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Tradition would say no green-white-checkered should occur for Indy 500

May 27, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT

Indianapolis 500 Champions Portrait Session Getty Images

At times, race fans and observers can be incapable of living in the moment and/or appreciating what they’ve just seen. A case in point: in the immediate aftermath of an outcome like yesterday’s finish at the Indianapolis 500, there were enough tweets and comments on social media and message boards that “the finish sucked because there was no green-white-checkered!”

And as such, the discussion over whether this race should be guaranteed an attempt at a green-flag finish has ensued.

Facts are facts, and yes, the unfortunate fact here is that this was the fourth consecutive Indianapolis 500 that finished under yellow. There is visceral opinion on both sides of the argument about whether this is a good thing, that the race went to its scheduled, unaltered distance of 200 laps, 500 miles, or a bad thing, that it ended under yellow and should have been extended.

Firstly, no rule in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook allows for a green-white-checkered. A quick clean done after Graham Rahal’s crash ensured this year’s 500 had a chance to end green with a lap 198 restart.

Secondly, frankly, for the Indianapolis 500 at least, a green-white-checkered adoption would be an unnecessary boondoggle that the race doesn’t need.

IndyCar can choose to do whatever it wants in terms of altering its season-long product to gain public consciousness beyond the “Indiana bubble” to which it largely resides.

But a race as built on tradition, that embraces tradition, and that almost places tradition ahead of the current year’s product, shouldn’t be altering its most sacred aspect – 500 means 500 – for the sake of pleasing a loud and vocal minority. Changing the race distance from anything other than 500 miles would be as big a slap to tradition as has ever occurred in this race’s 97-year history.

Safety risks could enter the equation as well, with a possible GWC outcome meaning a greater chance of more contact caused by drivers going for it even more than normal in a short amount of time, with open-cockpit cars and exposed wheels. There’s no counting how many extra accidents have occurred after the first GWC attempt in NASCAR, since its implementation.

The eventual last restart mattered, race winner Tony Kanaan admitted, because he knew the potential for another accident almost immediately after the race restarted on lap 198. He knew he had to go for it at that point. The sense of urgency was there, and the race fans benefited as a result knowing that a lead change after the restart was imminent.

Perhaps the most popular 500-mile race win before Kanaan’s, the late Dale Earnhardt’s at the 1998 Daytona 500, also ended under yellow. Earnhardt held off Bobby Labonte in a final run to the line before taking the yellow flag and lapping the final circuits under caution. The win wasn’t “devalued” because it came under yellow; nor, in this author’s opinion, were the wins by Dario Franchitti (2010 and 2012) and the late Dan Wheldon (2011) the last three years in Indy.

The higher frequency of races ending under yellow made a green-white-checkered option for other races a discussion point for IndyCar last year, but really, it owed to abnormalities and higher percentages – this was a topic I wrote about in a piece last year, for RACER magazine.

This Monday afternoon, there are opposing viewpoints on the topic from USA Today’s Jeff Gluck (pro-GWC) and ESPN’s Ed Hinton (anti-GWC, at least for this race). The IndyCar drivers themselves, though, said tradition should trump show in terms of a GWC outcome at Indy.

“I think we should consider that, but I’m all about the tradition in this place,” said Kanaan. “That was never done here. And I’m not saying that because I won under yellow, because I lost plenty of them under yellow, as well.”

Kanaan did admit that “you want to see a finish under green” and said he’d need further thinking about the topic, but was still leaning more against it. Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, was a little more definitive when asked about it on Sunday.

“This is Indy, there’s a certain way things are done,” said Hunter-Reay, who finished third. “If tradition is tradition, we don’t materialize results, we don’t try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds. It can be a bit gimmicky.”

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