10 Closest Finishes at the Indianapolis 500

These races were literally decided in the blink of an eye.


It’s difficult to believe that two drivers can race for 500 miles at more than 200 mph and still reach the finish line less than a second apart, but seven of the 97 Indianapolis 500s have been that close. For perspective, the average blink of a human eye takes between three-tenths and four-tenths of a second. That means the four closest Indy 500s were decided in the blink of an eye. Here are the 10 closest finishes:Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

10. 2008, Scott Dixon over Vitor Meira, 1.74 seconds:
In the first race after the unification of open-wheel racing’s two warring sanctioning bodies – Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Indy Racing League -- Dixon led the final 24 laps to become the first New Zealander to win.

9. 2001, Helio Castroneves over Gil de Ferran, 1.73:
Castroneves fought off his Team Penske teammate over the final 52 laps for the first of his three Indy 500 victories and the 11th of team owner Roger Penske’s record 15.

8. 1986, Bobby Rahal over Kevin Cogan ,1.44 seconds:
At the time, it was the fastest race in 500 history, but it also was the closest margin among the top three finishers, as Rick Mears finished third, 1.881 seconds behind Rahal.

7. 2009, Castroneves over Dan Wheldon, .981 seconds:
Castroneves had the dominant car during the month and started from the pole. However, he had to fight off Wheldon over the final 15 laps to win the 500 for the third time.

6. 1996, Buddy Lazier over Davy Jones, .695 seconds
Lazier, who suffered spinal fractures in a crash at Phoenix before the 500, needed a cane after he emerged from the car at Indy. The event was marred by the death of pole winner Scott Brayton.

5. 1997, Arie Luyendyk over Scott Goodyear, .570 seconds 
A mixup on the final lap -- the green flag was waved for a restart while the yellow lights remained on -- led to Luyendyk’s second Indy win. Shortly thereafter, the United States Auto Club was removed as the race’s sanctioning body.

4. 2003, Gil de Ferran over Castroneves, .299 seconds
Castroneves chased down his teammate and fellow Brazilian but couldn’t catch him during the final laps, leading to de Ferran’s only Indy 500 win.

3. 1982, Gordon Johncock over Rick Mears, .160 seconds
Mears passed Johncock heading into the final lap, but Johncock regained the lead on the exit of Turn 2 and thwarted Mears’ attempt to pass as the cars approached the finish line.

2. 2006, Sam Hornish Jr. over Marco Andretti, .063 seconds
Hornish fell behind after Andretti closed the door on the next-to-last lap, but Hornish roared back on the final lap, shot out of Turn 3 and slipped inside to make the pass at the finish line.

1. 1992, Al Unser Jr. over Goodyear, .043 seconds
Goodyear stalked Unser through the final laps, closing with each lap. As the cars approached the checkered flag, Goodyear ducked inside. The cars appeared to hit the finish line side-by-side, but Unser’s transponder showed the final margin.

About Jeff Olsen

Jeff is a freelance motorsports journalist whose work has appeared in RACER and Autosport magazines, the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY.

Read more about Jeff Olsen here.

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