Todd Golden: TODD AARON Some lingering thoughts on the Indy 500

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Jun. 2—The Indianapolis 500 will have been over for five days by the time you read this. On to the real gem ... Belle Isle in Detroit!

Um yeah, anyhow, I have some lingering thoughts on the 2022 edition of the 500. Let's dive in.

—If you're into auto racing as I am, Sunday's 500 was more of a strategic race than a wowee zowee action-fest. For much of the running of the 500, it seemed it would come down to the dominance of Scott Dixon versus the steadiness and better mileage gained by Pato O'Ward. Dixon's one flaw was that he was pitting about three to five laps before O'Ward and Arrow McLaren teammate Felix Rosenqvist.

Personally? I don't mind a strategic race, because I like the strategy of auto racing as much as the technology and driver battles, but let's not kid ourselves, there was very little passing outside of the planned (contrived?) passes up front, primarily between teammates Dixon and Alex Palou in the first third of the race to save fuel.

Behind them it was a single-file processional. If spots were made up, they were almost entirely done so on restarts. Take one look at the lap chart, which lists where each driver was on each lap. Apart from restarts and pit stops, you'd generally see one number listed along the same lap for almost an entire green-flag stint.

Add to that? Many of the teams play possum until they feel safe to go full bore. Marcus Ericsson won the race because in his final fuel stint, he finally turned his Honda loose, free of the fuel-save mode he had been in the entire race.

You can't blame a team for employing a strategy they feel can win. No one is going to needlessly burn fuel to gain track position. The track is too large to justify it.

However, IndyCar needs to look at some things to make the racing less predictable. Aerodynamics are often cited, but until IndyCar introduces a new spec chassis, there's not much that can be done about that.

What can be done is to see what can be done to change the nature of tire wear. Tires are pretty predictable. They fall off more or less in line with the pit window. What if tire life was extended and the wear was less predictable? To the point where a team could seriously consider whether the tire could last to next pit window? Car set-up should have the biggest affect on tire wear.

Regarding fuel consumption, what if the ability to run rich or not was taken away? Make everyone run as is, no technological enhancements allowed. If a driver is skilled at saving fuel, or not, let it play on the track.

I have no idea whether any of these ideas are actually workable or not, but the 500 needs more passing throughout the field.

—Of course, one of the things that makes Indy more predictable than it was a generation ago is how dependable modern IndyCars are. Colton Herta was only one retirement on Sunday due to a mechanical problem. The cars are mostly bulletproof, which is a comfort to the team owners who bankroll these machines, but it also affects the quality of the show. Oh for the days when you saw "DNF-halfshaft".

A weird flex? Perhaps, but in the first two decades of the 500s I attended? There were years where nearly half of the field was retired due to mechanical retirements. Heck, the whole lore of bad Andretti luck at Indy is based on both Mario and Michael Andretti having dominant cars that were felled by mechanical demons.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want 12 cars finishing the 500, but I also kind of miss mechanical retirements. Back in the day? No matter how dominant a car was? You always wondered whether even the best of cars would make it to the checkered flag. We've lost that uncertainty, and with it, we've lost part of the drama. Easy for me to say, given that I put up zero money to fund the cars, but it's true.

—Red flag in the final 10 laps? I'm OK with it. It's better than the Gordian knot NASCAR has tied itself into with its green-white checker, restart lines, etc. NASCAR took a simple concept and made it complicated. At least Sunday's scenario was straightforward. You got one shot at a green flag finish. The drivers seemed to be fine with the red flag too.

Seems weird to me that you couldn't just create a system where you don't score yellow flag laps. Now, I get it, a lot of things happen during yellow flag laps, pit stops most notably, and fuel consumption is dramatically affected during yellows, but if you just didn't count yellow flag laps, you'd be assured of 200 green flag laps. Just get rid of yellow flag pit stops. Not sure what to do about the fuel consumption bit, though. Perhaps that's why it's not a workable solution?

—As for the weaving? It's a legitimate tactic to break the draft. It's also risky. If one tire goes too close to the grass, hits a curb (hello Jimmie Johnson!) or if a move isn't executed properly and the car bumps the wall? Your race is ruined. So I don't have a big problem with it ... with one exception.

The need to tighten up the rules at the exit of Turn 4 and the entrance to pit lane. Ericsson, in a bid to protect his lead, led the draft well below the pit entrance line and came dangerously close to the pit wall attenuator as he re-entered the front straightaway. In fact, you could make an argument he used the attenuator to run a pick of sorts to take space away from O'Ward to exploit.

IMS needs to make the pit entry complex off-limits to anyone who isn't pitting. Make drivers race on the oval, not dive off of it when it suits them.

—This was the first race I attended since Roger Penske took ownership of the facility. What did I like? The double fly-by was very cool. The traditional one, where the jets fly north to south after the National Anthem, is always welcome. However, the surprise came after "Back Home Again In Indiana" when another fly-by flew east-to-west over the track, surprising nearly everyone while providing a sonic punch in the gut. It was awesome.

Not so much for the command, though. It doesn't need to be a high school valedictorian speech. People want to hear the words and freak out. Give the people what they want, Roger.

—Finally, IndyCar is in a great place. I know they had to find someone to fund a 33rd car, but these days it's quite a bit more about quality than quantity. There were likely close to 20 cars that, had a break been caught, could have contended for the win. The quality of depth among the regular teams is great.

Mostly gone are the days when you'd have two or three bottom-feeder teams that made up the numbers. Maybe apart from the eternal struggles at Foyt Enterprises, there isn't a team on the grid that can't win on a given day.

I'll be back again to see if one of those teams can break through next year.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.