Post-Script: For over a year, the rumor has been that Alexander Rossi was the inevitable replacement for Simon Pagenaud at Team Penske. He is, by far, the best driver on the grid not employed by either Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi, and his time with Penske's sports car program hints even further at the inevitability of it all. Rossi would certainly be deserving of that opportunity, but it must mean something particularly special for Simon Pagenaud to not only win the biggest race of his career but do it over the man presumed by so many to be replacing him.
Pagenaud, Will Power's former ChampCar teammate, fell out of open wheel hard in 2008, and rebuilt his career from the beginning. Gil de Ferran gave him a chance in an American Le Mans Series Acura and he proved his speed, Peugeot gave him a chance in their Le Mans-winning 908s and, alongside fellow ChampCar castoff Sebastien Bourdais, he proved himself among the two or three best sports car drivers on earth. A program with his ALMS team meant to get him to the Indianapolis 500 never formulated in 2011, but that year he finally got a chance in open wheel cars again as a substitute driver for a few teams. He looked excellent in those, and in 2012 Sam Schmidt Motorsports gave him the big break, a full season in their cars.
He was an instant championship contender for a team not used to winning, and soon was running for Penske. He has a title with the team already, and now he has the biggest prize of his career.
Simon Pagenaud, looking for the second time at the possibility of being dropped from the face of the open wheel world, is the sole victor of the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
Lap 200: Rossi takes it to the outside in 3, but it isn't enough. He has a run off 4. It also isn't enough. Simon Pagenaud has won the Indianapolis 500, leading the vast majority of the race but never truly in conrtol.
The two fastest cars of the day fought it out on track, and Simon Pagenaud came out the winner. Alexander Rossi is your runner up, Takuma Sato takes third.
Simon Pagenaud completes the first-ever perfect May involving the race on the road course, taking both races and the pole for Indianapolis. He joins teammate Will Power as the second to win both races, matching and bettering Power's feat last year.
Lap 199: White flag. Pagenaud leads.
Lap 198: Pagenaud looks outside into 1, but hesitates. He sets up into 3 and makes a move to the outside. Pagenaud to the lead.
Lap 196: Rossi makes a move and takes the lead into turn 1! Rossi has a huge advantage! Pagenaud now half a second back, three to go.
Lap 195: Rossi is faster out of 4, but being blocked effectively and effortlessly by Pagenaud. Sato is close enough to pass both if they go side by side into a corner.
Lap 194: Pagenaud no longer blocking as aggressively, but still hasn't pulled away. Sato's momentum is stalled in third. The two fastest cars on the track are going for everything.
Lap 192: Top four blanketed by a second. Rossi attempts to move outside and lifts once he realizes he won't make it through turn 1. Rossi has favored the inside, while Pagenaud has favored the outside to pass. Pagenaud is aggressively blocking the inside line now.
Lap 191: Pagenaud again blocks Rossi into 1. Sato is flying toward the leaders.
Lap 190: Rossi attempts to get to the inside but fails, Pagenaud leads two consecutive laps. Sato makes a move on the outside for third.
Lap 189: Simon Pagenaud retakes the lead again into turn 1.
Lap 188: Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato move flat out through turns 3 and 4 side by side. Alexander Rossi retakes the lead into turn 1.
Lap 187: Pagenaud makes a move to the outside on the restart and takes the lead. Josef Newgarden moves to third. Takuma Sato moves to fourth.
Lap 186: Back to green after a shockingly long post-red yellow. Rossi, Pagenaud, Carpenter, Newgarden, Sato, Daly, Ferrucci, Hunter-Reay, Power, and Pigot is the top ten on the restart, with Dixon stopping from seventh to repair some minor damage.
Lots of oil drying agent on the inside line of turns 3 and 4. Lots of fast cars at the front.
Lap 180, Fourth Caution: Back under yellow conditions. 20 laps to go.
