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INDIANAPOLIS – The impressive month of May for Kurt Busch concluded on Sunday with more of the same as the NASCAR champion placed sixth in not only his first Indianapolis 500, but his first Verizon IndyCar Series race ever.
Busch finished as the top-running rookie and crossed the yard of bricks 2.26 seconds after the winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
With his NASCAR obligations at the Coke 600, Busch rushed from his car immediately following the race to a waiting helicopter that took him to a private jet bound for North Carolina.
“What an unbelievable experience,” Busch said. “It is a dream come true to have an Andretti Autosport car to drive at Indy.”
Busch began the race 12th and settled in mid-pack for the first few stints before working his way forward. He said in the buildup to the race that he wanted to get comfortable early and be in a position to compete in the end.
Busch said earlier in the month that finishing in the top half of the field on the lead lap would constitute a successful day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We settled in and ran laps and tried to pace ourselves,” Busch said. “I just tried to feel the car all race long.
“My throat's real dry because I was smiling the whole time and fresh air was coming in my mouth.”
After the race, Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti expressed his pleasure with his one-off driver.
“It was a pleasure having (Busch) on the team … maybe we will do it again sometime.”
Ed Carpenter was none too happy with James Hinchcliffe following a crash on lap 176 following a restart that took out the pair running towards the front.
Carpenter held the middle line heading into turn 1 when Townsend Bell jumped to the outside in an attempt to make a pass. Hinchcliffe then dove to the bottom to go under Carpenter, with the two wrecking after Bell got into Carpenter.
Looking upset after exiting his car, Carpenter went over to Hinchcliffe and gave him a mocking “thumbs-up” gesture before storming off.
Bell emerged from the incident unharmed.
Carpenter laid blame on Hinchcliffe for making it three-wide in the turn.
“I told him if he didn't have a concussion last week that I would have punched him in the face,” Carpenter said. “It wasn't a green-white-checkered situation. Of all the guys out there, I wouldn't have thought it would be Hinch.
Hinchcliffe was more reserved when asked what he saw.
"I honestly don't think Townsend (Bell) knew we were three-wide," Hinchcliffe said. "I was the last guy so I got to take my portion of the blame.
“I feel bad for Ed. ... It's 100 percent not Ed's fault."
Carpenter appeared to have a car that could have competed for the win, leading four times for 26 laps.
It is unlikely that the Verizon IndyCar Series ever adopts the green-white-checkered format for late-race cautions like NASCAR, but the decision to red flag the race Sunday on lap 193 was unprecedented.
The red flag froze the field as the SAFER barrier was repaired following Townsend Bell's crash in turn 2. Instead of finishing the race under caution for a fifth consecutive year, IndyCar officials decided to stop the race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay sat atop the leaderboard during the red flag that last over 10 minutes.
“It was tough to deal with the red flag,” Hunter-Reay said. “But I was thinking we had a great shot at it.”
Michael Andretti initially did not like the decision to red flag the race, but understood why it was done.
“I understand why they did it, it's for the fans,” Andretti said. “I am glad they threw it with six or seven laps to go not one or two laps to go, it was enough time for great racing still.”
The race restarted with six green laps remaining.
Crowd favorites Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan each had problems in the early going of Sunday's race. Rahal was running towards the back of the field on lap 41 when he slowed on track and coaxed his way onto pit road.
The issue involved Rahal's Honda engine shutting off intermittently.
“We ran back out a couple of times trying to fix it and we (didn't see the problem),” Rahal said.
Since finishing third in the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, Rahal has had finishes of 13th, 25th and now 33rd.
Through five races so far this season, Rahal's best finish is 13th at Long Beach.
“This team is made up of champions and everybody's here trying very, very hard and trying to improve,” Rahal said. “I don't know what else to say.”
Kanaan ran out of fuel heading onto pit road on one of his early pit stops then stripped the gears when the engine was restarted.
The defending Indy 500 champion finished 26th, 23 laps down.
“Our day was pretty much over before it started with the issues we had on pit lane,” Kanaan said. “When you go that many laps down you simply cannot recover.
“I always say this place chooses the winner and unfortunately (Sunday) she didn't choose us.”
Team Penske drivers Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya were big factors in the early portions of the race, with Montoya looking like one of the favorites as he was able to run the longest on fuel stints due to solid gas mileage.
But both were hit with speeding penalties on pit road within seven laps of each other between lap 128 and lap 135.
Montoya was able to work his way back up to finish fifth, while Power placed eighth, but neither factored much into the race up front over the final 65 laps.
Hunter-Reay is the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 from the 19th starting position, joining Bill Vukovich in 1954. Hunter-Reay's 54 laps led were the most by a driver starting that deep in the field since Wally Dallenbach Sr. led a race-high 96 laps in 1975 from the 21st position … Marco Andretti's third-place finish was his fourth podium in nine starts in the Indianapolis 500. The combination of Marco, father Michael and grandfather Mario now have a total of 11 podium finishes at Indianapolis, with just one win, Mario in 1969 … The race was the second-fastest Indianapolis 500 in terms of average speed at 186.563 and the second-fastest in time elapsed in 2 hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds … The 34 lead changes tied for second-most in Indianapolis 500 history (2012) … Records set on Sunday included most laps completed by the field (6,015) that broke the previous record of 5,863 set in 2013 and the most cars finishing on the lead lap (20), besting the 19 cars of 2009 and 2013.
“Second is good, but second sucks” – Helio Castroneves after finishing second to Ryan Hunter-Reay in Sunday's Indianapolis 500.