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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Thrills Of Race Left Little Time To Miss Penske

By Mike Kupper Los Angeles Times

See, they can too put on a great race here without Team Penske.

The 79th Indianapolis 500 Sunday was, in fact, one for the books. It had just about everything a racing fan could hope for - drama, intrigue, controversy.

Not all of it was good, of course. There was nothing nice about the four-car accident on the first lap, the one that sent Wisconsin driver Stan Fox to the hospital for brain surgery, which left him in critical condition.

And there was the predictable. Once again, Michael Andretti led with ease in the early going, only to be sidelined after grazing the wall in a one-car mishap.

And once again, cars powered by stockblock Menard engines, cars that had been so fast before the race, were not up to the task over the long haul.

But on balance, it was a highly competitive, highly entertaining race.

You like lead changes? There were lots of them. And many were track passes, not pit passes. Ten drivers led this particular exercise and the lead had changed hands three times in the first 20 laps, nine of which were run under caution conditions.

There was the surprise finish, with Scott Goodyear, who had spent the race cagily getting into position to win it, blowing it with a mindless pass of the pace car only nine laps from the finish.

There was the undisguised joy of winner Jacques Villeneuve, who could hardly believe the good fortune that befell him because of his fellow Canadian’s gaffe.

Villeneuve, of course, had been through his own kind of hell in this race. During the first round of pit stops, he inherited the lead but didn’t realize it. So, when the pace car wanted to pick him up for a caution period, he blithely passed it, twice - and nearly thrice - incurring a two-lap penalty.

Can you remember the last time somebody came back from a two-lap penalty to win the Indianapolis 500? Talk about your Canadian capers.

“When I heard we were two laps down, I sweared a little bit,” the engaging young winner said. “It was a good thing we weren’t on the radio.”

And to think that all of this went on with two-time winners Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi looking on from Roger Penske’s luxury box because they couldn’t find their way into the race.

And on this particular day, for this particular race, maybe it was the best place for them.

Somebody asked Villeneuve if his victory was tainted because Team Penske was absent.

“Why should it be tainted?” he said, quite properly. “They weren’t fast enough to get in the race.”

The suspicion nags, though, that this would have been a different race, had the Penske cars been in it.

Chances are, even if they had started at the back, they would have found a way to be near the front at the finish.

Considering their track records, Unser or Fittipaldi might even have found a way to win it.

And as remarkable as that would have been, it wouldn’t have provided nearly the fun of Goodyear’s ignoring the black flag, of Villeneuve’s putting together second- and first-place finishes in his two Sunday drives here.

No question about it, Indy car racing needs Team Penske, for its professionalism, its craftiness, its sheer raciness. And chances are, Roger and the boys will be back with a vengeance.

But for this race, on this day, Team Penske was right where it should have been. On this day, racing needed Goodyear and Villeneuve, Scott Pruett and Jimmy Vasser, Andre Ribeiro and Mauricio Gugelmin.

It needed a race between Honda and Ford, between Goodyear - the tire, not the driver - and Firestone.

It needed a little fun. And it got it.

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