Lap 179, Red Flag: Graham Rahal was, to say the least, unhappy with Bourdais:
Lap 179, Red Flag: Rossi's team reports that the issue with filling up the #27 on an earlier stop was due to a probe component failing. The car won't need fuel again and had no issue on its last stop, so there's no need for concern on that front for the race leader.
Lap 179, Red Flag: A massive, five-car crash. Graham Rahal tries to pass Sebastien Bourdais inside of turn 3 and makes with Bourdais, wrecking both excellent-running cars. Three others are collected behind, Rosenqvist, Veach, and Kimball. Scott Dixon and Santino Ferrucci escape from the middle of the fracas.
Spencer Pigot was the leader at the time and will need to pit when the race resumes.
Lap 178: Alexander Rossi to the net lead.
Lap 176: Takuma Sato and Spencer Pigot are yet to pit. Alexander Rossi is pressuring Simon Pagenaud heavily for the net race lead.
Lap 171: Alexander Rossi passes Josef Newgarden on his out lap, but Simon Pagenaud is the net leader ahead of both. He needs to do 33 laps as a leader to win the race.
Ed Carpenter cycles out in third, then Rossi, then Carpenter, Newgarden, Bourdais, Rahal, and Daly. Those are your contenders on the primary cycle.
Lap 170: Alexander Rossi completes the final stop his team was dreading, impressively doing so under seven seconds. That car's main concern is alleviated while some of the other leaders run a few extra laps.
Notably, Scott Dixon stops with Rossi, ending his chances to undercut the leaders. Rookie Santino Ferrucci is now the one to watch to do something unique during this cycle of stops. Given his team owner Dale Coyne's history of winning fuel mileage races, watch that car.
Lap 169: Simon Pagenaud stops for the last time today. He needs one more lap than the 32 he's been running to make the end of the race on fuel. The thing to watch is now those with an extra fifteen laps or so undercutting and getting an advantage from only needing shorter, fuel-only stops.
Lap 168: Simon Pagenaud re-takes the lead into turn 3. Newgarden is up to 18 laps led on the day.
Lap 162: Alexander Rossi is back past both Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly, again in 4th and again the leading Honda. He's been the story of the race so far but has yet to lead a lap.
Nobody has a notable lead and all six of these leaders are still within two seconds.
Lap 155: Alexander Rossi has just completed his third absurd pass on Oriol Servia, a car that is not on the lead lap, in the past four laps. He's having some real trouble with that car, but still incredibly fast. Sixth as they run.
Lap 153: Conor Daly up to fourth. That car is now the top Honda.
Lap 151: Josef Newgarden takes the lead into turn 3. This marks the first time anyone but Pagenaud has led a lap for any reason but fuel stop timing.
Lap 149: Back to green. Alexander Rossi is trying everything. He makes a three-wide pass around lap traffic, but he's fallen to sixth off an impressive restart by teammate Conor Daly.
Josef Newgarden is past Ed Carpenter and into second.
Lap 143, Third Caution: After those off-cycle stops, top five remains the same as it was before the unexpected yellow, albeit in a different order. Simon Pagenaud still leads, but now does so over Ed Carpenter, Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi, whose fall was not nearly as severe as initially seemed likely. He has a real reason to worry about his next stop, though, given that he's now had refueling issues twice in a row.
Conor Daly runs an impressive sixth ahead of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, in his best position of the day in seventh. Graham Rahal runs eighth.
Scott Dixon has about eight laps of fuel advantage as the first to stop under yellow in ninth. His teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, is now the top running rookie in 11th.
JR Hildebrand, Matheus Leist, and Tony Kanaan have joined Pippa Mann, Sage Karam, Oriol Servia, and James Davison one lap down.
Lap 138, Third Caution: Disaster for Alexander Rossi! His team again has a massive issue getting the fuel nozzle to engage. That car stops for 23 full seconds, and while this is happening the #7 of Marcus Ericsson spins on the pit lane, bringing out a truly ill-timed yellow. The fastest car in the field is suddenly in a very bad place.
Scott Dixon, well ahead on fuel at this point, leads the field as-they-run alongside about eight other cars that have yet to stop, while Simon Pagenaud leads those who have already stopped.
