late yellow flag means nothing; kanaan is worthy champion of 2013 indy 500.

What do you call a guy who wins the Indianapolis 500 under a caution? You call him a champion.

What do you call a guy who wins the 2013 Indianapolis 500 under a caution? You call him a champion.

I know some folks are grumbling about the Indianapolis 500 finishing under a caution flag, but it’s unfair to judge the entire race solely on this one detail. Tony Kanaan will forever be recognized as the 2013 Indy 500 champion. It was a fair finish. It was an earned victory. And, thankfully, it was devoid of any manufactured drama.

Still unconvinced this year’s 500 was cheapened by the late caution flag? Consider this:
* 14 different drivers led for at least one lap
* 68 lead changes during the race
* 28 of the 33 cars were still running at the end
* 25 drivers were on the lead lap with 100 miles to go

No Manufactured Drama, Please
Simply put: this race was still very much up for grabs right up to Lap 200. It wasn’t a parade lap. It didn’t rely on the old NASCAR trick of a mysterious, late caution flag for “debris on the track” as a means to bunch up the field and engineer a closer finish. It also didn’t end via implementation of one of the dumbest rules in racing: extra laps.

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 race results were true to the integrity of the sport.

Still unconvinced? Ask yourself something: How many baseball games have the Yankees won over the years where they didn’t need to rely on Mariano Rivera to close it out? Are those in-the-bag-by-the-7th-inning wins unworthy in your eyes because they weren’t nail biters? I doubt it.

A win is a win. Late penalties, late caution flags, rain-shortened games (or races, for that matter) and late close calls at the plate are a part of the game. Besides, today’s yellow flag/checkered flag finish was only the 15th caution flag finish at the Brickyard since 1940. That’s pretty rare. Not as rare as an Andretti sipping the milk in Victory Lane, but still pretty rare. Yes, that was a cheap shot. Sorry, Mario. And John. And Jeff. And Michael. And Marco.

“Let The Drivers Decide Who Wins”
It’s a similar argument to “let the players decide who wins” in basketball, which is code for “we hate referees and officiating when it’s not convenient to us.” In my estimation, a caution flag on the last lap (or two or three) is just one more variable to consider. A yellow flag at on Lap 198 certainly takes the drama out of the moment, but it doesn’t dampen the results anymore than a yellow at Lap 138.

Yes, we’d all like a duel between drivers coming out of Turn 4, heading to checkered flag, like 2006 and 2011. But grumbling because today’s race did not end in similar fashion is holding this sport to a different standard than other sports.

The top of the Borg-Warner Trophy. Yep, he's nekked!

The top of the Borg-Warner Trophy. Yep, he’s nekked!

Sports, Human Imperfection…and Mother Nature
Sporting events do not exist in a vacuum of perfection. They are human events and are often subject to the not-so-tender mercies of human error and Mother Nature. Speaking of Mother Nature…

Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Dario Franchitti are three-time winners of the Indianapolis 500; an exclusive club with only six members. They are also members of another exclusive club: winners of shortened Indy 500 races. Does the fact that Rutherford won in 1976 having completed only 102 of 200 laps—the shortest Indianapolis 500 race in history—mean his victory is mitigated? Do you regard him, Unser and Franchitti less deserving of being called three-time winners? Should we etch asterisks next to their faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy? Hardly.

I point to these factors because weather-related finishes are just as random and unplanned as a late car accident. Sure, in a perfect world there would be no accidents, every pit stop would be perfect and it’s always sunny and 78° on race day. But that’s the beauty of sports. It’s not perfect. You want perfect? Play with robots.

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