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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rice beats Andretti Green Team and Mother Nature for 500 victory

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Buddy Rice celebrates after winning a rain shortened Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon. Tim Trigg photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Few people have ever dominated the month of Indy like Buddy Rice did, capping a fantastic run on Sunday afternoon with a victory in the Indianapolis 500.

Rice won a rain soaked race on Sunday afternoon at the famed oval to go with a pitstop competition title won with his crew on Miller Lite's Carburetion Day and the MBNA Pole Award he won for being the fastest qualifier on pole day.

Rice became the first driver since Bobby Unser in 1981 to win all three events.

Mother Nature did little to cooperate with Rice and the rest of the 33-car field on a Sunday that started with early rain, delaying the start of the race and finished with a red flag that ended the event with 180 of 200 laps completed.

Rice became the 17th pole starter to win the Indy 500 and the first since Arie Luyendyk in 1997. He was followed across the line by Team Andretti Green's Tony Kanaan, teammate Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta. All three cars are owned by Michael Andretti.

"Buddy had more speed than we have basically. What can I say?" Andretti said. "We're second, third and fourth but we'd like to be number one."

Sunday's race was the first to be shortened by rain since the 1976 event and was also delayed for one hour and 47 minutes after 27 laps.

After starting the race from the pole, Rice stalled his car in the pits while leading after 100 laps. The resulting delay dropped him back in the pack and forced him to battle back to reclaim the lead on lap 152.

"We had to go through some adversity. We had some mishaps," Rice said. "We knew we had it all month. We had a bit of an issue. We didn't panic."

Pit strategy began to come into play as Rice was forced to pit on lap 167 under threatening skies.

With all the front running teams holding out to the last possible moment to refuel in hopes of holding the lead when the rains came, Rice handed the lead over to Herta when he pitted on lap 167.

However, Herta came in for fuel on lap 169 giving the top spot to Adrian Fernandez who finally stopped on lap 171 which put Rice back in front when rain began to fall on lap 174.

Rice led the slowed field around the track for several tense laps under a yellow flag before, finally, the white flag was shown indicating one lap to go.

Rice's crew celebrated immediately and as the rain began to fall more steadily, Rice piloted his Honda-powered G-Force across the famed yard of bricks for his first Indy 500 victory and the first for an American since Eddie Cheever in 1998.

Wheldon led after the first rain break, 27 laps into the event and remained near the front the rest of the race with his teammate Kanaan.

"Well, long day, for everybody," Kanaan said afterwards. "I never had so much fun in my life with a teammate than I had with Dan (Wheldon) today. I tell you, you know, winning races is important, and winning championships, but the relationship and when you get out on the track and you can fight that hard between each other and still get out of the car and laugh about it, that's, for me, priceless."

"Buddy (Rice) was stellar all month, Wheldon commented. "I couldn't think of a nicer kid out of this team to win the race, and I think he'll make the IRL proud as an Indianapolis 500 champion."

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