Young drivers finish strong in star-studded Indy 500 field
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Keeping up with Ed Jones was a pretty tough task at the Indianapolis 500.
With a little more experience, it could become a mighty challenge.
Even before the Dubai-born driver started discussing his third-place finish, the best ever for Dale Coyne Racing, Jones had convinced three-time race winner Helio Castroneves he was ready for the big-time world of IndyCar racing.
“You did great, especially for your first time,” Castroneves said.
Castroneves wasn’t finished.
In front of reporters, he called the 22-year-old rookie “smart” and paid him perhaps the highest compliment of all.
“I have to say that you drove not like a rookie, to be honest, so congrats,” Castroneves said. “You did a good job.”
How could Sunday’s runner-up not be impressed after seeing Jones run cleanly side-by-side against him with 26 laps to go and come out with the best finish of his brief IndyCar career?
Jones wasn’t the only bright, young star making waves in Indianapolis.
Max Chilton, 26, led the most laps (50) and was still clinging to the lead with seven to go. He wound up fourth, behind winner Takuma Sato, Castroneves and Jones.
Alexander Rossi, the 25-year-old who won Indy as a rookie in 2016 and qualified on the front row last weekend, finished seventh behind two more 500 winners — Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Marco Andretti, 30, was eighth. It was his eighth top-10 in 12 starts at Indy.
Gabby Chaves, 23, and Carlos Munoz, 25, were the next two finishers behind Andretti. Chaves had a career-best finish in his third Indy start, while Munoz produced his fourth top-10 finish in five Indy starts.
“I think it is the best result for the (A.J. Foyt) team in the 500 in a long time even though we struggled a lot,” Munoz said.
But on a rugged day that included four crashes, three blown engines and a red flag, many of the youngsters avoided the pitfalls their more experienced colleagues could not.
Jones and Chilton got their Honda engines across the finish line, something two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso failed to do.
They stayed out of the kind of trouble that left 2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon in a walking boot and sent 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier to a hospital. He was later released after initially complaining of discomfort in his chest.
And when things got tricky on the 2.5-mile oval, most of the youngsters found an escape.
“I struggled like hell on the first stint. I was a lap down, but I just kept going,” Chilton said. “We were lucky. You don’t win this race without some luck.”
Not all the young guys fared that well. Americans Conor Daly and Sage Karam were knocked out in crashes and rookie Zach Veach’s car rolled to a stop on Lap 167.
But with the youngsters front and center during a month billed as a potential changing of the guard for the series, the only real disappointment was that Jones and the others couldn’t deliver a win.
“We lacked that straight line speed for, I’d say, the last 40 laps,” Jones said. “It was really hard for me to defend or even attack, which was really frustrating because I think we had the car to win today. Great job to Sato and Helio. But, yeah, so frustrating. I don’t know how many opportunities you get to be in that battle.”
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