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Comedy of Errors
Of the four replacement-driver Indianapolis 500s run since the Indy car circuit split, Sunday's was the most interesting. A.J. Foyt, who won four 500s as a driver, was back in the Brickyard's victory circle for the first time in 22 years, this time as owner of the victorious car driven by Kenny Brack. Brack was there largely because of foul-ups by three of his toughest rivals: pole sitter Arie Luyendyk, Greg Ray and Robby Gordon.
For more than half the race two-time Indy winner Luyendyk, who had announced that he was retiring from driving after this 500, looked as if he would go out a champion. But while leading with 82 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, he spun and crashed while trying to pass a slower car.
An even more stunning miscue was committed by Ray. After inheriting the lead from Luyendyk and pitting under caution with 80 laps to go, Ray never made it back onto the track. "I have no idea what happened," said Ray after the race. "I was told to go, and I did. The next thing I knew, I went sideways into the pit wall." Instead of pulling cleanly into the inside lane of the pit road, where he was supposed to proceed until he could blend into pit traffic, Ray partly crossed the white line into the outside lane, bounced off Mark Dismore's car, which happened to be proceeding along that lane, and went into the pit wall.
Thus the race boiled down to a duel between Brack and Gordon, the only regular CART driver this year to break the organization's boycott of Indy. Gordon held the lead from Lap 171 until he ran out of fuel with just over a lap remaining. He was so frustrated after the race that he howled, "Aw, s—-!" on live TV and again during a press conference. "Kenny didn't have the speed for us at the end of the race," Gordon added. "No way."
Brack, 33, a Swedish-born Formula One dropout, all but agreed. "At the end I was running as fast as I could into the corners, and the car was slipping in the front end and slipping in the rear end," he said. "I was hanging onto it, just trying to catch Robby."
Even after Gordon dropped out, Brack and Foyt had a miscommunication that could have jeopardized the win. From the pits Foyt could see Gordon slowing down. "He told me on the radio, 'Bring it on in, you've got it won,' " Brack said. "I started slowing down." Then it dawned on Brack that it wasn't the checkered flag that he had just passed, but the white flag, signaling one lap to go. "I guess we did have it won," said Brack. "I just hadn't won it yet"
The return of CART teams to the Indianapolis 500 by next year would be a certainty if it weren't contingent upon the moods of mercurial Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George. Publicly, George remains defiant in defense of his Indy Racing League, whose framework for cost containment and rules moderating engine and chassis design have prevented CART teams from racing at Indy since 1996 without building radically different cars. Privately, he continues to listen to the peace offerings of a growing alliance of racing leaders and manufacturers led by the most influential man in U.S. motor sports, Bill France, who's president of NASCAR and chairman of International Speedway Corp. (ISC), which owns the world's largest group of race tracks—10—with four more in various stages of development.
"There's no question that we can pull the Indy 500 and American open-wheel racing back together," says team owner Roger Penske, a CART cofounder whose cars won the Indy 500 a record 10 times before the schism, "but one man has to make that decision, and Tony is the guy."