garage. McGehee had still not stopped and had the lead at the time the caution came out, but he had been far enough behind Montoya prior to the pit stops that most of the lead-lap cars didn't lose a lap to him and so weren't caught out by the caution.
All leaders pitted during this caution, and again Montoya got an excellent stop and found himself leading Gordon and B. Lazier at the green. This lasted only until lap 74, when Fisher got caught in the middle of a three-wide situation in turn 1 and touched wheels with a car on her right, causing her to lose it and hit the wall in the south chute. Ironically that other car was St. James, who spun and crashed in turn 1, and in one stroke both of the ladies were out of the race. Some of the leaders chose to play some strategy and pit during this caution, including Cheever (who made a Gurney change trying to get rid of some excess downforce), the Foyt cars, and B. Lazier who gave up 2nd to make a late stop. So, at the green it was the Ganassi 1-2 of Montoya and Vasser followed by McGehee (hanging in despite his worsening engine problems), rookie Airton Dare (who had made up a lap on the caution), Salazar and Ward, with many cars ahead of Montoya trying to get laps back. After the green Montoya very quickly opened a large lead on his teammate, who along with everyone else was caught in traffic and was blown off by McGehee on lap 89. Meanwhile, Jimmy Kite was in the garage mulling over an engine that seized during his pit stop, Ritchie Hearn (making his return to the Speedway, with the Pagan team, after having won the Rookie of the Year award in 1996) pitted with ignition difficulties, and Andy Hillenburg (returning to open-wheel racing after a five-year stint in stock cars) retired with a burned wheel bearing.
A yellow flew on lap 99 for debris left by Robbie Buhl's blown engine. (Buhl's team didn't recognize it as such at first, and they went to the trouble of changing the gearbox before realizing that they had an engine problem.) Just before this, Wattles, who had dropped back to 22nd after his brush with the wall, was flying; he had made up eight positions and just set fast lap of the race at 217 MPH, a number that held up until just prior to the end of the race. Pit stops shuffled the running order behind Montoya with Vasser, Dare, Ward and McGehee now running in positions 2-5. Vasser wound up with a handicap, however; a planned Gurney change went awry when the new one refused to go in and he had to return to the track without one. At the green on lap 103, Montoya got away again, but there was finally some good racing near the front as Vasser, Dare, and Ward ran nose-to-tail in traffic. There was some do-si-do when Vasser got balked in traffic on the back stretch on lap 108 with Ward taking advantage, and by the end of that lap Ward was in 2nd with Lazier jumping up to 4th behind Vasser, and Dare dropping to 5th. Salazar, Cheever, Gordon, and McGehee ran 6-9 as the other remaining cars on the lead lap. (McGehee was beginning to have engine problems and would soon fade from contention.) Five laps later Dare got a huge run, overtaking Salazar and Cheever simultanously in turn 1 and then shooting by Vasser on the back stretch to take 3rd. Meanwhile Lazier was reeling in Montoya, as Cheever worked his way up to 5th. And Stephan Gregoire, who had started 21st, cracked the top-10 for the first time. Unfortunately, Dare's excellent run came to an end in short order: on lap 127 he suffered a spectacular engine failure as he blasted down the front stretch. He pulled the car off into the grass and angrily exited in turn 1.
Pit stops once again left Montoya out front, followed by Ward and B. Lazier. McGehee was in for diagnosis of a power loss problem that would cost many laps and not be solved. The green flew again on lap 130 and soon Lazier took second from Ward, but couldn't catch Montoya. Cheever was struggling with a vibration and was near to retiring when he discovered that, when sixth gear was selected, the vibration went away and the car ran; he then set about trying to regain lost time. Meanwhile, A. Unser and Ray brought their repaired cars back onto the track. However, Unser quickly concluded that his car wasn't going to run and parked it. Ray's attempt was to come out considerably worse. On lap 143 he hit the wall in turn 2, same place as the first wreck, but considerably harder. The car was now damaged beyond repair; worse yet, he'd failed to run enough laps to gain a position and wound up placing 33rd and last, only the fourth polesitter in the race's history to do so. All the leaders pitted again, and once again Montoya got excellent service and retained the lead. B. Lazier had a close call as he got crowded to the left exiting the pits and just missed hitting the pit wall. On the green on lap 150, it was Montoya leading Ward and Lazier, but Lazier quickly took 2nd on the restart. Green lasted only until lap 158 when rookie Sam Hornish Jr. spun exiting turn 1 and lightly hit the wall in the short chute.
It was here that some critical decisions were made for the Ganassi team. No one had the fuel to go the rest of the distance; Montoya's crew chose to leave him out and hope for another caution, while Vasser pitted to set up a rather dubious attempt to go 41 laps to the finish. All the other leaders stayed out. On lap 162, as the short caution ended, Montoya led B. Lazier, Ward, Salazar, Cheever, Gordon, and Vasser; those were the cars on the lead lap. For a change, on the restart Lazier stayed with Montoya, nearly passing him on lap 163, but by lap 173 his handling started to go away and he was passed by Salazar.
