Saturday, May 18, 2024

Here are the 5 closest Indianapolis 500 finishes in race history

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The Greatest Spectacle in Racing has delivered several thrilling finishes in its 104 years. 

The Indy 500 has seen a number of winners cruise across the finish line just split seconds before the second-place car and not since 1990 has a winner taken first-place by a 10-second or greater margin of victory. 

With the 105th running coming up this weekend, we’re taking a look at the closest finishes in race history, according to the official times shared by Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Could racing fans on Sunday be due for another close finish? Here are the closest finishes in Indy 500 history. 

MORE: Indy 500 fan attendance, laps, drivers & everything else to know about the 2021 race

Closest Indy 500 finishes in history

Year Winner 2nd place Margin of victory
1992 Al Unser Jr. Scott Goodyear 0.043 seconds
2014 Ryan Hunter-Reay Helio Castroneves 0.0600 seconds
2006 Sam Hornish Jr. Marco Andretti 0.0635 seconds
2015 Juan Pablo Montoya Will Power 0.1046 seconds
1982 Gordon Johncock Rick Mears 0.1600 seconds

1992: Al Unser Jr. over Scott Goodyear

The Unser name is written all over the Indy 500. Al Unser is one of just three drivers to win the race four times and Bobby Unser won it three times. But in 1992, it was Al’s son, Al Unser Jr., who added the Indy 500 trophy to the family award case. 

The race was filled with a number of crashes, including from father and son combo Mario and Jeff Andretti. Michael Andretti, Mario’s son and Jeff’s brother, led for most of the race after having set a new first-lap record of 210.339 mph. But Unser Jr. took a lead late, passing both his dad and Michael Andretti. 

Unser Jr. faced pressure from Scott Goodyear with seven laps remaining. Goodyear had come all the way up from the 33rd position and would have been the first Indy 500 driver to finish first from the last place spot, but Unser Jr. came in ahead at 3:43:05.148, just 0.043 ahead of Goodyear, the closest finish of all time. A month after the race, however, USAC technical director Mike Devin said that the race likely ended even closer at a 0.0331 margin.

2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay over Helio Castroneves

An American-born driver hadn’t won the Indy 500 since 2006 coming into the race, but the field in 2014 was looking strong. Ed Carpenter won the pole position, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti both topped 224 mph on the second day of practice and Kurt Busch was racing in his first — and what would be to date his only — IndyCar Series race. 

Hunter-Reay broke the record halfway through the race by averaging 211.871 mph and looked to be in a commanding position despite beginning the race at No. 11. Late in the race, a red flag took nearly 11 minutes, and the race didn’t return to green until only six laps remained.

Marco Castroneves made an attempt to pass Hunter-Reay late and had a brief lead on 196, but Hunter-Reay took the lead on 197 and held on to finish the race at 2:40:48.2305, coming in 0.0600 over Castroneves. Hunter-Reay led the race for 56 laps, the most of any driver.

2006: Sam Hornish Jr. over Marco Andretti

Another member of a prominent racing family, Marco Andretti was racing in his first Indy 500 in 2006 and landed himself in the No. 9 spot, just four spots ahead of his dad, Michael Andretti. But one of the bigget racers of note was Sam Hornish Jr., a two-time winner of the IndyCar Series, who, despite the overall racing success, had never won the Indy 500. 

Hornish put himself in a good position early by winning the pole position with a four-lap speed of 228.985 mph. But it was Dan Wheldon that dominated the race. Wheldon led from laps 10 through 34, again between 39 and 107, between 111 and 124, and between 145 and 182 to finish the day ahead in 148 of the laps, while Hornish was second leading in just 19.

In the end, it came down to the Andrettis and Hornish. Michael took the lead in lap 194 and fell behind on 198 to Marco. It wasn’t until 450 feet remained in the race that Hornish pulled ahead, becoming the first driver to successfully pass for the lead on the final lap to come away with the win. He cruised in at just a 0.0635 seconds in front of Marco to win the race with a time of 3:10:58.7590.

2015: Juan Pablo Montoya over Will Power

Before 2014, Juan Pablo Montoya had not competed in IndyCar since winning the 2000 Indy 500. Montoya spent time racing in Formula One, NASCAR and Grand Am before returning to race in the 2014 Indy 500 for Team Penske, when he placed fifth overall. 

For much of the 2015 Indy 500, it seemed like everything was working out for Scott Dixon to claim his second title. He won the No. 1 position and led for the first 18 laps. He found himself constantly battling back into first place, ultimately finishing the race having led in a race-high 84 laps.

Montoya and Will Power stayed right with him, though, and lap 187 was the last time Dixon would have the edge. Power led until 192, then retook the lead for 193 before Montoya passed him for the lead on 197. Montoya never relinquished his edge, finishing 0.1046 seconds ahead of Power with a time of 3:05:56.5286 to win his second Indy 500. 

1982: Gordon Johncock over Rick Mears

There had never been a race finish with a margin of victory that was under a second until 1982. There had only been four races even to finish with a margin of victory under 10 seconds. 

But in 1982, Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears delivered one of the sport’s most memorable races. Johncock briefly took the lead from A.J. Foyt on lap 23 before Don Whittington took the edge. Mears, who started with the No. 1 position, had the edge from 36 to 41 and again from 60 to 63. Foyt once again pulled ahead for lap 64 before Mears took command for a while, leading 65 through 94. 

From that point, Mears and Johncock traded off the lead, with Tom Sneva’s lead from 142 to 154 being the only period after lap 64 that one of the two aforementioned drivers wasn’t ahead. Mears regained the edge at 155 and led until Johncock finished lap 160 ahead. He never relinquished the lead and finished having led for 57 laps to Mears’ 77. Still, Mears kept it close throughout, finishing the race at 0.16 behind Johncock’s time of 3:05:09.140, a then-record for slimmest margin of victory.

Races under caution

The closest race ever to wrap up actually came in 2012, when Dario Franchitti came in ahead of Scott Dixon by just 0.0295 seconds. However, like several other narrow finishes, that race ended under caution. Here are some of the other close races that finished under caution.

  • 2020: Takuma Sato over Scott Dixon — 0.0577
  • 2013: Tony Kanaan over Carlos Muñoz — 0.1159
  • 2005: Dan Wheldon over Vitor Meira — 0.1302
  • 2010: Dario Franchitti over Dan Wheldon — 0.1536
  • 2004: Buddy Rice over Tony Kanaan — 0.1559

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