Some sporting events transcend sports to capture the imagination of even the most casual fans. The history and prestige of the Indianapolis 500 make it a can’t-miss event, and the fact that the race has featured some of the top finishes in any sport only adds to its allure. Here are our top 5 heartbreaking, exciting, and amazing Indianapolis 500 race finishes.
#5 The Most Controversial Finish, 2002
With only two laps to go, Paul Tracy was running just behind defending champion Helio Castroneves. A crash behind the duo brought out the yellow caution flag – just as Tracy was passing Castroneves on the outside of the third turn. (Indy Racing League rules state that no passing is allowed when a yellow caution flag is out.) Tracy believed he had made it in front of Castroneves before the flag, but auto racing officials ruled that Castroneves was in front when the yellow flag came out – securing Castroneves’ second-straight Indy 500 win.
#4 The “I Can’t Believe That Just Happened” Finish, 2006
Sam Hornish, Jr. started the race in the pole position, but found himself chasing 19-year-old Marco Andretti with less than a lap to go. In one of the most exciting Indy 500 finishes, Hornish managed to pass Andretti on the inside just before the finish line. The .0635-second margin of victory made the race the second-closest of all time.
#3 The Most Crowded Finish, 1986
When the yellow flag came out with just a few laps to go, it appeared that leader Kevin Cogan was the inevitable winner. However, upon the restart, Bobby Rahal was able to perfectly time his start and shoot out in front of Cogan. Rahal held on to the lead over the last minute of the race while Cogan and Rick Mears finished just behind.
#2 The Most Unbelievable Finish, 2011
Rookie driver J.R. Hildebrand was just feet away from pulling off the biggest victory of his young career when he unexpectedly hit the wall coming around the last turn of what was a near-certain straight shot to victory. Realizing the opportunity that had just presented itself, Dan Wheldon accelerated to pass Hildebrand’s wrecked car and took the checkered flag. The victory was Wheldon’s second at the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, it would also be his last – the auto racing world mourned later that year, when he died after a crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
#1 The Closest Finish, 1992
Although Michael Andretti led more laps than any other, engine problems forced him out of the race with only 11 laps left. That left Scott Goodyear and Al Unser, Jr. to battle it out over 11 of the most entertaining laps in Indianapolis 500 history. Try as he might, Goodyear was simply unable to take the lead at any point during those final laps and Unser, Jr. won by .043 seconds – the closest finish ever at the Indianapolis 500. This would be the first Indy 500 victory for Unser, Jr. He would win again just two years later. He and his father, Al Unser – who won the Indianapolis 500 four times – became the first father-son duo to win the race.
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