15 of the Best Indianapolis 500 Finishes of All Time

15 of the Best Indianapolis 500 Finishes of All Time

The best Indy 500 races have always come down to the final lap.

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Photo: Robert Laberge (Getty Images)

How does a race go down in history as iconic? It might come down to a certain number of passes, a first-time winner, or a close finish. Whatever the case, the Indianapolis 500 has seen plenty of exceptional races, many of which have come down to those final few laps. Today, we’re going to look at some of the very best finishes the Indy 500 has ever seen.

For full disclosure, these finishes aren’t ranked; we’ve simply compiled some of the best finishes for your viewing pleasure.

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1992: Closest Finish Ever

1992: Closest Finish Ever

The 1992 Indy 500 is a memorable one for countless reasons — Michael Andretti’s dramatic loss, an epic restart, and, most importantly, for the fact that it goes down in history as the closest finish to an Indy 500 ever. Al Unser Jr. inherited the lead from Andretti, but Scott Goodyear was there to challenge for a win right to the checkered flag. In the end, Unser’s win margin was a mere 0.043 seconds.

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2016: Last Gas

2016: Last Gas

The 100th running of the Indy 500 was one of those iconic events that you just have to see to believe, and Alexander Rossi’s rookie win after his car coasted across the finish line on mere fumes is exactly what got me hooked on IndyCar.

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1989: They Touch!

1989: They Touch!

In 1989, with the checkered flag in sight, Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi went wheel-to-wheel to try to secure that coveted win. A drag race down the straight ended when the drivers touched wheels, sending Unser into the wall and leaving Fittipaldi to secure the win under a yellow flag. The crash is still debated among IndyCar fans — was the wreck intentional? Was it the natural result of two racers competing for victory? Or was it just one of those mystery moments of the 500, where the desire to win clouded everything else?

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2011: No Luck for Hildebrand

2011: No Luck for Hildebrand

The finish of the 2011 Indy 500 is legendary in so many tragic ways. Rookie J.R. Hildebrand was set to lead the race right to the finish, but his efforts to pass slower traffic saw him slap the wall on the final corner. He dragged his broken car to the finish while Dan Wheldon zipped by to take victory. It was set to be Wheldon’s final 500 win; the British racer would be killed in a racing accident later that year.

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2015: Juan Pablo Montoya’s Next Win

2015: Juan Pablo Montoya’s Next Win

If you’re going to wait 15 years between Indy 500 wins, you might as well do it in style. In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya took his second 500 victory by snatching the lead of the race from Will Power with four laps remaining. In a race with 10 different leaders, Montoya nabbed victory by 0.1046 seconds.

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2017: A First for Japan

2017: A First for Japan

Before his victory at the 2017 Indy 500, Takuma Sato had only nabbed one win and a few other podiums in his IndyCar career. Then, the former F1 driver led a mere 17 laps — including the one that counted — to become the first Japanese driver to secure a win at the 500. The whole race was a fascinating one; former F1 driver Max Chilton led the most laps, and 14 other drivers also tried their hand at leading the event.

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1977: Foyt’s Fourth

1977: Foyt’s Fourth

The 1977 Indy 500 was an iconic one in many respects. It was the first time a woman — Janet Guthrie — qualified for and started the event. It’s the first race that saw a driver — Tom Sneva — break the 200 mph barrier. And it’s also the first time a driver — in this case, A. J. Foyt — took a fourth win at the Brickyard.

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2019: Simon Pagenaud’s Job Security

2019: Simon Pagenaud’s Job Security

Simon Pagenaud looked set to lose his ride with Team Penske at the end of the 2019 season... that is, until he swept the Month of May and cruised to a comfortable second place in the IndyCar Championship. He held off Alexander Rossi to become the first Frenchman to win the 500 since Gaston Chevrolet took the win in 1920.

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1991: Comeback Kid Rick Mears

1991: Comeback Kid Rick Mears

The stars aligned for Rick Mears when it came to his 1991 win. He lost time. He suffered a flat tire. There was no way he could win the thing. And then a perfectly-timed caution gave him the restart he needed to reel in leader Michael Andretti. Just like that, Mears was a four-time Indy 500 winner.

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1999: We Could Have Had a Robby Gordon Win

1999: We Could Have Had a Robby Gordon Win

Sure, Rossi’s fuel gamble might have worked out in 2016, but one Mr. Robby Gordon wasn’t quite as lucky in 1999. The driver knew he needed to conserve fuel but also drove hard into the final leg of the race. With a mere two laps to go, Gordon’s pace saw him lose out on his win; he coasted to a stop, leaving Kenny Bräck to take victory.

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1960: A Classic

1960: A Classic

The 200-lap Indy 500 doesn’t always feature compelling battles for the lead, but 1960's race was a heater. Jim Rathman and Roger Ward swapped the lead 15 times over the course of 100 laps. The race was ultimately decided four laps from the end, when tire wear saw Ward hand victory to Rathman.

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1985: Spin and Win

1985: Spin and Win

You know you’re in luck when your car starts to get better and better throughout a race, and that’s what happened to Danny Sullivan in 1985. As he moved to pass Mario Andretti, Sullivan made a full 360-degree spin — though he somehow managed to save it. Sullivan was able to take and hold the lead through the final 20 laps of the event.

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2006: It Wasn’t Marco’s Year

2006: It Wasn’t Marco’s Year

Ah, the Andretti Curse: We’ve all heard of it, and 2006 was really the race that cemented the Andretti family’s pain into its third generation. At a mere 19 years old, Marco Andretti went head-to-head with his father Michael, the two running in first and second with just four laps left on the board. Marco passed Michael, and Michael tried to hold off the competition, but it wasn’t meant to be — Sam Hornish Jr. made a pass for the lead on the last lap.

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1982: The First Big Battle

1982: The First Big Battle

Having a 500 decided on the last lap was a rare feat back in the day, so when Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears had an epic battle that lasted all the way to the checkered flag in 1982, it was a frankly mind-boggling event. Johncock’s victory was well earned.

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1912: Push to the Win

1912: Push to the Win

Oh, to have had broadcasting options back in the day. In 1912, racer Ralph DePalma nabbed the lead of the Indy 500 on the third lap. Over the next 196 laps, he built up a whopping 11-minute lead over the competition, and he looked set to cruise to an easy victory. Then, with 1.5 laps remaining, the car died. DePalma and riding mechanic Rupert Jeffkins tried to push the car the rest of the way; unfortunately for them, Joe Dawson took victory.

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