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The 10 Best Indy 500s Ever, #5: The New Kid

In 2006, “This kid, I believe, is gonna win this race!!!”

The 90th Indy 500 is all about the toe-curling finish—a furious high-speed duel that shaved a second into hundreds and hundreds of pieces, after 500 miles of racing. In other words, you don’t wanna read about it. You wanna watch it. But let us briefly tee-up the drama first.

This story begins, in essence, hours before the first race of the 2006 Indy Racing League season, at Homestead-Miami. When Brent Musburger popped on America’s TVs to begin the broadcast, he had this to say: “We were all prepared to bring you a celebration of the Indy Car series—the start of a new season. But as you are all aware, there are inherent life and death risks in this sport, making it the most demanding test of man and machine in the world. And here, earlier this morning, tragedy struck.”

ABC then cut to footage of a nauseating crash; Ed Carpenter spun and hit the wall, and as his car came to a stop, rookie Paul Dana in the #17 car slammed into him at 176 mph. Dana was killed. The race went on. A rookie named Marco Andretti was making his debut in Indy’s top division on that day, and many fans wondered whether Dana’s death would rattle the kid, who had just turned 19 less than two weeks earlier.

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

When I.R.L. rolled into Indianapolis, the season was three races old. Young Andretti—competing for his dad Michael’s team, Andretti Green Racing—had finished only one of ‘em, in 12th place. Michael, 43, came out of retirement to race at Indy with his son. On Memorial Day weekend, an estimated 300,000 fans had piled into the stands at the Brickyard. Sam Hornish Jr. was on pole, with a 228.985 mph speed. Marco sat 9th on the grid, his dad 13th. The action was wild and loud, as usual, but the fans started to key in during the final laps that this would not be any ordinary Indy 500. Marco, his father (who’d never won Indy, in 14 tries), and Hornish were in striking distance of victory.

Would Michael snatch the checkered flag from his rookie son? Would Marco have the nerve to go all the way? Would Hornish outmatch them both? What resulted was the second closest Indy finish ever to that point—a margin of victory of 0.064 seconds—with a leader change just feet from the finish. Pick up the action here, with four laps to go: