Takuma Soto won the 2020 Indianapolis 500 when he crossed the finish line ahead of Scott Dixon in a very dissatisfying ending. It wasn’t dissatisfying because Sato won but rather because the race finished under caution after a lap 195 crash had, as was said at the time, left too little time to do otherwise. For many, the anti-climatic ending left a sour taste.
Following that race, the NTT IndyCar Series released a statement explaining that, “there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart.”
Sunday’s 107th running of the most celebrated event in all of motorsports had the potential to end in the very same way as that of three years ago when a trio of late accidents threatened to cause the final laps to click away under yellow flag conditions. But unlike that race, officials opted to display the red flag and stop the lap count in hopes of having the cars cross the finish line at full speed.
With 15 laps remaining, a scary accident involving Kyle Kirkwood and Felix Rosenqvist that sent a tire flying just over the grandstand and Kirkwood upside down on the track took place. At that point, officials opted to stop the field under red flag conditions, not for the sake of a green flag finish but for the safety of those involved. The race then resumed when the scene was cleared.
A second red flag came when Pato O’Ward crashed after an attempt to pass Marcus Ericsson with seven laps to go. Again, racing action resumed when the accident scene was cleared.
But it was just after a late restart that the controversy came. Coming to the green numerous cars tangled, clogging the front straightaway. For the final time of the day, the red flag was unfurled with two circuits left in the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.
When the track was readied, the cars rolled off pit road for the purpose of coming directly to the green flag and a one-lap dash to the finish. Ericsson led the parade back to the restart but would be passed on the backstretch following the restart by eventual winner Josef Newgarden. It was an unprecedented type of conclusion for the Indy 500.
Ericsson was left feeling upset over the way in which he was denied his second consecutive win in this race.
“I just feel like it was an unfair and dangerous end to the race,” he said after the event. “I don’t feel like it was enough laps to do what we did. We’ve never done a restart out of the pits.”
This race as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are steeped in tradition and not known to change the way things are done very easily. Further, there are some enthusiasts of this race who are unwilling to consider anything other than the belief that the race is run to its advertised distance and nothing more. As long as that remains as the mindset, the idea of a NASCAR-style Green/White/Checkered finish is untenable.
If that is going to be the case, then red flags late in the going are the best way to settle the issue. This is the biggest race in the world and the fans in attendance and those watching the broadcast should get to see a finish under green flag conditions. The 2020 ending was a disappointment and a consistent policy of using the red flag to provide the best chance for that to happen should become policy.
The 2023 Indianapolis 500 ended the way it should have … under green.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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