Should the racing in the Indianapolis 500 have a different look in 2019?

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INDIANAPOLIS – A new car brought a new style of racing Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – along with raising questions about whether the old package was better.

The 102 running of the Indianapolis 500 began as a track-positon battle with pole-sitter Ed Carpenter leading the first 30 laps (the longest stretch to open a race here without a lead change since Dario Franchitti led the first 30 laps in 2010).

The complexion changed in the final 150 miles as divergent fuel strategies and a spate of four cautions in the final 61 laps bunched up the field for some hairy restarts that helped keep the outcome in doubt.

But the 30 lead changes ranked seventh in Indy history but still were the fewest since 2011 and came on the heels of a six-year stretch in which Indy averaged 44 lead changes (including a high of 68 in 2013).

Though Sunday featured a record-tying 15 leaders (matching last year), several drivers immediately said that some improvements were needed for the 2019 race (which will be broadcast on NBC).

“More downforce,” fourth-place finisher Alexander Rossi said. “We need more, man. This car looks great. The road course car is fantastic, but it’s pretty hard to pass around here.”

Said car owner Michael Andretti: “We’re going to have to look at it for next year and we’ve got to do something to the package to hopefully make it a little better.

“There’s a lot of things they could do. They could do aero. Firestone could probably help out a little bit as well. So there’s some things that can be done.”

Scott Dixon agreed an improvement could be achieved through the tire but wasn’t necessarily on board with altering the downforce levels to a great degree.

“It’s almost like the cars need a little more drag to make that happen or maybe a little bit of downforce so you can stay closer,” he said. “Even when I got into a scenario with a clear track, slow competitors in front of us, it was very tough to get a run. There was no real wind so no real corner that was distinctly harder than the others. Normally (turns) 2 or 4 has a big shift, and you can get some cars that are bad, get them off those corners. That just didn’t play true today.

“It won’t take much. It will just be a little tweak to help that out.”

Not unlike the ongoing philosophical debate in NASCAR about whether to implement rules that bunch the field and seemingly deemphasize drivers’ ability, there were differing opinions about whether Indianapolis should be as hard to pass as it was on a 91-degree Sunday (the second-hottest Indy 500 on record) that made the 2.5-mile track extremely slick.

“It was a totally different type of race,” said Carpenter, who led a race-high 65 laps. “I’ll have to watch it from the outside to see from that perspective. I like the way it drives. It’s definitely challenging to the driver. I like it when it’s hard. That’s why I was hoping it was going to be hot today because it makes things even more difficult.
“The old car, if you had a really good car, you couldn’t really get rewarded by getting away or getting separation. I think if you have a good enough car, you’re rewarded by being able to get away a little bit. I do think we need to maybe make little improvements just because it’s so hard in dirty air to do much, to even have a better finish at the end.”

Naturally, race winner Will Power was OK with a race that reminded him about the 2008-11 editions of the Brickyard.

“This was a race you wanted to lead,” said the Team Penske driver, who led 59 laps. “At last they had a formula, if you had a good car, the leader could benefit and pull away. I liked it. It definitely made it harder to drive. Put the driver back into it more, where before you could hang back, third, no one wanted to lead.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)