The Top 20 IndyCar finishes of the 2000s

By Tony Donohue
November 09, 2022
Photo by IndyCar

With the offseason comes more time to dive into the past of IndyCar racing. As many old races as I go back and watch, I thought, how could I be more productive with my time? Since 2000, we have seen some of the closest, thrilling and last second finishes that have kept us on the edge of our seat. From Chicagoland Speedway to Watkins Glen, Fontana to Indianapolis, let's take a look back at some of the most thrilling finishes in IndyCar since 2000, and no, iRaces from 2020 are not eligible for this list.

20. Scott Sharp holds off Robby McGehee: Texas 2000. Despite the fact that the TV connection on ESPN cut out, McGehee tracked down veteran Scott Sharp over the final 5 laps. Sharp never let go of the low line, which was just enough to hold on for the win. 

19. Hinch passes Sato: Brazil 2013. With 5 laps to go, James Hinchcliffe found himself third behind Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato. Newgarden made a move for the lead and was blocked by Sato allowing Hinchcliffe to catch Newgarden. With 3 to go, Hinchcliffe jumped on the push to pass and baited Sato to block him low. Hinch couldn’t complete the pass but the move would set him up for the final lap of the race. As the white flag flew, Newgarden pulled alongside Hinch for second place. Hinchcliffe would try the same maneuver down the back stretch with 1 push to pass left. As Sato locked up, Hinch dove low to complete the pass and take the win off the final corner.

18. Indy 500 2012: Sato Spins. Although it didn’t come down to the finish line, the battle between Takuma Sato and Dario Franchitti will go down as one of the craziest last laps in Indy 500 history. Franchitti, gunning for his third Indy 500 win, held off teammate Scott Dixon in the closing laps. With two laps to go, Franchitti took the lead over Dixon with Sato in tow moving to second. As the drivers went into turn 1, Sato made a move to the inside of Franchitti. The pass didn’t stick and Sato found himself in the wall. Crazy to think that Sato was that close to now being a three time champion.

17. Indy 500 2019: Pagenaud outduels Rossi. A 14 lap shootout set the stage for the conclusion of the 2019 Indy 500. The two would sway the lead back and forth for the remainder of the race. On Lap 197, Rossi pulled to the outside going into turn one to take the lead. With two laps to go, Pagenaud would pull the same move, this time going into turn 3 to take the lead. On the 200th lap, in Pagenaud’s tow, Rossi went high into three only to see the door slammed by Pagenaud who protected the bottom. Pagenaud would pull away just enough to take the win over Rossi by 0.2 seconds. 

16. 2019 Mid-Ohio: A battle between Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist was one of the ages, it also might have knocked a few years off Chip Ganassi’s life. With Dixon leading, Rosenqvist made every move possible to secure his first career win. Coming off the final turn, Rosenqvist looked inside as Dixon passed the finish line 0.0934 seconds ahead for the second closest road course finish of all time. 

15.  2002 Indy 500 finish: No need to beat you in the head with what you already know. Paul Tracy made a move around the outside of Helio Castroneves as the yellow light was displayed due to a crash in turn 2. Castroneves was declared the winner as officials stated Tracy had yet to complete the pass when the yellow light was displayed. After protests, the race was officially awarded to Helio Castroneves a few months after he swigged the milk for the second straight Indy 500.

14. 2006- Champ Car: Mexico City. In the finale of the 2006 Champ Car season, two of the best, Justin Wilson and Sebastian Bourdais battled for the victory. On the final lap, Bourdain dove to the inside of Wilson, making contact with Wilson’s Ford. “It was a hell of a race” said runner up Justin Wilson after, who drove to a second place finish with a broken hand. Wilson drove the final 14 laps on dry tires in the rain.

13. 2007- Chicagoland: Battling for the 2007 championship, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon found themselves out front after a late race yellow. Both drivers were short on fuel to make it to the checkered flag as the green came out with 2 laps to go.  Dixon led into turn 3 on the inside before running out of fuel handing the win of the race and the championship to Dario Franchitti. 

12. 2014 Indy 500: Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay duked it out in a battle for the ages. Castroneves, searching for his 4th Indy 500 victory, sat second when the green flag flew with 6 laps to go. He passed RHR with 5 laps to go and pulled away to a decent advantage but the way the draft worked with those cars, Hunter-Reay went way low heading into turn 3 to take the lead right back. Castroneves would then pass Hunter-Reay high going into Turn 1 with 2 laps to go. Castroneves and Hunter-Reay were side by side as the crossed the yard of bricks with the white flag in the air. Castroneves would stay in tow and try to make one last run off of turn four, his efforts fell short as Ryan Hunter-Reay secured his first career Indianapolis 500 win

11. 2001- Texas: Battling for his first and only career win, Jeff Ward had just enough to top veteran Al Unser Jr. for the victory. Mike King lost his voice on the call as Ward edge Unser Jr. on the outside right at the line. 0.0111 was the margin of victory.

10. Chicagoland 2003: A three way battle to the finish saw Bryan Herta and Sam Hornish Jr. battling for the win. Herta drove Hornish Jr. high off of turn four allowing Scott Dixon to close on the inside. This produced a three wide photo finish in which Hornish Jr. edged Herta and Dixon for the victory. 

