DETROIT – Two years ago in the Indianapolis 500, the term “the Munoz line” entered the vernacular inside Verizon IndyCar Series circles.
It was used to describe how ridiculously low Carlos Munoz went through the turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he made his race debut in the Indianapolis 500.
While many thought this unheralded, but talented, then-21-year-old Colombian would wall it, Munoz didn’t, and the runner-up finish to popular first-time champion Tony Kanaan served as his arrival on the scene.
In the intervening two years since, it’s hard to say exactly what race has stood out best for Munoz as an encore.
He did well in pinch-hit roles for both Ryan Briscoe (Toronto) and E.J. Viso (Fontana) that year, and he scored three podiums a year ago, plus added another top-five in the Indianapolis 500.
None though, matched the otherworldly debut he had in the series’ biggest race.
But today in Detroit, Munoz finally had his moment, and seized it.
Running anywhere from eight to 10 seconds a lap quicker on slick tires than anyone else, save for his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti and the third member of today’s podium in Simon Pagenaud, Munoz made hay before his last pit stop, although he was good on fuel.
He was leading until the race was called, but he’d put himself in position to be there despite starting 20th.
“When it rained a little bit, everyone came, and smart call, Simon and I still on the track,” Munoz said. “I knew for sure it would rain. We stayed. I had more fuel than Marco. I could push three laps harder than anyone else. That’s what make the gap so big.
“In the rain, after the rain, I was feeling really comfortable. I was pulling like two seconds a lap in the rain. After they say to slow down a little bit.”
Although Munoz is now a winner, he didn’t feel the happiest.
“My first win in IndyCar. Not the way I wanted to win. I want to win like 100 percent, all the laps complete. But a win is a win, like Marco says.
“You see my face. I’m more happy for my crew than myself for the victory. They say, A win is a win. This is racing, this is what happens.”
Pagenaud, who was the last first-time winner in Detroit in 2013, recalled his triumph and told Munoz to savor the moment.
“Yeah, I can remember when it happened to me. It’s good memories. Just make sure you enjoy it, man, because it’s tough,” he said.
“This series is very competitive. Like Marco said, it’s not that easy to get a win. When you get that one win, make sure you enjoy it. Save it in your memory because you going to enjoy this moment. It’s your day.”
Added Andretti, who’s won only twice in his career and is currently in the midst of a four-year dry spell dating to Iowa 2011, “Yeah, I mean, I wish I had more wins in my career, there’s no question about it. But, you know, I’m not giving up. I’ll be as persistent as anybody out there.”
For Munoz, the memories shift back to that day as a rookie in Indy, and how quickly he moved on from the race and continued with the rest of his season, then in Indy Lights.
“On Monday after the race, I already forgot about that. I didn’t cross the finish line first, so nothing I could do. Everything can happen.”
And on Saturday in Detroit, the thing that happened was the potential being realized as Munoz joined the list of IndyCar race winners. He’s the second first-timer this year, after Josef Newgarden won at Barber last month.
Now he’ll join the list of drivers looking for number two.