Where does Michael Andretti rank in the all time list?
It is a list that no driver wants to be a part of, yet at the same time, one that fans feel continually compelled to moot.
It is a list of drivers who have reached dizzying heights in their careers, yet fallen painstakingly short when it comes to success at the Brickyard.
Collisions, engine failures and fuel strategy have all stolen victory from some of motor racing’s greatest talent, but who has made the top 10 list of best drivers never to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
A name better associated with NASCAR than the IndyCar series, Tony Stewart won the 1996-97 IRL championship and participated in five Indy 500s between 1996- 2001.
"Smoke’s" best finish in five attempts is a fifth-place finish in his championship-winning season. He has achieved two other top-10 finishes—sixth in 2001 and ninth in 1999—and led 122 laps around the famous oval.
Despite poor finishes, Stewart’s qualification performances at the Brickyard have always been impressive. As a rookie, he qualified in pole position—although his teammate Scott Brayton was initially pole until he suffered a fatal accident in practice session.
To date, he has never qualified out of the top 10 in the Indy 500.
Lloyd Ruby participated in 18 Indy 500s during the '60s and '70s, with a career-best finish of third in 1964. The double world sports car champion led five different races for a total of 126 laps but only finished in the top five twice. Ruby earned seven top-10 finishes in total.
Ruby’s best chance of victory came in 1969. Leader Mario Andretti was nursing a car suffering from overheating problems, which left him at the mercy of Lloyd Ruby. Disaster struck during a mid-race pit stop.
A member of Ruby’s pit crew instructed him to exit while the refueling nozzle was still engaged in the car’s left saddle. As Ruby dropped the clutch, the car lurched forward and the nozzle ripped a hole in the gas tank.
Race winner Mario Andretti conceded that had Lloyd stayed in the race, he would have been unable to fend him off.
Brazilian race driver Tony Kanaan has led 218 laps at the brickyard, a tally greater than two-time champions Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser Jr.
So far, victory has eluded him, despite winning an IRL series championship in 2004.
In TK’s rookie year, he led 23 laps before crashing on Lap 94 due to an oil leak on the track from a crash between Jimmy Vassar and Bruno Junqueira. The following year, in 2003, Kanaan found it impossible to compete with the Penske cars but finished a solid third.
Since then, Kanaan has consistently been a front runner in the event, but luck has always eluded him. In 2005 he won his first pole position, but could only manage an eighth-place finish; his teammate Dan Wheldon claimed victory.
Kanaan is the only driver to lead the Indy 500 in each of his first seven starts.
Canadian race driver Goodyear came close to winning the Indy 500 on three different occasions.
He came closest to victory at the 1992 event, being defeated by Al Unser Jr. by 0.043 seconds—the closest finish in the history of the event.
He came close to victory once again in 1995, leading 42 laps before mistakenly passing the pace car on a late restart and ignoring subsequent black flags. He was penalised to a 14th-place finish. In 1997, Goodyear finished second once again after being passed by Arie Luyendyk on the back straight of lap 194.
In total, Goodyear competed in 11 Indy 500’s and led a total of 50 laps.
The 1940 and '41 AAA National champion, Rex Mays was one of the most dominant race drivers in the interwar years.
Born in 1913, Mays was denied the peak years of his career due to the outbreak of the Second World War, which postponed the AAA National Championship until 1946.
He competed in a total of 12 Indy 500s, qualifying on the front row seven times and finishing in the top five twice. Reliability issues with his cars forced him into retirement in nine of his races, although his aggressive driving style was often attributed as being an integral reason for his misfortune.
He led a total of 266 laps at Indianapolis.
Mays was tragically killed during a Champ Car race at Del Mar Fairgrounds, California, in November 1949. It is the only time the venue has ever hosted a Champ Car race.
After Jim Clark’s funeral service, the father of the deceased pulled Dan Gurney aside and said, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the other guys, but I wanted you to know you were the only one Jimmy feared.”
Upon hearing those words, Gurney was reported to have been visibly shaken and said, "Jimmy didn't fear anyone."
Clark’s dad replied, "No, on several occasions he told me that you were the only one he truly feared."
Praise does not get higher than that.
