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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2002

Tracy was robbed at Indy, but decision likely to stand

INDIANAPOLIS - Forget triple axels.

If the French figure-skating judge knows anything about double axles, there might be an opportunity for her with timing and scoring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But Spider-Man, the sequel, was never in doubt.

Helio Castroneves' second consecutive Indianapolis 500 victory Sunday wasn't going to be overturned yesterday, following a protest by Team Green and driver Paul Tracy, which had about as much chance as the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's evil enemy.

If you think the IRL was going to reverse its own decision and take the victory away from the popular fence-climbing Castroneves, and the oracle of ovals, the autocrat of open-wheel autos, Roger Penske, you've been sniffing way too much methanol.

Brian Barnhart, who once worked for Penske and is now the IRL's vice president of operations, said yesterday, “Team Green did not present anything that was conclusive enough in any way, shape or form to change our mind.”

The same can be said of Barnhart and his review board. What conclusive evidence did they present to support Castroneves' victory?

Answer: None. But there might be an opportunity for those fellows to count election ballots in Florida.

The dispute centers around whether Tracy passed Castroneves before an accident behind them brought out the yellow flag with one lap to go Sunday. Had Tracy made the pass he would have won, with the race finishing under yellow. Barnhart and his boys determined that the pass wasn't made before the yellow came out, basing their decision on inconclusive information, illogical recall and an indecisive witness.

The only thing approaching conclusive evidence was a frame-by-frame breakdown by ESPN that indicated the yellow light had not appeared before Tracy made the pass.

When the yellow appears, racing ceases in the IRL. Drivers don't race back to the start-finish line like they do in NASCAR, and positioning doesn't revert to the previous lap, which would have given the victory to Castroneves, quickly defusing all the fuss.

After reviewing everything available for 5 hours and 40 minutes after the race, Barnhart said, “clearly” the 3 car (Castroneves) was in front of the 26 car (Tracy) when the accident occurred, when the yellow was called for and when the cars went into the third turn where Tracy made his pass.

Clearly, that's all irrelevant. Clearly, nothing is determined until the yellow light actually comes on.

“We couldn't find conclusive evidence to overturn the call, so the original call stands,” Barnhart said late Sunday night. But the call was not supported with anything approaching conclusive.

Castroneves said the only reason Tracy was able to get around him was that Castroneves slowed down because the yellow light came on.

But Helium, er Helio, was running out of gas. His 3.5-second lead quickly melted to zero over the final laps. Had there not been a yellow with just over a lap remaining he would have run out of gas and Tracy would have won anyway. Penske team members confirmed that. Helium didn't have much choice in the matter.

Barnhart said he interviewed other drivers. Dario Franchitti, running right behind the two leaders, said Tracy definitely passed Castronervous before the yellow came on, but his testimony was certainly tossed since he's Tracy's Team Green teammate.

Let's ask third-place finisher Felipe Giaffone.

“To be honest, I was so mad,” he said. “I knew it was close. If I said Paul was ahead or Helio was ahead I'd be lying, so I better be quiet.”

Now that's inconclusive.

The unofficial results showed Tracy leading after lap 199, which would have meant he would have won the race under yellow. That was later revised to show that Castroneves led from lap 177 to 200.

Tracy and Green have five days to appeal the latest wrong call, based on illogical conclusions, hearsay and a witness who couldn't decide. Then it goes before IRL chief executive Tony George.

It might as well go head-on into the wall in Turn 4 as far as Green and Tracy are concerned.

They're hard-line advocates of CART, the sanctioning body that George has been trying to put out of business since he formed his competing IRL in 1995.

Tracy said politics might cast the deciding vote in the issue, but he hoped it wouldn't. Politics aside, it was a bad call, but the IRL is riding with it because there's no overriding evidence to the contrary.

“Anyone who would look at how quick this decision had to be made would know the thought of IRL vs. CART can't remotely cross my mind,” Barnhart said yesterday.

But a day later following a total of almost eight hours of deliberation, the mind-crossing opportunities can be mind-boggling.

The French judge says give them both the victory, a Borg-Warner Trophy, a gulp of milk, a championship ring, an equal share of the prize money and a French kiss from Miss Brickyard.

Hey, Paul. Go climb a fence. You won.

Dave Woolford is a Blade sports writer.



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