INDIANAPOLIS -- At the midway point of yesterday's 77th running of the Indianapolis 500, nothing much seemed to have changed.
Mario Andretti was in the lead, setting himself up for another heartbreak, and Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. were right behind.
It looked like the same old story at the Brickyard.
But then the story line changed. While Andretti, the Unsers and Nigel Mansell were scurrying to the front of the field, Emerson Fittipaldi and his Penske team were implementing a game plan that would work to perfection.
Fittipaldi would put himself in the perfect spot for the perfect pass at the perfect time.
nTC Fittipaldi would win his second Indianapolis 500, with pole sitter Arie Luyendyk and Mansell in second and third, respectively.
And Fittipaldi would give car owner Roger Penske his ninth win over 25 years here.
Just as the Penske team had planned and charted a winning strategy, so did Speedway management.
This was the first Indianapolis 500 on the newly designed 2.5-mile track. The Speedway's plan was to change the design )) and chart a course that would slow the cars, make the race more competitive and safer.
When Fittipaldi won at an average speed of 157.207 mph, he won one of the most competitive -- in terms of cars with a chance to win -- and safest races in 500 history.
Taking the lead on the 185th lap of the 200-lap race, he became the record-setting 12th leader of a race in which 10 cars finished on the lead lap.
Fittipaldi won by 2.862 seconds, the sixth-closest Indy margin.
"I put the power down in the place where I was supposed to put the power down," said Fittipaldi. "For sure, this is the best race of my life and the most important in my career, because of the time of my career and because of the age I have."
He is really in his second career. In his youth, Fittipaldi was a two-time Formula One world driving champion. Now, at 46, he is a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who spends the morning before the race meditating.
When it mattered, his calm and experience showed.
"I come to Indianapolis to win," said car owner Penske. "And Emerson won it. We persevere and we always come here with the attitude that people have to beat us."
The race was nearing its critical point when Mansell, competing in his first oval race, bolted from third to first on a restart on Lap 175. It put him in position to win, until Lyn St. James' car stalled, bringing out a yellow caution on Lap 184, thus making Mansell a sitting duck.
"I was a little faster than Nigel out of Turn 4," said Fittipaldi, who was in second, with Luyendyk on his rear bumper, heading into the restart.
"I was worried about being legal, and they were on the gas already for a second or two," Mansell said. "Everybody like cheats on the restart. I'm trying to do it by the rules because I don't want to infringe any rules."
Fittipaldi said: "I was really concerned about Arie. I knew he was coming fast, but I was able to put the power down and I was able to get around Nigel on the outside."
And so was Luyendyk.
And then, it was Fittipaldi who found himself in the so-far unholdable lead, with a restart facing him and five laps left to go.
"Emerson outfoxed us all," said Luyendyk. "He really tricked me. He pulled a very low gear going into Turn 3, forcing me to do the same and, while I was still slowly coming through 3, he geared up very quickly coming out of 4. When I did the same, I got sideways. He got a couple car lengths, and that's all she wrote. At that point, I had no illusions."
No driver was injured in yesterday's 500, and the 33-car field set a record for most cars running at the finish of a complete Indianapolis 500.
But Luyendyk suggested the 500 never will be as much fun as it used to be.
"It was safer," he said. "From that point, it's great. But in terms of competitive excitement for the driver, it wasn't that exciting."
Raul Boesel, who started on the outside of the front row, set the early pace and probably could have won, had it not been for being black flagged twice.
The first penalty came on Lap 23, when officials said he exceeded the 100-mph speed limit on pit road. The second one came on Lap 192, after Boesel had worked his way up to third. He was called for entering the pits when they were officially closed as a caution flag came out.
"I think they took the race away from me," said Boesel, who denied speeding and added the three cars who moved in front of him (Fittipaldi, Luyendyk and Mansell) overtook a slower car under yellow without a penalty call. "In my mind, I won the race."
But when the official results were posted last night, Boesel did not protest
NINE SO FINE
The record nine winners in the Indianapolis 500 for the Penske
Year .. .. .. .. .. Driver
1972 .. .. .. .. .. Mark Donohue
1979 .. .. .. .. .. Rick Mears
.. .. .. .. .. Bobby Unser
1984 .. .. .. .. .. Rick Mears
.. .. .. .. .. Danny Sullivan
.. .. .. .. .. Al Unser Sr.
1988 .. .. .. .. .. Rick Mears
1991 .. .. .. .. .. Rick Mears
.. .. .. .. .. Emerson Fittipaldi