INDIANAPOLIS -- Nearly three-quarters of the 98th Indianapolis flashed by without a caution flag Sunday. Then the finish made the whole day look normal again.
The worst crash of the day caused no injuries and involved only two cars, but both belonged to contenders and it was the result of a three-wide move that could charitably be called optimistic.
Townsend Bellwent to the outside to try to take second place from Ed Carpenteron a restart with 30 laps to go, and James Hinchcliffe, in fourth, took his shot down the inside.
With both Bell and Carpenter surprised and Bell having left no room to spare, it was inevitable that Carpenter and Hinchcliffe touched. They quickly spun to the outside wall and Bell narrowly escaped.
"From where I was, it could have been the last restart (and) it's the last stint for sure," Hinchcliffe said. "You got to go for it.
"Ed gave me the room initially. I don't think Townsend knew we were three wide. From what I saw Townsend came down on Ed and came down into me, but I was the last guy there, so I've got to take a portion of the blame for sure."
Carpenter climbed from his car first and walked over to Hinchcliffe's for a quick word.
"I told him if he didn't have a concussion last week that I would have punched him in the face," said Carpenter, the pole-sitter. "It wasn't a green-white-checkered situation.
"Of all the guys out there, I wouldn't have thought it would be Hinch."
Hinchcliffe missed the first few days of 500 practice while recovering after he was hit in the helmet by debris two weeks earlier in a race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield road course.
Carpenter and Hinchcliffe started side-by-side on the front row and led a combined 40 laps.
By official count, five yellows ate up 21 of the last 51 laps, although the math wasn't quite that straightforward.
In one case, Scott Dixon's hard crash on Lap 168th lap led to Josef Newgardengetting clobbered from behind by Martin Plowman. And then seconds after the yellow flew for debris in Turn 2 on the 191st lap, Bell crashed there, necessitating a red flag.
Bad day all around:With Dixon's crash, another by Charlie Kimball and mechanical problems for defending race winner Tony Kanaan, Sunday was a 500 to forget for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The highlight, statistically, was an 18th-place finish for Ryan Briscoe, who recovered from a close call with SageKaramand Jacques Villeneuveon the first lap to run in the top 10 but then got chopped by Will Poweron the final restart.
"He just completely drove me to the grass and . . . broke my front wing," Briscoe said. "It was just absolutely stupid driving on his part and ruined our race after we did such a good job."
Kanaan lost all hope of contending when, after he ran out of fuel coming to his second pit stop, a gear in the starter mechanism stripped as his team tried to refire his engine. He ended up 26th, 23 laps down.
Kimball brought out the first caution flag when wrecked in Turn 2 on the 150th lap after nearly crashing a lap earlier.
Dixon's accident on 168 looked strange; his car snapped around almost on entry to the fourth turn. The 2008 winner hit the wall with the left side of his car and then skated across for a relatively light hit on the inside.
"All of a sudden it just started to slide mid-pack," Dixon said. "I tried to catch it and there was no catching it."
Deja vu:The long green start let Juan Pablo Montoya's team to try an alternate strategy, saving enough fuel to make one fewer stop. The cautions eliminated that option, but he already had torpedoed it by getting caught for speeding in the pits on the 132nd lap.
"I pressed the wrong button while trying to reset a fuel control," Montoya said. "We got a penalty for that, but we came back. I was proud of the way we fought. I don't think we had anything for Hunter-Reay or Helio, but . . . it was good to be back at Indy."
Montoya's penalty involved making a slow-speed trip down pit lane while the leaders ran at speed. With plenty of time to recover, he finished fifth.
Montoya encountered a similar situation at Indy in 2009, during the NASCAR phase of his career, when a speeding penalty took him out of the lead of the Brickyard 400 while he had the fastest car.
Not coming home again:Speedway legend Jim Naborsperformed "Back Home Again in Indiana" for the 35th and final time before the race, and earlier he relived the story of how he nearly wasn't a part of the tradition.
Nabors thought he was coming to sing the national anthem until the conductor of the Purdue University band broke the news about five minutes before he was to start. He knew the melody, but not much more.
"I'm writing on my hand the words in this five minutes," Nabors said. "Three minutes by this time. And finally when I finally finished writing it, I didn't know if it was the right key, I'd never had a rehearsal or anything, and suddenly they go like that" -- Nabors pointed in comical exaggeration -- "and I go, 'BACK HOME AGAAAAAAIIIN . . . . ' There we went. I had no idea it'd be all these years later and I'd still be doing this."
Nabors said though participating in the festivities was the highlight of his year, it's time to move on.
"I look back on my life and it's kind of scary," Nabors said. "Because I realized all my dreams. Where do you go from there?"
After singing, Nabors, 83, joined Indianapolis Motor Speedway board chairman Mari Hulman Georgefor the command to start engines.
Happy to help:The Rev. Dale Grubba, the Catholic priest from Princeton, Wis., accompanying Kurt Busch on his Indy/NASCAR double duty, was grinning from ear to ear as he chatted with old friends and took pictures while waiting on the grid to bless Busch.
Grubba flew up from Charlotte, N.C., Saturday and said he was amazed to see all the people lined up before sunrise to get into the track.
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