Lap 136: Ed Carpenter and Simon Pagenaud stop. Carpenter passes Rossi on track and is on the lead lap as-they-run.
Lap 126: After an incredibly close most recent stint, the leaders are beginning to thin out. The top three are covered by a second and a half, seemingly by choice for Ed Carpenter and Alexander Rossi, but Carpenter has two seconds over fourth-placed Josef Newgarden, who himself has a solid four second margin over fifth-placed Sebastien Bourdais. As they run, your serious contenders are Pagenaud, Rossi, Carpenter, and Scott Dixon, who is well back by track position in seventh but has so much of a fuel advantage that any off-timed yellow would put him in an interesting position.
Lap 123: The race for Rookie of the Year is now happening on track, with Santino Ferrucci just half a second behind Marcus Ericsson. Neither were the favorite for the award for the race or for the season, so these are notably impressive runs.
Lap 120: Alexander Rossi's fuel advantage should not be understated. That car runs second, looks faster than any other car on track, and has the flexibility to not need to worry about saving significantly to make the race in two more stops. As they run, this is his race to lose.
Lap 112: We're well past halfway and the race is official. The top five are within two seconds. The forecast for the late afternoon is unforgiving, so the leader when the rain falls is expected to be the race winner. Game on.
Lap 111: Scott Dixon stops. Felix Rosenqvist and Jack Harvey are still out on their own off-cycle strategies. Net leader Simon Pagenaud had a huge advantage after his out lap, but as the cycle has continued he's lost his lead.
Alexander Rossi has gained four spots over the past few laps and is now pressuring for the lead. That car is in a fantastic place.
NBC reports that the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan crew member injured during Jordan King's most recent stop has been stabilized and taken to a local hospital.
Lap 106: Rossi has a fuel filling issue and loses a few seconds on the stop. He falls from fourth to fifth.
Just as in the last cycle, Scott Dixon is out-saving the field. That car's fuel advantage is becoming massive.
Lap 105: Sebastien Bourdais stops, leaving Rossi as the lone leader putting out incredible mileage. Rossi finally stops one lap later, on 106. He has a significant mileage advantage on the top three.
Lap 99: A developing disaster for Simon Pagenaud, who is struggling to save fuel while leading. He stops short again, leaving him potentially short of the fuel he'll need to finish the race on just two more stops.
Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot stop on lap 100, while Josef Newgarden stops on lap 101. Not a strong fuel saving run for anyone, particularly given the caution in the middle. Alexander Rossi's Honda will get at least one more lap of fuel on them.
Lap 94: Alexander Rossi's #27 has quietly been putting down top two lap speeds over the last run and a half. That car is a real contender and hasn't been in a position to show it yet, a particularly interesting mix when you consider his history of aggression here that teeters between impressive and reckless.
Lap 90: Pagenaud's lead isn't as big as it once was. Ed Carpenter is sitting 4/10ths of a second back of the leader, and, given his history of running well but not leading significant laps here, may not be patient for long.
Lap 80: Back to green on a wild restart. Pagenaud leads, the top six remain unchanged after some jostling, and Conor Daly is up to seventh. Scott Dixon runs eighth with two more laps of fuel than anyone else in the top ten.
Lap 74, Second Caution: Will Power has been penalized for hitting one of his crew members on his previous stop and will be moved from sixth to the back of the field. He'll restart behind lap traffic, 22nd as they run and 30th on track.
Coming back from this will be difficult, but the #12 Penske entry is the second or third fastest car in the field so far.
Lap 73, Second Caution: Kyle Kaiser, the last qualifier on the grid, the driver that bumped Fernando Alonso, has spun in turn 3. He found himself in a bad lane while being passed by Sage Karam, and, despite nearly saving it, hit the wall after spinning coming off the corner. He is out of his Juncos Racing entry and looks to be okay, but that car's day is done.
