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INDYCAR Decade in Review: Best moments

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As the 2010s comes to a close and the 2020s begin, there were many great moments in the NTT IndyCar Series over the past decade. In some ways, it’s difficult to boil down a decade’s worth of moments into a few thousand words.

There are many great moments that fans will remember that may not have made this list. And other great moments that are important for one particular reason or another to a narrower group of individuals.

For some spectators, they will never forget the first time they attended the Indianapolis 500 in person. It’s a moment that will stay with them for a lifetime and potentially serve as the catapult to become a fan of IndyCar for life. For others, it’s a weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Or maybe it’s seeing the “Corkscrew” at WeatherTech Raceway in Laguna Seca, or a sparks-flying,  battle under the lights on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway.

There’s always the cosmopolitan vibe one feels at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach or the Honda Indy Toronto. Or the “Infield of Dreams” at Iowa Speedway with the beautiful short oval carved out of the cornfields.

To individual race fans, these venues may have provided their favorite moments of the decade.

As the decade comes to a close, NBCSports.com takes a look at 10 of the “Best Moments of the Decade.”


1 – The 100th Indianapolis 500 serving as a pivot point in IndyCar’s rejuvenation

Throughout its rich history, the Indianapolis 500 was unquestionably the “Goliath of All Sporting Events.” For most of the 20th century, it was the largest single-day sporting event in the world drawing crowds of epic proportions. In some years, those crowd approached 400,000 spectators.

It was a combination of history, tradition, jaw-dropping speed, a colorful spectacle and a modern-day Woodstock all rolled into one held every Memorial Day in the “Crossroads of America” – Indianapolis.

With the new millennium dawning in 2000, the once-proud event was under siege. A split between rival racing series CART and the Indy Racing League caused some teams to boycott the Indy 500 and alienated many fans. Combine that with the emergence of new technologies in broadcast and digital, and that created a scenario where fans didn’t have to buy a ticket to be part of the racing action.

The 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 was in 2011, but the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 took place in 2016. The five-year gap was when the event was halted during the two World Wars of the 20th Century.

The Hulman George Family, INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway realized the 100thRunning of the Indianapolis was a great opportunity to honor the history and legacy of the event. INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles began a promotion of the 100th more than a year out.

It was a chance for fans who had not been to the Indy 500 for a long time to return. More importantly, it was also a chance for fans who had never been to Indy a chance to experience one of the greatest events in sports for themselves.

Miles, Boles and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were so successful at welcoming back old friends and inviting newcomers to the 500-Mile Race, it became the first announced “sellout” in Indy 500 history. Attendance in the infield was capped to create a better viewing environment, but fans filled the venerable facility.

Because it was officially “sold out” the TV blackout in central Indiana was lifted, and that allowed fans in Indianapolis to watch the 500 “live” for the first time since 1950. It drew an astounding 33 rating in the Indianapolis viewing market.

It was a glorious day from start to finish and culminated with a surprising winner as rookie Alexander Rossi made it to the finish by nursing 36 laps out of his final tank of fuel. Rossi’s “Clutch and Coast” victory was a suspense-filled stunner, and INDYCAR had a new star.

The 100th Indianapolis 500 served as a pivot point in the history of the series. Fans started to pay more attention to the series as TV ratings and attendance began to increase. New teams joined the series and star drivers from around the world once again wanted to compete in the Indy 500.

It’s a rejuvenation that continues into the 2020s.


2 – Robert Wickens remarkable ongoing recovery from paralysis

It was a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping sight when Robert Wickens’ Honda was airborne and into the fence in Turn 2 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 19, 2018. Wickens had attempted to drive underneath Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda on the first lap in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono.

As the turn closed up, the two cars made contact. Wickens’ Honda drove over the back of Hunter-Reay’s Honda, and it launched into the air. When Wickens’ car hit the fence posts, it began to spin wildly in the other direction.

