We were like the “little team” against the “big super teams.” So the crowd was definitely on our side and, that I was the local kid, too, didn’t hurt.
It was a whirlwind after that. Tons of interviews, a police escort to the Pacers-Knicks game for an intro there and small party at our sponsor’s house. But the minute I won the pole, my mind set changed to race setups and getting ready for Sunday’s practice runs.
It was super hot and humid that Sunday and the conditions were as bad as we had seen them all month. It was a good test for our team and the car. And we pushed the Fuzzy’s Chevy into the garage with a good feeling.
The next few days were pretty crazy with media tours, sponsors appearances and fan events. Fuzzy’s had developed a new Indy 500 Limited Edition Checkered Flag bottle for the month and it was very popular. Long lines were in order for myself and Fuzzy (Zoeller, former Masters and U.S. Open champion and Fuzzy’s Vodka founder) at all of the bottle signings around Indy.
Actually, it was nice to get back in the cockpit on Carb Day and just think about the car and the race. The attention I was given by the fans and the local Indianapolis people was just incredible and humbling. The 500 Festival parade was spectacular and the reaction from the big crowd was really overwhelming. My wife, Heather, and I were truly honored to receive that kind of ovation.
Race day is always maddening. But surprisingly, Heather was doing interviews earlier than me. She was doing television and radio interviews at 7 a.m. I think I was still sleeping at that point. By 8 a.m., it was busy for me, too. But I was ready to go racing.
I was excited about our chances from the pole position and I felt we had a car to win the Indy 500. After all of the great tradition and festivities, we wheeled the Fuzzy’s Chevy to the front immediately. I thought I could get the lead and I wanted to lead early. But I also knew I wanted to go with our game plan and race with the leaders. Then be ready to charge in the last 50 or so laps.
We led 37 laps of the first 75 and it was good start for the ECR squad. The pit stops were very good and we were playing the waiting game, too. I wanted to save some fuel in the middle of the race, so I dropped back in the line and followed Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay and others for awhile. Our downforce level was pretty light, but we felt we could add some front wing and adjust the tire pressures if needed.
Around the middle of the race, lap 100, I could tell the car wasn’t as good as before. Out front, the car was very good, but, in traffic, it was pushing and I couldn’t keep the nose down low on the track. So passing became very difficult. The crew made some changes and I thought we would improve the car.
Unfortunately, it was never enough as the track and heat conditions changed later in the race. In addition, the competition level was unbelievable. It is so tough to race for the lead in the series right now that you need everything just right, as I said previously. We got stuck back in the field a bit and I could never make a charge.
Marco and Ryan were really hooked up and Carlos Munoz was very impressive in the race for a rookie. Of course, TK (Tony Kanaan) is always a contender and was right in the mix, too.
At the finish, TK made the right move at the right time and got the yellow flag just right, too. I was so happy for Tony because he has had some tough luck at IMS before. But I feel for Marco and Ryan. Man, they drove so well and took home third and fourth. The cards just weren’t in their favor this year.
Overall, we had a good month with the pole and leading the most laps. But there is still only one lap I want to lead at Indy and that is the last one. We’ll back next year trying to make that happen. Now it’s on to the rest of the IZOD IndyCar Series and looking for another victory. I think this ECR/Fuzzy’s team has the ability to reach the winner’s circle very soon.