Felix Rosenqvist, who has been running off-strategy, should be the big winner here, but his car has been fairly noncompetitive and he runs only second on track at the time of the caution. He's going to have to stop and, assuming most of the field does not follow, his brief advantage will be gone. He'll still be about two laps ahead of the rest of the field on fuel.
Sage Karam, Oriol Seriva, and Pippa Mann have joined Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and James Davison a lap down. Jordan King is even further back after his team's issues during that last cycle of stops. 22 remain running among the leaders.
Lap 72: Scott Dixon completes the cycle of stops for those on-cycle. He took that car an impressive 36 laps per run, best of anyone in the field.
Lap 71: A member of Jordan King's Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan crew was struck during his stop. He seems to have a leg injury, likely caused by a collision with the front wing given that the #42 is currently undergoing a nose change, and has been taken to safety by series medical officials.
Lap 68: Will Power was in great shape, in second and four laps of fuel ahead of his leading teammate. Unfortunately for Power, he slid through his stall, needing to back up and losing some time on the stop. His stop will be reviewed for a potential penalty, and while he will likely drop out of the top three anyway, any penalty awarded means he may well fall off the lead lap entirely.
Lap 64: Simon Pagenaud stops after another 32 laps. That car is burning a lot more fuel than the rest of the field but it has also been a lot faster.
Lap 55: Ben Hanley is extremely slow in turn 4, but makes his way into the pit lane. That DragonSpeed car, one of the best stories of Saturday qualifying, stops and returns to the track after a few extremely slow laps.
NBC replays show that the car has been struggling in lap traffic and seems to be off the pace. Their analysts, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, immediately note that the car is suffering a differential issue. That's something four fresh tires and a few turns of rear downforce won't fix.
Lap 51: Notably, just two Andretti Autosport cars run in the top fifteen. Former winner Alexander Rossi looks incredibly quick, now in fifth, and one-off runner Conor Daly is having an excellent race in ninth, but Andretti's former champion (and other former winner) Ryan Hunter-Reay doesn't show up on the board until sixteenth. Not a particularly strong run for one of the best teams in the field.
Lap 46: Sato, Davison, and Castroneves are now down a lap after their first-stop-cycle issues. They are joined by Ben Hanley, Sage Karam, and, surprisingly, Marco Andretti. This is the 50th anniversary of his grandfather Mario's lone 500 win, and, unfortunately, it seems that his beautifully-adorned tribute entry lacks the pace to repeat the feat.
Lap 42: Simon Pagenaud exits the pit cycle with a comfortable two second lead, an impressive bit of work for Penske Racing. The most notable change in the field is Spencer Pigot, who moves from fourth to seventh. This moves Sebastien Bourdais into the top five.
Takuma Sato had an issue and had to stop again, a major issue for the 2017 winner.
Helio Castroneves was awarded the honor of a drive-through penalty for his collision with James Davison.
Lap 38: Felix Rosenqvist and Sage Karam both stopped during the last caution, so they're going to be running ahead of the leaders for a few laps. Notably, Karam is behind Pagenaud on the track despite being a stop behind, meaning that this off-cycle strategy is most important for Ganassi's rookie Rosenqvist, who has uncharacteristically struggled all month.
Lap 36: James Davison, having a spectacular run in eighth, spins entering his pits. He was hit by Helio Castroneves, leaving no visible damage to either car, but significantly delaying both. A penalty may be incoming for one of them.
Lap 35: Josef Newgarden in from fourth, beginning the cycle for the rest of the contenders. Most will come down on laps 35 and 36, which will be the general length of a stint today.
Lap 32: Pagenaud pits from the lead on lap 32, just after building that margin to over a second for the first time today. Penske teammate Will Power to first.
Lap 24: Simon Pagenaud seems fast. Very fast.
That car leads by 2/3rds of a second in a race that has proven relatively stagnant so far, looking quite a lot like last year's running. This is a little bit surprising, given how wild the two race practice sessions held this week looked.