The rapid change of the spin, from one direction to the complete opposite, provided incredible force of Wickens body. He suffered multiple fractures and a severely bruised spinal cord that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Forget about whether he ever would drive again, the main concern shifted to if he ever could walk again. A long, difficult road to recovery with numerous surgeries followed. Wickens showed a remarkable spirit and unbelievable fight and determination.

His first goal was to spark the nerves in his legs again. Then, it was to stand again. After achieving those goals, Wickens wanted to be able to dance at his wedding in the summer of 2019. He even got to drive a specially prepared Acura NSX before the start of the Honda Indy Toronto in July. His then-fiancee and now his wife, Karli Woods, was in the passenger seat.

The talented driver from Canada was able to achieve all of those goals. Most recently, he has been able to take steps with the help of two canes.

His goal is to become the most successful story in spinal recovery history. He continues that battle into 2020 and vows to one day drive a race car again.

After seeing Wickens’ remarkable recovery since that horrifying injury, don’t bet against him.


3 – Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves provide a “Battle for the Ages” in the 2014 Indianapolis 500

The closing laps of the 98th Indianapolis 500 battle between Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske was a “Battle of the Ages.” It may have been the very best battle to the finish in the history of the Indy 500 as two drivers raced each other with such fierce determination, it bordered on insanity.

The drama followed a red flag that stopped the race after Townsend Bell crashed hard into the exit of the Turn 2 wall with nine laps to go. The race was stopped to fix the SAFER Barrier, and the cars sat silently on pit road during the repair.

Once the race resumed, there were six laps left in the 200-lap contest. The leader kept their car to the low line, forcing the other to go to the outside in an attempt to pass. With five laps to go, Castroneves used the slingshot maneuver to pass Hunter-Reay to the outside in Turn 1. Marco Andretti was also part of the mix and tried to pass Hunter-Reay, but that driver closed up the opening.

With Castroneves leading, Hunter-Reay made the most daring pass of his career when he drove under the white line and nearly into the grass in Turn 3 to take the lead away from Castroneves.

There were two more passes for the lead left, however. Castroneves went to the outside to pass Hunter-Reay to retake the lead with two laps to go. As the field came down the frontstretch to take the white flag signaling the final lap of the race, Hunter-Reay was able to sling-shot past Castroneves going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Castroneves made one more attempt heading to the checkered flag and pulled out to try to draft past Hunter-Reay but lost the battle by just 0.0600-of-a-second at the checkered flag in the second-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

Castroneves was denied a chance to become a four-time Indy 500 winner. For Hunter-Reay, he became the first driver from the United States to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

Bravery and courage were on full display at the end of this race. That exemplified just how important it is to win the Indianapolis 500.


4 – Dario Franchitti’s stunning “Second Career” in IndyCar

When Dario Franchitti announced that he was leaving IndyCar after winning both the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series title in 2007, he had already had a stellar career with 18 wins including the Indy 500 and a series championship. He left for a NASCAR ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008, hoping to find a new challenge.

For Franchitti, it didn’t go as planned.

A fractured ankle from a crash at Talladega left the driver sidelined for the remainder of 2008.

It was at Detroit on Labor Day Weekend when Franchitti returned to the paddock to visit his old friends and former competitors. Ganassi asked Franchitti into his motorhome and made an offer the driver couldn’t refuse.

Dan Wheldon was on his way out of the No. 10 Honda, and Ganassi offered that ride to Franchitti. The driver took it and returned to full-time IndyCar duty beginning in 2009.

From 2009-12, there was nobody better than Franchitti. He won 13 races in those four seasons, including Indy 500 victories in 2010 and 2012 and NTT IndyCar Series titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Combine that with his Indy 500 win from 2007 and Franchitti is a three-time Indy 500 winner. Include his 2007 NTT IndyCar Series championship with Andretti Green Racing, and Franchitti is a four-time champion.

Ironically, his 2012 Indianapolis 500 win was the final victory of his career. One year later, Franchitti was involved in a horrific career-ending crash when his car went into the catchfence at the Shell-Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.

Franchitti suffered a severe concussion, and his doctors strongly advised that he never race again, fearing one more concussion could be fatal.

