Led By Champion Buddy Rice, Honda Dominates 88th Indianapolis 500

6/17/2004 12:37:27 AM

Buddy Rice backed up his pole position performance with a dominating drive to win the 88th Indianapolis 500 in what turned out to be a Honda benefit at 16th & Georgetown.

In a race shortened 20 laps by violent thunderstorms, the rain couldn't deny Rice's reign, as the 28-year-old native of Phoenix led 91 laps in his Argent/Pioneer G-Force to score Honda's initial triumph in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" for Rahal Letterman Racing.

So decisive was Honda's month-long dominance that it swept the top seven spots as Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta, Bruno Junquiera, Vitor Meira and Adrian Fernandez trailed Rice under the checkered flag.

"We were strong all month and we knew it and I can't begin to thank Honda enough," said Rice, who was filling in for the injured Kenny Brack but now has a steady job the rest of 2004. "My car was perfect and Scott (Roembke, team manager) made all the right calls on fuel and my pit crew was fantastic.

"I thought we had a couple of these deals won but we had little mishaps that weren't our fault so this just feels great."

The lone scare of his race came when Buddy stalled on a Lap 94 pit stop and dropped back to 16th.

"We had a little issue on one of the stops but these guys have been fighting hard all year," he reasoned. "We knew traffic was going to be a problem but there was no reason to panic because we were only halfway through the race so I wasn't concerned.

"I knew I had a great car under me."

He flexed his muscles on a Lap 138 restart by charging from sixth to first in 14 laps. "Once I got back in front, I caught a couple of breaks in traffic. I made a late pass on somebody and that got Tony bottled up and gave me a little cushion," said Rice, who owned a three-second lead when the skies opened up.

The only other drivers to keep Rice honest all afternoon were Andretti Green Racing teammates Kanaan and Wheldon, but both conceded the right guy wound up in Victory Lane.

"Buddy was much stronger today and I thought he deserved it," said Kanaan, who led 28 laps in the 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda.

Wheldon paced 26 circuits in his Jim Beam/Klein Tools Dallara/Honda and tipped his cap to the polesitter. "You've got to hang it out to win it and Buddy certainly did it today. Other than somebody from our team, you couldn't have a better winner than him."

Herta, in the XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda, gave Andretti Green Racing a 2-3-4 performance and 2002 Indy polesitter Junqueira came home fifth in the Newman/Haas Racing PacifiCare G-Force/Honda.

Meira gave Rahal Letterman a solid sixth place in the Team Centrix G-Force/Honda while Fernandez started sixth and wound up seventh in the Quaker State-TecateTelmex GForce/Honda.

Herta pretty much summed up the overall feeling of Gasoline Alley.

"It was a great result for our team and for Honda," he said. "But Buddy had the fastest car and won the race. That's the way the Indy 500 is supposed to be."