Juan Pablo Montoya wins action-packed Indy 500

Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 win in Victory Lane. (John Cote/IMS)

Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 win. (John Cote/IMS)

Everything came together in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Beautiful weather — sunny with temperatures over 80 — craziness even before the green flag was even waved, and a finish that had everyone in the stands on their feet for the last 15 laps.

Juan Pablo Montoya crossed the finish line first at the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 for his second win. He’s the 19th driver to win it multiple times — the first coming 15 years ago in 2000, his rookie year.

Montoya narrowly edged Will Power by 0.1046.

After the pre-race celebrations, which always guarantee goosebumps, drivers entered their cars and then started their engines. Alex Tagliani’s 48 car gave him some fits but after numerous tries, his crew was able to get it to start.

On the second warm-up lap, Conor Daly’s car caught fired after what was later diagnosed as a fuel cell leak. That was devastating to the likable Daly, who spent a year and a half getting sponsorship for an entry in the race. Instead, he completed as many laps under green as me and you — combined.

The field barely made it one turn after actor Patrick Dempsey waived the green flag before the first multi-car accident. Sage Karam, the youngster, and Takuma Sato made contact.

[Paul George, Pat McAfee arrive at Indy 500 in style, deliver green flag]

See where I’m getting at? Incidents. Drama. Suspense.

That’s exactly what the Verizon IndyCar Series needs to raise it’s profile and popularity. Quality sponsors that fans can relate with would also help.

Scott Dixon, the pole sitter, led the most laps (84) and Simon Pagenaud had one of the strongest cars — he impressed all race and led the second-most laps (35) — but it was the Colombian driver, Montoya, drinking whole milk in Victory Lane at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.

Chevrolet outperformed Honda all month and that held true during the race. The top four finishers all had Chevy engines, and fortunately there were no cars went airborne. Adding to the drama, multiple crew members of Dale Coyne Racing were hit in the pits when two cars tangled. One member was checked and cleared at the infield medical center while another was transported to the hospital for evaluation of a right ankle injury.

Montoya started 15th, moving up 14 spots en route to the win.

Montoya started 15th, moving up 14 spots en route to the win (Photo: Dana Garrett/IMS)

The finish to the race was intense, and that’s putting it lightly. Looking on at the main straightaway from the media center, the stands were filled with fans on their feet eager to see what was in store — and they did not leave disappointed.

Montoya took the lead on lap 192, speeding past both Dixon and Power. Power threatened, moving back in front one lap later through lap 196, but Montoya later moved at the front of the pack on lap 197. Fans roared as Montoya held on for his second IndyCar victory at this famed oval.

Montoya, a top driver in the world, has also raced in Indy — in the United States Grand Prix (2001-06) and the Brickyard 400 (2007-12).

Once the race concluded and I was headed to Victory Lane, I was already looking forward to pizza and re-watching the race when it first airs in this city, a tradition of mine (and many Indy folks). Yes, I’d do it anyway but the race was that good.

Montoya will receive more than $2 million for the win Monday night at the banquet, which puts a cap on the month at IMS. (Last year’s winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, pulled in $2.49 million.) He’ll again have his face sculpted on the Borg-Warner Trophy and best of all, will almost certainly be featured on the ticket of next year’s race. That’s particularly special because 2016 will be the 100th running, and IMS is planning all kinds of celebrations.

“It’s going to be “Super Bowl-like,” Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., said last week.

The attendance and interest in the race years ago was troubling. Attendance was no longer what it used to be, tickets were easily available outside the track at a percentage of face value, and TV ratings dipped. Based on attendance all week, the feel and atmosphere at both Carb Day and Saturday at the track and in the Coke Lot, I think it’s fair to say the race is trending in the right direction.

“We had that good of racing because of the aero kits,” Montoya said. “… I think IndyCar is going in the right direction.”

A thrilling, heart-throbbing race like we had on Sunday will only help.

Race Notes:

  • This was the fourth-closest finish in race history.
  • 20 cars completed all 200 laps.
  • Team Penske picked up its 16th win, and the first since Helio Castroneves won his third in 2009.
  • Graham Rahal recorded his best finish at Indy, fifth, after starting in 17th.
  • Indy’s own Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia made contact in Turn 1 of Lap 113, ending both of their days.
  • Ryan Briscoe, who replaced the injured James Hincliffe, finished 12th for Sam Schmidt Motorsports after starting in the last row (31st).
  • Gabby Chaves was the top-finishing rookie — 16th.

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