To this day, Franchitti says he was “forced to retire” but remains in the sport as a key member of Chip Ganassi Racing, working with the current group of drivers including five-time champion Scott Dixon, second-year driver Felix Rosenqvist and newcomer Marcus Ericsson.

What Franchitti was able to do in his “Second Career” is truly remarkable in terms of racing history.


5 – Scott Dixon sweeping in at the last moment to claim the 2015 IndyCar Championship

There was a time when someone could set their calendar based on Scott Dixon’s championships. The driver from Auckland, New Zealand won an IndyCar title every five years. His first was in 2003, his second was in 2008 and his third championship came in 2013.

Notice a trend?

That trend ended in 2015 in what is one of the most surprising championships in recent IndyCar history. It wasn’t surprising that Dixon was in position to win a championship, but it’s how he won it.

Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg and was in the lead for every race of the season. He was set to become a rare start-to-finish champion when the series arrived at Sonoma Raceway for the final race of 2015.

Dixon’s championship odds were slim as six drivers still had a mathematical chance entering the final race of the season that paid double-points.

Montoya started fifth and Dixon ninth.

One lap after a restart on Lap 38, Montoya ran into the back of teammate Will Power in Turn 4. That knocked Montoya back in the pack after repairs were made to his car. Dixon fought his way to the front and scored his third win at Sonoma Raceway. Dixon also led the most laps and that put him in a tie with Montoya for first in the standings.

Dixon won the championship on the tiebreaker. He had three wins to Montoya’s two.

Montoya raced his way back to a sixth-place finish and was battling former Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe for fifth at the end of the race. If Montoya had gained one more position, he would have won the championship.

Instead, it was Dixon with the most surprising of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships. The 2015 title was Dixon’s fourth career title, and he added another championship in 2018.


6 – The emergence of Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi

Two drivers who have all the makings to become all-time greats both joined IndyCar in the past decade. Josef Newgarden won the 2011 Indy Lights Championship for team owner Sam Schmidt. He moved up to IndyCar in 2012 driving for team owners Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman.

After three full seasons in IndyCar, Newgarden had no wins and just two top-three finishes. But in 2015, he won two IndyCar contests for team owner Ed Carpenter and added one more win in 2016. Team Penske signed Newgarden to a contract beginning in 2017, and Newgarden delivered with four wins, nine podiums and his first NTT IndyCar Series title. He won three more races in 2018.

Newgarden won his second series championship in 2019 after winning four races with seven podiums. He turned 29 on Dec. 22 and has established himself as the man to beat heading into 2020.

Alexander Rossi took a different path to stardom. He spent the formative years of his career on a path to Formula One. In 2015, he started five of 19 F1 contests for Manor F1 before a career-changing deal was finalized in early 2016.

Honda Performance Development and Andretti Autosport were able to put together a deal that brought Rossi to IndyCar. Bryan Herta would be the co-owner of Rossi’s Honda.

Rossi was a quick learner and quickly adapted to the different style of IndyCar racing. He was the shocking winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 that year, but he was disappointed with an 11th-place finish in the standings.

He scored a win at Watkins Glen International in 2017 and finished seventh in the series. Rossi’s breakout season was 2018 with three wins, eight podiums and second in the standings to Scott Dixon. In 2019, Rossi was one of the favorites for the championship but a crash on the first lap of the ABC Supply 500 followed by a 13th-place finish at Gateway doomed him to third in the standings at season’s end.

Despite that, Rossi is still the most exciting driver in the series. At 28, Rossi will provide many memorable moments in the next decade.


7 – Alonso Mania comes to the 2017 Indianapolis 500

Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso shocked the racing world in April 2017 when he announced he was skipping the Grand Prix of Monaco to compete in his first Indianapolis 500. McLaren joined forces with Andretti Autosport at the Indy 500, and the talented driver from Spain quickly became a fan favorite.

