By: Tim Doyle
April 11, 2021
Round #9 of the 2021 Coca Cola Bottling of Kokomo Indy Elite Series headed to the birthplace of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, IN for the Indy 500 presented by Catalyst 317.
39 cars attempted to make the field of 33 with Marshall Stanley, Josh Clogg, Carlos Gomez, Aaron Roufs, Lester Hryhorczak and Alexander Ball coming up just short in qualifying.
Philip Kraus would narrowly grab pole with a four lap average of 227.832 mph over Tanner Watkins (227.753) and Wilson Neto (227.635). Andreas Eik and Andrew Wood would round out the Top 5 speeds.
From the start, Kraus and Neto would play a game of leap frog, swapping the lead position lap after lap with Eik watching closely in 3rd. This would continue up until the race’s first round of green flag pit stops would start to occur on Lap 30 when Kraus would be the first to pit.
Numerous other drivers would hit pit road over the next several laps with Christopher Demeritt able to stretch his fuel to Lap 34 before he entered the pits from the lead.
After the initial round of pitting, the field would recycle back to the same running order as before. The race’s first yellow would wave on Lap 39 when the car of Matt Hollibaugh would spin out of turn 3, not touching anything and able to continue on.
This caution period would split the strategy of the field when Jason Brophy would pit from 5th place with several other drivers from mid pack on back taking advantage of the caution. Kraus would lead the field back to green on Lap 44. Just as before, he and Neto would swap the lead each lap, neither giving in. Lap 64 would see the race’s 2nd yellow fly when David Adams would loose control off Turn 2.
The yellow would payoff for the lead pair of Kraus and Neto who pitted just prior to the yellow which cycled them back to the front of the field on the restart. Meanwhile, Trevor Greenfield was able to regain one of the two laps he lost due to an early-race pit stop. The green flag would reappear on lap 67. The top five was Kraus, Neto, Blocker, Demeritt and Eik.
The green flag would not be out long when Ray Kingsbury would have control issues going into Turn 1 and collecting Bryan Carey as a result. Kingsbury would continue after lengthy repairs while Carey was done for the day.
Lap 72 would again see a yellow flag when the car of Daniel Zegers would push up into the wall exiting Turn 3, leaving Brophy nowhere to go. Brophy would be able to continue while Zegers would retire.
The caution would wave again just six laps later for the spinning car of Evan Adams. The front runners would all remain out during each yellow. Back underway on Lap 85, the top five would remain the same with Kraus out front over Neto, Blocker, Eik and Andrew Kinsella, who would take over fifth when Demeritt would sneak to pit road on the previous yellow.
Second round of green flag pit stops would occur on Lap 100 with Kraus pitting from the lead with the rest of the field following over the next few laps.
This would cycle the lead to Matt Pawelski and Demeritt who pitted on the last yellow. The race’s sixth yellow would wave on Lap 125 for a chain reaction incident when the car of Tony Showen would graze the Turn 3 wall while catching a piece of closely-following Demeritt who dove to the apron after contact.
Unfortunately Dakota Dicienzo couldn’t afford the out of control Showen and was collected as well. Somehow, AJ Burton was able to sneak through. Showen and Dicienzo would be out of the race.
With the field pitting under the caution period, everyone would still need to make two more stops for tires and fuel. Demeritt would lead the field off pit road and back to green on Lap 128, only to see another yellow wave on Lap 130 when Mike Kitchel’s car would careen into the inside safer barrier off Turn 2. His day was done in an instant.
When the green flag waved again on Lap 133, there were still 22 cars on the lead lap, lead by Neto. Kraus was in 2nd followed by Demeritt, Robert Maleczka III and Pawelski. Paweslki however would suffer the fate of many before him when it was he who lost control exiting turn 4 on Lap 151 while racing Maleczka III for 4th place. He would be out of the event.
Once again most of the field would pit with the exception of Watkins, Andrew Wood and M Kingsbury who were running 14th, 16th and 18th respectively. Neto and Demeritt would round out the Top 5 for the restart on Lap 154.
On Lap 158, while battling hard for 4th place, the cars of Neto and Demeritt would come together off of Turn 2 making hard contact. Blocker would move low to avoid the spinning car of Demeritt only to get collected by Adam Dock who moved low as well.
While Dock would be able to continue, both Demeritt and Blocker would suffer major damage to their cars but able to continue, some laps down. On Lap 168, Wood would pit from 2nd place only to push up into the turn 1 wall one lap later and bring out the yellow ending his good run.
With green flag racing returning on Lap 174, Lap 178 would see contact between Hollibaugh and Kinsella in turn 1 which also collected 12th place running Joe Branch. Hollibaugh would be able to continue while Kinsella and Branch had terminal damage. No yellow would fly for the incident.
Out front, Kraus, Watkins and Matt Kingsbury were battling hard for the lead. It all came to a crashing halt on Lap 187 when Kingsbury made an ill-advised move low entering Turn 4, wiping out pole sitter leader Kraus, thus bringing out the yellow as a result. Kingsbury would spin as well, handling the lead back to Watkins. Coming to ten laps to go for the restart, none of the leaders pitted.
Watkins led over Eik, Riley Thompson (up from 20th), Adam Crane, and Chris Stofer. Bennet, Maleczka III, Dock, Burton and AJ Mussleman rounded out the top 10. In 11th, Greenfield had finally worked his way back onto the lead lap from being two laps down early on.
Further back, racing for 14th place on Lap 192, Dan Ensch dove it low on John Downing entering Turn 3, trashing Downing’s car in the process. Lap 195 would see a five lap shootout and it was a good one between Watkins and Eik with the duo swapping the lead each lap with Thompson head on their heels.
Approaching the white flag, Eik made the pass low on Watkins. Watkins pulled even with Eik on the high side entering turn 3 and the pair raced side-by-side through Turns 3 and 4. Coming off Turn 4 it was a dead heat to the finish line with Watkins edging just ahead at the line, winning by just .001 seconds after starting 28th in the field!
It was his first major Indy 500 win after coming close in several prior. Thompson would come home in 3rd, just .141 seconds behind, followed by Crane and Stofer rounding out the Top 5. Finishing 6th was Bennett, Maleczka III 7th, Dock in 8th, Hollibaugh 9th after starting dead last in the field and Musselman in 10th.
Race recap: Field size- 33
Cautions- 12 Caution laps- 36
Lead Changes- 50
Fastest lap- 40.439: Matt Kingsbury
Cars on the lead lap- 13
Pole Sitter- Philip Kraus 39.503
The Coca Cola Bottling Company of Kokomo Indy Elite Series will be on a break until June 15, when they head to Road America. That event will be run at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Header Image By Tim Doyle/iRacing.com