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Think of it this way: With the PEDS in place, NASCAR's Clifford Allison (killed after hitting a concrete wall at Michigan Speedway in 1992), Formula One's Ayrton Senna (killed after hitting a concrete wall in Imola, Italy, in '94) and IRL's Scott Brayton (killed after hitting a concrete wall at Indy in '96), among others, might have survived their wrecks.
What's more, NASCAR's Ernie Irvan might not have had to make his celebrated comeback from the life-threatening head and lung injuries he suffered in a crash against the wall at Michigan four years ago.
Only a 550-foot span of the padding was in place for Sunday's Indy 500, and it was installed in a low-risk area of the track—the inside retaining wall near the entrance to the pits. Indy officials chose not to test the padding on the outside retaining walls of each turn, which are considered the most critical areas of impact, because "we've got to get a feel for how it responds [at secondary-impact speeds] and if it performs like we hope," says Kevin Forbes, director of engineering facilities at Indy. If future tests go well, the outside walls could be padded by next year.
Bent on driving in the Indianapolis 500, Alex Zanardi switched from Formula One to CART in 1996. But by last Saturday he felt prouder of beating Michael Andretti by a half second in the Motorola 300 at little Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis than he would have felt if he had whipped all the no-names in the Brickyard race on Sunday.
"Even if I went there and won, my colleagues would say, 'Hey, you went to the kindergarten and kicked all the little kids,' " says Zanardi, the reigning CART champion. "Or if I lost, they would say, 'How couldn't you win that race?' "
That sentiment didn't exist when Zanardi left Monaco and the Formula One circuit just three months before CART's first boycott of Indy. "My only point of reference was the Indianapolis 500," he says. "It was the most important part of American motor sports history. Everybody in Europe is aware of what that race is—or what that race was. Unfortunately it's not the way it used to be. Now you would just go there for the money. It no longer offers you the kind of prestige it used to. I'm not saying that because I'm on CART's side of the wall. I'm speaking of the world view."
Jeff Gordon made it clear after his win in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 that if his crew chief, Ray Evernham, hadn't called for four new tires on the final pit stop—the four drivers in front of Gordon opted for rightside tires only, sacrificing grip for a speedier stop—then his Chevy wouldn't have stood a chance against the Fords. "I didn't see too many other Chevrolets out there helping us out," he says. "The only real shot we had was taking on four tires against their two tires."
Though Gordon spent the entire race among the leaders, he was but one of five drivers who dominated the rest of the field. The others—Rusty Wallace (Ford), Bobby Labonte (Pontiac), Mark Martin (Ford) and Dale Jarrett (Ford)—combined with Gordon to lead 327 of the 400 laps, and all four had begun to pull away from him until a caution flag came out with 21 laps to go. The five leaders pitted before the race resumed six laps later, and Gordon quickly worked his way to second place. With nine laps to go, he slipped past the front-running Wallace and went on to win his second straight Coca-Cola 600 and his third Winston Cup race this season.