The F1 star was spectacular in his first Indy 500 attempt. He got up to speed quickly, qualified fifth on the grid and led 27 laps in the 200-lap contest. Alonso was in the thick of the battle for the victory before his Honda engine blew up on Lap 179.

McLaren and Alonso vowed they would return to Indy. But the second time around, the magic was gone. McLaren attempted to run the team on its own and had an engineering alliance with Carlin Racing. The team struggled in the pre-Indy 500 test, and it got worse from there.

McLaren and Alonso were bumped out of the final position in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 by young Kyle Kaiser from Juncos Racing. He was the final driver in the “Last Row Shootout.” By getting bumped out of the field, “AlonsoMania” was no longer an epidemic.

McLaren becomes a full-time IndyCar participant in 2020 with young drivers Patricio O’Ward of Mexico and Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida. It is uncertain if Alonso will attempt another run at the Indy 500 in 2020.


8 – Helio Castroneves wins in 2012 at St. Petersburg, climbs the fence at Dan Wheldon Way 

Dan Wheldon was one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar history. He had the unique ability to make anyone he met feel like a friend. Wheldon was killed in the worst crash of the decade at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011.

Wheldon’s death hung over IndyCar like an ugly dark cloud for the ensuing offseason.

Ironically, the first race after Wheldon’s death was in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. Most of the storyline leading into that race involved Wheldon, his death and what was being done by IndyCar to prevent such a catastrophe from happening in the future.

On the Thursday before the Sunday race, a sign was hung in the Turn 5 area of the street course that renamed it “Dan Wheldon Way.”

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves won the race and on his cooldown lap, he parked the car in Turn 5, climbed out and was set to do his famed “Spiderman” routine of climbing the fence.

Castroneves climbed the fence to the “Dan Wheldon Way” sign, kissed his fingers and touched the sign to honor his former racing rival and departed friend. He then pointed to the Heavens as if Wheldon were looking down at the scene.


9 – Will Power finally wins a championship in 2014

When he arrived in the United States in 2005, fans thought his name was a joke.

“Will Power?”

But he quickly showed on the race track he was no laughing matter.

From 2008-13, Power won an incredible 19 races in 91 attempts. From 2010-12, Power finished second in the championship race in each season.

Power could seemingly do anything except win a championship. Throughout his entire racing career, he had never won a title in any series.

Power arrived at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the final race of the ‘season in position to win the championship. But even that was filled with anxiety when he qualified 21st in the 22-car starting lineup.

Power went on to finish ninth, and that was enough to give him the championship. One of the best drivers of the past decade could finally be called a champion.

Power would add a win in the 2018 Indianapolis 500. In his mind, the championship and the Indy 500 victory allowed him to “check off all of the boxes” of what he considered a successful career.


10 – Tony Kanaan finally wins the Indianapolis 500 in 2013

When Tony Kanaan arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a rookie in 2002, the fans loved to see the hard charger from Brazil get his car to the front. He led 23 laps in his first Indy 500 before he crashed while leading the race after hitting a patch of oil on the track.

Kanaan quickly became a fan favorite because they love a charger. Kanaan always knew how to get out front. He led 28 laps in 2004, 54 in 2005, 12 in 2003 and 83 laps in 2007. He was the leader of the 2007 race when a torrential rainstorm halted the contest after 113 laps, but four hours later, the race would resume, and he finished 12th when a second rainstorm ended the race after 166 of the scheduled 200 laps.

Kanaan remained a star, but the years from 2008 to 2010 saw him finish 29th, 27th and 11threspectively. In 2012, the fans thought it was Kanaan’s year, but he finished third.

Finally, in his 12th attempt after starting 12th, Kanaan gave his loyal fans what they wanted to see. He led 34 laps and drove to victory in the Indianapolis 500 for the only time in his career.

It was also remarkable because this race featured an Indy 500 record 68 lead changes. Kanaan was cunning and smart and used his skill and experience to be there at the end.

As the field was getting ready for the last restart of the race, radioed his crew and said, “I’m going to go for it.”

That’s exactly what he did, capping his career with his only Indy 500 win.