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Sunday, May 25, 2008
Dixon's win launches new, better era for the Indianapolis 500

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Tony Kanaan and Sarah Fisher
There were plenty of crashes to go around at the 92nd running of the Indy 500, including this one between Sarah Fisher, left, and Tony Kanaan. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Sunday was an Indianapolis 500 the way we all remember it. Well, those of us old enough to remember when so many things made this event special.

A giant crowd, clearly the biggest in a decade. Tempers flaring, almost A.J. Foyt style, among several contending drivers, including Danica.

Unexpected moments and wild crashes, but thankfully, no one hurt. Tears of disappointment from one driver. And the race favorite holding off the little-team underdog in the final laps.

New Zealand's Scott Dixon will go in the books as the first Indy 500 winner of the new era, the return of one unified series for American open-wheel racing.

Indy car fans have waited 13 years for this family reunion. It appeared many of them were back at the Brickyard for the first time since the mid-1990s.

The historic house of racing was almost full again with close to 300,000 spectators packing the grandstands and the enormous infield.

The buzz was back and the drama of the moment didn't disappoint, even though the biggest stars -- Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti -- fell short of a victory.

Patrick ran in the top 10 most of the race, but an accident on pit road with 29 laps to go ended her chances. It also got the lady stomping mad.

Ryan Briscoe ran into Patrick's car as he exited his pit stall while she was driving by on the outside. When Patrick climbed out of her car, she made a beeline for Briscoe's pit stall.

"It's probably for the best that I didn't get there," Patrick said.

A speedway security official, about twice Patrick's size, kept her from confronting Briscoe. But you have to love Patrick's fire. The girl's got some gruff in her.

This was the first Indy 500 Patrick failed to finish in the top 10, but she couldn't quite get to the front this time.

"I can't do anything," she told her crew during the race. "I am slow. I am slow."

Whether that would have changed in the final laps, we'll never know.

"Our team worked really hard, but we didn't have anything to show for it at the end," she said. "What are ya gonna do?"

Andretti, Patrick's teammate, felt the same way after finishing third, the second time the 21-year-old racer has come close to a victory at Indy. He fell a few feet short of a win as a rookie in 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. passed him at the finish line.

Indy 500 fans
The crowds were back in force for the first Indy 500 since unification of the IRL and Champ Car World Series.

Andretti led for 15 laps this time, but felt a late-race change to his car in the pits cost him a chance at victory.

"In hindsight, you see the mistakes," he said. "It was a team decision to trim out the car, but we messed up. We'll take the points and move on."

Before moving on, Andretti might want to make amends with his teammate, Tony Kanaan. The Andretti luck at Indy has passed on to Kanaan. He has led all seven of his Indy starts, but hasn't won it.

He was leading Sunday when Andretti cut him off in the inside lane and caused Kanaan to push into the outside wall.

"I thought I had him cleared, but maybe I dive-bombed him too late," Andretti said. "If so, I completely apologize."

Andretti may want to give Kanaan a few days to accept that apology.

"It was a very stupid move, especially being teammates," Kanaan said. "I didn't want to turn into him and take us both out. I gave up this time and I'm not very happy about it. As usual, I'm in the lead and get taken out."

Kanaan's misfortune became Sarah Fisher's nightmare. As Kanaan spun sideways, Fisher had nowhere to go behind him and slammed into Kanaan's left-front wheel.

"I feel so sorry for her,'' Kanaan said. "I went back in the ambulance with her and she was crying so hard. I told her, 'Cry in here and come out and have a smile on your face.'"

Easier said than done. Fisher, an owner/driver now, had just lost her car and may not have the money to fix it. The tears came again when she was interviewed on TV moments later.

Vitor Meira shed no tears, despite continuing to live up to his moniker as the best driver in the series never to win a race. Meira is 0-for-81 in the IndyCar Series. He made a run at Dixon in the end, but had to settle for second place.

David couldn't stop Goliath this time. Meira drives for Panther Racing's single-car team. No single-car team was supposed to challenge the big boys.

Dixon drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the three dominant teams in the series along with Penske Racing and Andretti Green Racing.

Dixon was the best of the best all month at Indy. Isn't that nice to say?

The best of the best. No one has said that about the Indy 500 for a long time.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.