The next laps proved crucial for Vasser. Wattles, who had finally worked his way back into the top-10, lost an engine on lap 174. The subsequent yellow forced Vasser's hand; he had to stay out as the other leaders pitted, gaining the lead but going into jeopardy on fuel mileage. Green flew on lap 177 with Vasser leading Montoya, Ward, Salazar, B. Lazier, Cheever, and Gordon. On the green Lazier got a run but Salazar squeezed him towards the front stretch inside wall, a move reminiscent of Salazar's blocking of Davy Jones in 1996 (which ironically Lazier benefitted from). Salazar then passed teammate Ward for 3rd, and Lazier took him for 4th, as Montoya set out after Vasser. On lap 179 the two ran nose-to-tail briefly before Montoya took the position with a very low line through turn 3. Lazier took third from Salazar on lap 185 and on lap 192 he passed Vasser and set out after Montoya. Lazier was lapping faster than Montoya but there wasn't enough time, and over the last few laps he eased his pace to protect a good finish.
Montoya won by 8 seconds over Lazier, becoming the first Indy rookie to win the 500 since Graham Hill in 1967. Montoya's 167 MPH average broke the IRNLS record set by B. Lazier at Charlotte in 1997, and his mid-race string of 143 consecutive laps led broke an IRNLS record set by Tony Stewart in 1996. Of all the Indy 500's to go the distance, this race was the fifth to be completed in less than three hours, and the first such since 1991. Lazier kept intact his record of finishing no worse than 7th at Indy in the IRNLS era, while the Foyt team placed two cars in the top-5. Vasser meanwhile ran out of luck, and nearly out of fuel; he had to pit on lap 196 and wound up 7th, one lap down. Cheever placed fifth to score the best-yet finish at Indy for the Infiniti engine. Meanwhile, Donnie Beechler and Jacques Lazier, both running unsponsored cars, ran good clean races to finish just out of the top-10, behind the Kelley cars.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 2 223.372 9 G/A/F Juan Montoya Ganassi 200 Running 167 54 2 16 220.482 91 D/A/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 200 Running 40 3 3 223.231 11 G/A/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 200 Running 36 4 6 222.639 14 G/A/F Jeff Ward Foyt 200 Running 32 5 10 221.270 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 200 Running 30 6 4 222.885 32 D/A/F Robby Gordon Menard 200 Running 28 7 7 221.976 10 G/A/F Jimmy Vasser Ganassi 199 Running 5 26 8 20 219.970 7 G/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 199 Running 24 9 13 220.629 4 D/A/F Scott Goodyear Panther 199 Running 22 10 5 222.810 8 D/A/F Scott Sharp Kelley 198 Running 20 11 11 220.970 28 D/A/F Mark Dismore Kelley 198 Running 19 12 15 220.482 98 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 198 Running 18 13 26 220.675 33 G/A/F Jacques Lazier Truscelli 198 Running 17 14 29 219.332 6 D/A/F Jaret Schroeder Tristar 198 Running 16 15 31 218.872 41 G/A/F Billy Boat Foyt 198 Running 15 16 24 222.113 55 G/A/F Raul Boesel Treadway 197 Running 14 17 17 220.417 50 G/A/F Jason Leffler Treadway 197 Running 13 18 22 219.862 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 194 Running 12 19 27 220.290 23 G/I/F Steve Knapp D&R 193 Running 11 20 28 219.878 16 G/A/F Davey Hamilton Xtreme 188 Running 10 21 12 220.661 5 G/A/F Robby McGehee Treadway 187 Running 2 9 22 30 219.066 22 G/A/F Johnny Unser I. Regency 186 Running 8 23 8 221.508 92 D/A/F Stan Wattles Hemelgarn 172 Engine 7 24 14 220.496 18 D/A/F Sam Hornish Jr. PDM 153 Crash T2 6 25 21 219.970 88 G/A/F Airton Dare Xtreme 126 Engine 5 26 9 221.357 24 G/A/F Robbie Buhl D&R 99 Engine 4 27 23 219.816 75 D/A/F Ritchie Hearn Pagan 97 Electrical 3 28 33 218.285 48 D/A/F Andy Hillenburg Fast Track 91 Wheel Brng 2 29 18 220.293 3 G/A/F Al Unser Galles 89 Overheating 1 30 25 220.718 27 G/A/F Jimmy Kite Blueprint 74 Engine 1 31 19 220.237 15 D/A/F Sarah Fisher Walker 71 Crash T1 1 32 32 218.826 90 G/A/F Lyn St. James Simon 69 Crash T1 1 33 1 223.471 1 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 67 Crash T2 26 4
Laps under green: 161 of 200 laps (80.5%)
Caution flags: 7 for 39 laps (19.5%)
#1: lap 66, crash (Ray), T2, 5 laps
#2: lap 74, crash (Fisher, St. James), T1, 11 laps [during caution: stalled car (Hamilton), BS]
#3: lap 99, blown engine (Buhl), BS, 4 laps
#4: lap 127, blown engine (Dare), FS, 4 laps
#5: lap 144, crash (Ray), T2, 7 laps
#6: lap 158, crash (Hornish), T2, 4 laps
#7: lap 174, blown engine (Wattles), BS, 4 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 6, number of different leaders: 4
St: Ray 1-26
#1: Montoya 27-29
#2: Vasser 30
#3: McGehee 31-32
#4: Montoya 33-175
#5: Vasser 176-179
#6: Montoya 180-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 15 / 16.9
G-Force: 18 / 17.1
Aurora: 31 / 17.3
Infiniti: 2 / 12.0
Firestone: 33 / 17.0