9. 2016 Indy 500: The now famous “clutch and coast” saw rookie Alexander Rossi for Andretti Autosport save enough fuel over the final stint to last 36 laps on a tank and win in his first attempt at the Brickyard. Led by veteran driver and now strategist Bryan Herta, Rossi and Herta used the same fuel saving method that Herta used to coach Dan Wheldon to the 2011 Indy 500 crown. On fumes and 60 miles per hour slower than the rest of the field, Rossi crossed the finish line in disbelief. A bad pit stop earlier in the going put him on the winning fuel run in one of the most important Indy 500’s in history, the 100th running. 

8. Texas 2002: The final race of the season in 2022 saw Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves almost touch at least four times in the final 5 laps of the race. Hornish, with the American Flag on his engine cover, beat Castroneves to the line by 0.0096 of a second. It was Hornish’s 5th win on the season and his second straight IRL Championship.

7. Kansas 2004: A battle between Rahal Letterman Racing teammates Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira came down to the wire. Meira had the advantage down the backstretch looking for his first career victory. Off of the final corner, Rice edged just barely ahead at the finish line, to close for the naked eye to call. Meira, involved in so many of the best finishes in the 2000s but never won an IndyCar race in his career. 

6. Kentucky 2011: With one more push to pass, Ed Carpenter edged out Dario Franchitti using the high line around Kentucky Speedway for his first career IndyCar win. Carpenter ran the final 50 laps of the race using one hand on the steering wheel as he had to hold down his visor with tape and his hand. With one final push to pass off of turn 4, Carpenter took the checkered flag by 0.0098 seconds.

5. Texas 2006: Off of turn 2, James Hinchcliffe had the lead with Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan in tow. Rahal dove low heading into turn 3 to take the lead and off the final corner, Rahal held off a charge from Hinchcliffe on the high side to score the victory by 0.080 seconds.

4. Chicagoland 2002: The closest finish in IndyCar history, Al Unser Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. battled side by side not pulling away from each other. The intensity of the final 10 laps are some that I will never forget. You were just waiting for someone to make contact and someone to lose control. Both drivers held their line all the way to the checkered flag with Hornish, like he did so many times in the early 2000s, winning by the closest margin in history, 0.0024 seconds. 

Photo by IndyCar

3. 2008 Chicagoland: A race so close that the winner was changed several minutes after the finish. Scott Dixon held the low line advantage around the final lap at Chicagoland with Helio Castroneves to his outside. Dixon was declared the race winner immediately, but as fans walked to the parking lots, the PA announced the winner had been changed to Helio Castroneves. 

2. 2011 Indy 500: Fuel strategy was the name of the game at the end of the 2011 Indy 500. 
Danica Patrick led late before pitting for fuel, handing the lead to Bertrand Baguette. Baguette couldn’t stretch the fuel and handed the lead to Dario Franchitti who was also in full fuel save mode. As Baguette pitted, rookie J.R. Hildebrand was full throttle and passed Franchitti for the lead. Hildebrand and spent the entire final stint saving as much fuel as possible from the get go. Hildebrand built a sizable lead over now second place Dan Wheldon on the final lap. Heading into turn 4, Hildebrand went high to pass a slower car and found himself in the marbles with no control over the car. The car skated to the outside wall, making contact down the front stretch. His disabled car crossed the finish line just after Dan Wheldon made the pass of Hildebrand for the victory. It was Wheldon’s second Indy 500 win. 

1. 2006 Indy 500: What drama late in the going. Michael Andretti, in his then announced final Indy 500 and 15th career Indy 500 start, led with 4 laps to go as the green flag flew on the final restart. His rookie and 19 year old son Marco Andretti sat second with three lapped cars between them. Sam Hornish Jr. was 4th with one of the fastest cars that day. Michael Andretti led into turn 1 as son Marco passed two of the three lapped cars between him and his dad. Both Andretti’s, racing for the same team, saw fellow teammate Bryan Herta between the two. Marco used the draft off of Herta down the backstretch to pass and tucked up right behind his father. With the crowd on its feet, Marco made the pass into turn 1 on his father for the lead. As that move was made, Hornish Jr. got around Herta and had the top 2 in his sights. Michael tried to hold off Hornish Jr. down the back stretch but couldn’t do it. He had a front row seat to the best finish in the 2000s. Hornish made his first attempt to pass the young Marco Andretti on lap 198 heading into turn 3. Andretti shut the door and pulled away to a lead of over a second. Michael would tuck up behind Hornish Jr., but Hornish Jr. was too strong. He closed back on Marco down the backstretch and would set up his move for off of corner 4. Hornish Jr. had a huge tow off of turn 4 and went to the inside of the young Andretti edging him at the finish line for the victory. 

Honorable mention

2013 Freedom 100: No, it’s not an IndyCar race, but the finish was one for the ages and possibly the best finish of a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Three drivers battle for the lead down the backstretch. Going into turn 3, Gabby Chavez went high to make it three wide with Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz on the inside. The three drivers remained three wide through turns 3 and 4. Down the front stretch with the checkered flag in the air, Peter Dempsey drafted off the back of Chaves, going high and passing all three cars at the finish line for a four way photo finish.

What has been your favorite finish of the 2000s?