The 10 Times the Indianapolis 500 Was Won by Less than 1 Second

When it comes to the glory days of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 in particular, this just might be it.

On May 30, the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If recent history is any indication, fans can expect quite a finish. Four of the last seven Indy 500s have produced a margin of victory of less than 1 second.

The 2020 race won by Takuma Sato ended under caution.

In the history of the race, dating back to Ray Harroun’s win over Ralph Mulford (by 1 minute, 43 seconds) 1911, 10 500s have ended with a margin of victory of less than a second.

Close finishes in the 500 are relatively new at the 500. The first nail-biter of a 500 came in 1982, when Gordon Johncock edged future four-time winner Rick Mears. The second 500 that ended with a gap of less than a 1 count—Al Unser Jr.’s win over Scott Goodyear—came in 1992.

Incidentally, Goodyear holds the distinction of being the only driver to lose two Indy 500s by less than a second. In addition to his loss to Unser Jr. in 1992 in what was the closest finish to date, Goodyear lost the 500 by less than a second to Arie Luyendyk in 1997.

Here’s a look at the 10 times in history is was best to stay in your seat until the end of the race:

No one in history has come any closer to winning the Indianapolis 500 without actually winning it than Scott Goodyear did in 1992. The race featured one of many Michael Andretti racing heartaches at the 500, as he led 160 of the 200 laps and led as late as lap 197 before exiting with a fuel pressure issue. Goodyear, who started 33rd, never led a lap.

Legend has it that the final margin of victory was actually closer than the published margin, as the timing transponder in Unser’s car was reportedly found to be in the nose, rather than the sidepod. Estimates from those who estimate those kinds of things showed that the actual margin was closer to 0.0331 second.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves is also a three-time runner-up at the 500. None of the runner-up finishes were any closer than in 2014, when he lost by a car length to Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The race featured a red flag late and a six-lap shootout at the end between Hunter-Reay and Castroneves. Castroneves took lead at lap 196, but Hunter-Ray rallied for the victory.

Sam Hornish Jr. played Andretti spoiler in this one, passing first Michael Andretti and then Marco Andretti over the final three laps for the win.

Marco, who led just two laps (198 and 199) of the 200-lap race, became the third Andretti to finish runner-up at the 500, joining grandfather Mario (1981, 1985) and dad Michael (1991).

Juan Pablo-Montoya waited 15 years between Indy 500 wins after first winning the race in 2000. This time, Montoya took the lead from Will Power with four laps to go and held on for the win. Montoya led just nine laps in the race that saw 10 different race leaders.

Gordon Johnncock used a move that some called “blocking” in the first turn of the final lap and held on to outrun Rick Mears. Mears later defended the move and praised Johncock’s driving of an ill-handling car.

Mears had won the 500 three years earlier by a whopping 45.69 seconds over A.J. Foyt.

The 1982 race featured one of the more controversial starts in the 500’s history. That year, Kevin Cogan spun out as the field was coming to the green flag before the start and took out second-row qualifier Mario Andretti.

Former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato led 17 laps and passed Helio Castroneves for the lead with six laps to go as he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500. This race was one of the most hotly contested 500s in history, as 15 different drivers led laps.

Another former F1 driver, Max Chilton, led the most laps (50) in this one.

Simon Pagenaud, who many believed was racing for his job with Team Penske, led 116 laps and held off Alexander Rossi at the end.

Pagenaud became the first Frenchman to win the 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 and the first driver to win from the pole since Castroneves in 2009.

And Pagenaud did keep his job at Team Penske.

A pair of teammates got to do their Spider-Man impersonations in 2003 as Team Penske’s Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves finished 1-2. De Ferran took the lead for good on a restart with six laps to go.

Castroneves came up just short in his bid to win the 500 in his first three starts after triumphs in 2001 and 2002. Al Unser Sr. is the only other driver with a similar run, as Unser won in 1970 and 1971 only to finish second in ’72.

This race was a measure of redemption for de Ferran, who was runner-up to Castroneves by 1.73 second in 2001.

The 1997 race featured one of the more controversial finishes in Indy 500 history.

Tony Stewart’s car touched the wall on lap 198 bringing out a yellow flag. Then, surprisingly to many drivers, the green/white flags came out for the final lap with seemingly no warning. While some yellow lights remained lit on the course, Luyendyk pulled away for the win.

Buddy Lazier was an unlikely Indy 500 winner, winning in the first Indianapolis 500 after the split between the newly formed Indy Racing League and Championship Auto Racing Teams. Several of the top teams did not race Indianapolis that year.

The 1996 race will also be remembered for the loss of pole sitter Scott Brayton, who died in a practice session after winning the pole.

The win was the first career Indy car win for the 28-year-old Lazier. Davy Jones never won an IndyCar event, and he never got any closer than he did at Indianapolis in 1996.

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