2016 winner Alexander Rossi has moved past Bourdais and now has Andretti Autosport leading the Honda contingent. That manufacturer still hasn't moved higher than sixth, in what appears to be less of a Chevrolet-versus-Honda issue and more of a statement on how effective Ed Carpenter Racing and Penske Racing are in this race.
Lap 16: A few notable cars further back in the field include James Davison, in what has become a perennial one-off for Dale Coyne Racing, in 9th, Andretti Autosport one-off Conor Daly in 10th, Marcus Ericsson leading the field's rookies in 13th, and eternally competitive Indy-only racer JR Hildebrand already up to 17th after finding himself 34th of 36 before making the last quick qualifying run of Saturday.
Lap 10: Back to green. Will Power goes around the outside to move from third to second and is on the tail of the leading Simon Pagenaud. Penske Racing 1-2, still all Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing in the top five, with the first Honda being the Dale Coyne Racing entry of Sebastien Bourdais in sixth.
Lap 8, First Caution: NBC's Nate Ryan reports that Penske thinks rain could be coming just past halfway. This means the race could end at any time after it comes and be called officially, so leading will be crucial on every lap past 100
Lap 6, First Caution: A yellow is called for Colton Herta, whose destroyed gearbox leaves him stopped on the turn 4 apron. That car is more than fast enough to win this race, but this seems to be game over for the single car Harding Steinbrenner Racing team.
Lap 4: Disaster for rookie Colton Herta, already a race winner this season. He had been the fastest Honda in qualifying and in the race to date, but his car slows on the apron and grinds to a halt.
Lap 1: Green. Not the cleanest three-wide start in race history, with Simon Pagenaud well into the lead from pole before the start-finish line. Ed Carpenter runs second, with his Spencer Pigot, his teammate at the aptly-named Ed Carpenter Racing, sliding to fourth behind Will Power. The first Honda, also the first car not from either Penske Racing or Ed Carpenter Racing, is Bryan Herta's son Colton in sixth.
Lap 0: Indianapolis 500 race day means a few things: The largest single-event live audience on earth, a legendary pre-race ceremony involving dozens of steps and no fewer than six songs, and, for three hours, a general sense that suburban Indianapolis is the very center of the world. Understandably, the level of significance given to this race brings some intensity for competitors, all of whom know that, while IndyCar is itself a prestigious series and every race is significant, nothing compares to this. Wins at Detroit Belle Isle, Long Beach, Texas Motor Speedway, and Portland International Raceway are great, but a racing driver has precisely one chance a year to win what is considered by many to be the most prestigious single-driver race still run, 200 laps between them and a sort of immortality offered to just 70 drivers over 108 years.
All of this, needless to say, was not lost on the 36 teams attempting to qualify for this race last weekend. Since the series went to a new common chassis in 2012, the grand tradition of over-entry for the 33 car field had faded, making this year's three presumed disqualifications a notably crowded field. Speeds in the series are particularly close these days, and even the biggest teams on the grid had a sense of panic months in advance, with some going as far as to discuss the idea of guaranteed entries for a race that has traditionally detested the very idea of anything but a field of the fastest 33 entrants. The sense going into qualifying was that some heavy hitters would find themselves on the outside looking in, and, in a rain-affected session on Sunday, these concerns proved particularly real for the headlining non-championship entry into the race, a car run by McLaren, in its first solo entry in nearly a half-century, for Fernando Alonso. He found himself, along with former Formula 1 driver Max Chilton and current Red Bull Formula 1 prospect Patricio O'Ward (both entered for the Carlin team that prepared McLaren's backup car and assisted with the program), off the grid when it was set, already the biggest story of the race a week before it began.
That means that every single car lining up in their three-car row today has outperformed a fully-funded entry from a Formula 1 team. It means that DragonSpeed, a private sports car team that has floated between series, and Clauson-Marshall, a dirt racing team named in honor of the late Bryan Clauson, beat out an entry that generated global headlines. There are faster cars and there are slower cars, but among the 33, not one non-contender is entered today.
Engines have been fired, a song about the state of Indiana has been sung, and warm-up laps have begun. What comes next will define this year of American open wheel racing.