By Paul Newberry
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Carlos Munoz finished second in the Indianapolis 500 as a 21-year-old rookie.
Now, it’s back to the minors.
What a bummer!
Munoz finished behind Tony Kanaan in a thrilling race Sunday that finished under a yellow flag, silencing the skeptics who fretted the young Colombian merely had a fast car but not nearly enough experience to handle his IndyCar debut on such a challenging track.
He stayed out of trouble all day and handled his car skillfully in traffic, leading five times for a total of 12 laps.
But this was a one-off for Munoz in the IndyCar series, at least for now. His main job is driving for Michael Andretti’s team in Indy Lights, a struggling developmental series that has only about 10 regular competitors.
That will remain his primary focus.
“I don’t know. Maybe Michael will have something,” Munoz said. “But right now, Indy Lights is still my main program. It still will be. We’ll see what happens.”
After Graham Rahal’s car smashed the inside wall, Munoz took the green flag in third place with three laps to go. Kanaan slipped around Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead, and the Colombian got past his teammate for the second spot.
He would get no higher.
Dario Franchitti slammed the wall and brought out another yellow, effectively ending the race. Kanaan drove the last 2 1-2 laps under caution, essentially a victory parade that allowed him to be saluted by the big crowd on Memorial Day weekend.
All Munoz could do was follow him across the line.
“I was a bit sad inside the car,” the runner-up said. “I was not really happy. I prefer to finish the race fighting for the win. Maybe it would work out, maybe not, but I would prefer a checkered flag to see if I had a shot.”
If nothing else, Munoz certainly showed his IndyCar potential — maybe not this season, but for years to come. He hopes to emulate his hero, fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000 and launched a career that has taken him to Formula One and now to NASCAR.
“I was pretty patient,” Munoz said. “I overtook one car, was patient, and at the end was pushing more.”
He was a bit nervous in the pits, not having much time to practice in the lead-up to the 500, and he lost some time during his first couple of stops. But he got better as the race went, demonstrating he’s a quick study.
Now, if only he could get a few more chances in IndyCar.
Andretti will make that call.
“It’s up to him,” Munoz said. “I have to do my job. I’m still the Indy Lights championship leader. This was my main goal since I started the year. This was one more race to get more experience and it came out really good, I think more than expected.”
His next scheduled race is an Indy Lights event at Milwaukee in three weeks. It’ll be tough to watch next weekend when the IndyCar series moves to Detroit for a pair of street races on Belle Isle.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be right now,” Munoz said. “I have to concentrate working on my Indy Lights program. We will see what happens.”
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