Indy 500 Notebook

Meira recovering after crash

By Michael Marot
Associated Press / May 25, 2009
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INDIANAPOLIS - Vitor Meira will need some time to recover from the Indianapolis 500.

The 2008 runner-up survived a dangerous fire in the pits and later broke two vertebrae in his lower back during a frightening crash yesterday. IndyCar officials said he will spend the next two days at Methodist Hospital, where doctors plan to fit him for a back brace. He does not need surgery.

"It was just an unfortunate incident," rookie Raphael Matos said after colliding with Meira. "We had a good car, and the team had worked so hard. It was just unfortunate to end like that."

The Meira-Matos incident was the most serious crash on a day full of them.

In all, 10 cars went out of the race in accidents, and an 11th, Marco Andretti's No. 26, eventually left because of handling problems after returning from an earlier crash.

In the closing laps, Meira and Matos were running side-by-side heading into the first turn when the two locked wheels. Matos hit the SAFER barrier and stopped in the middle of the track, resulting in a bruised right knee.

Meira, by far, got the worst of it. His car slid along the wall - two wheels on the ground and two wheels above the concrete wall - before finally flipping over on four wheels and stopping.

And that was after the car was engulfed in flames on pit road.

The tone of the day was set early when 22-year-old Andretti and 20-year-old Mario Moraes didn't even make it through the first turn before making contact. Graham Rahal, also 20, crashed on Lap 56.

Each of the youngsters blamed someone else for the crashes.

"I should have been smarter than that," Andretti said. "That kid [Moraes] is in way over his head with where he is now. I'm sitting next to him, and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him."

Andretti's teammate, Tony Kanaan, one of the pre-race favorites, limped away after twice hitting the wall hard when his rear suspension broke just before the midway point. He had been running third at the time.

But the wrecks crossed all demographics.

Davey Hamilton, the oldest starter at 46, crashed on Lap 83. Justin Wilson, 30, and Nelson Philippe, a Champ Car veteran and Indy rookie, both crashed, too, and Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Robert Doornbos also left after contact.

Top 10 for Tracy
This time there was no debate about the winner; nor was there any question about Paul Tracy's ability to drive competitively.

Tracy made his first start of the season and moved up from 13th to ninth, a solid performance though not as good as the top-five Tracy wanted.

"I hoped I showed everyone I'm capable of doing this," he said. "We've got two more races in Canada, and hopefully we get another chance at it."

Tracy finished second in a disputed finish during his last Indy appearance in 2002. He lost his appeal and Castroneves finally was declared the winner in July 2002.

A King sighting
Richard Petty said he planned to stay as long as his driver John Andretti was in the race. It didn't work out that way. Petty, who had obligations with his NASCAR team last night in Charlotte, N.C., took off around 2 p.m. [The Coca-Cola 600 was postponed because of rain until noon today] Andretti, who struggled to make the race, finished 19th. Still, Petty enjoyed his first race day as an IndyCar owner. "It's interesting with all the excitement and stuff around here," Petty said before the race. "I've been around stock cars all my life, and you don't always see the excitement on TV. But when you're here, it's really exciting, really fun." . . . Sarah Fisher broke one record by starting her eighth Indy 500, the most of any woman. Her fledgling team also produced a career-best effort. Fisher, who started 21st, finished 17th - her best Indy finish. "It was consistent. We have a lot to learn," she said.

Spark plugs
Meira wasn't the only driver having trouble on pit road. Wilson locked up his car, spinning as he tried to come out and forcing other cars to narrowly avoid collisions . . . The start was waved off when the cars lined up improperly. They had to come back around and line up a second time . . . David Janquart, chief mechanic for Petty's No. 43 car, received a $5,000 check for winning the Clint Brawner mechanical excellence award.