Sunday, January 30, 2011

Greatest 33 -- Honorary Row 12

The Indy 500 has been around for 100 years, and for 82 of those that race was the only event held on the hallowed grounds.

When NASCAR arrived with much fanfare (and hand-wringing from traditionalist fans) in 1994, Formula 1 followed a few years later in 2000 and finally Moto GP took the track way back to its roots when motorcycles began racing there in 2008.

Now the Speedway has multiple events of different motorsports disciplines, and that's a good thing. While it was at first hard to see stock cars rumbling (slowly) down the main straight, the facility is now truly a center of racing, bringing even more people than ever before from around the world to 16th and Georgetown.

That also means that there have been great drivers who have raced at the Speedway but never turned a lap in the 500. While the Greatest 33 is specifically for the drivers that have, I decided to add an honorary 12th row for a trio of guys who have added to the Speedway's legacy.

There is a precedent...on several occasions the race had more than 33 starters. So I'm making an exception here and adding to the field.

Inside Row 12: Michael Schumacher

The United States Grand Prix was run at Indy eight times, and Schumacher won five of them. He also won four poles and would have six victories if not for slowing down in 2002 in order to "tie" the race with Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello, who was awarded the victory by just .0011 seconds.

Middle Row 12: Dale Earnhardt

Before being killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt made seven starts in the Brickyard, winning the race in 1995 and posting two other top-5 finishes. Indy was actually one of the few tracks he didn't dominate in his career, leading just 37 of the 1,118 laps he completed, and came home 10th, 15th and 29th position in three of his runs. Yes, this is a Lifetime Achievement Award...while he may not have been an "Indy only" great, he is one of the all-time greats of stock car racing and deserves to be here.

Outside Row 12: Jeff Gordon

Gordon on his 1994 victory lap
Gordon seemed destined to drive in, and win, the Indy 500. After his family moved from California to Pittsboro, Ind. when he was in high school to further his racing career, it was always assumed he would work his way up to the highest levels of open wheel racing. Unfortunately, NASCAR got to him first and his career took that path. It paid off for him, though, as Gordon has become one of NASCAR's most decorated champions, and is certainly the most dominant stock car driver ever at the Speedway. Gordon was just two days past his 23rd birthday when he won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. He's followed that up with wins in 1998, 2001 and 2004 and is one of just four drivers (Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin) who have run in all 17 Brickyards. He has sat on the pole three times and has led a record 440 laps.

So that adds a "fantasy racing" aspect to a list of the greatest, and does recognize a little bit of history outside of the 500. The only question remains is: how long would it take these three guys to get to the front?

No comments:

Post a Comment