Dan Gurney participated in nine Indy 500s, finishing second in '68 and '69 and third in 1970. Despite such strong finishes, he only managed to lead two laps at the famous oval.
Alongside his career in IndyCar, Gurney was a race winner in Formula 1, NASCAR, Can- Am, Trans-Am series and Le Mans. Only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have equaled the feat.
On a side note, Dan Gurney spontaneously started the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium following his victory at the 1967 Le Mans 24 hours. He also became the first driver to wear a full-face helmet at the 1968 German Grand Prix.
Three-time AAA champion Ted Horn participated in 10 Indy 500s and finished in the top four on nine occasions.
Reread that opening sentence and soak it in.
Ted got into racing in perhaps the most bizarre way imaginable. Whilst working for the Los Angeles Times, Horton was pulled over for speeding on his commute. His punishment was to travel to the San Jose Speedway and participate in a race in order to get the speed out of his system. Alas, a race driver was born.
Horn’s only retirement came in 1935, his debut race. The following year, he finished second and led 16 laps. He came closest to victory in 1948, when he led 74 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish.
Horn would have competed in more Indy 500s were it not for the outbreak of World War II and his premature death in October 1948.
In a race at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, Illinois, Horn crashed on the second lap and died later in hospital. He was aged 38.
As far as racing drivers go, Sir Jackie Stewart was considerably better than anyone else on this list. So why is he not number one? He plied his trade in Formula 1 and not in the North American racing series, meaning he naturally had fewer attempts to win the race.
Sir Jackie participated in two race starts in 1966 and 1967 and were it not due to misfortune, he may have won them both. In his Indy debut, Stewart led Jim Clark and Graham Hill until a mechanical failure thwarted him into sixth place.
The following year, Stewart retired with 32 laps to go, trailing Parnelli Jones and eventual winner A.J. Foyt in third position. Engine failure prevented the Scot from finishing the race.
Stewart is remembered in many circles as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time. Born of humble birth, Stewart won three world championships in an era where he had a one-in-three chance of death. His campaign to improve safety in motorsport has left an endearing legacy to this day.
In an era dominated by multiple world champions Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell established himself as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the Formula 1 world championship.
The British driver won the 1992 Formula 1 world championship before winning the 1993 CART IndyCar World Series at the first time of asking. He is the only person in history to hold both titles simultaneously, although Jacques Villeneuve came close.
Mansell participated in the Indy 500 twice, finishing third in 1993 and crashing at turn three on Lap 92 the following year. He led a total of 34 laps at the brickyard.
In 1993, Mansell found himself leading with 16 laps to go, but he misjudged a race restart, which made him a sitting target for Emerson Fittipaldi, who went on to win the race.
Were it not for inexperience on oval circuits, Mansell may have won the Indy 500 as a rookie.
Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk and Mansell completed the top three, the first time in the history of the race that an American failed to secure a top-three finish.
Michael Andretti is the most preeminent figure in the group of drivers synonymous with misfortune at the brickyard.
The second-generation racer has led a combined total of 431 laps at Indy, placing him 10th on the all-time list. Four-time champion Rick Mears and three-time winners Louis Meyer and Johnny Rutherford have led fewer laps.
In his debut race in 1984, Andretti was recognised as rookie of the year by qualifying fourth and finishing fifth, aged 20. In 1986, he led the opening 41 laps after qualifying third, but ultimately had to settle with a sixth-place finish.
Andretti finished fourth in 1988 and suffered an engine failure in the 1989 edition whilst leading on the 163rd lap.
In 1991, he led six times for combined total of 97 laps but was taken by Rick Mears on Lap 187 before finishing second by 3.149 seconds. In 1992, Andretti’s car suffered a broken fuel pump on 160 and was able to continue until Lap 190 when it came to a stop. Andretti had led 160 laps of the oval. In the same race, his father and brother suffered bad crashes.
His final Indy 500 brought a third-place finish in 2006. Racing alongside his son, Marco, Michael found himself leading with three laps to go but was overtaken by his son and Sam Hornish, Jr.
“I should have won it so many times, but Indianapolis was a race track where everything seemed to go wrong for me,” Andretti once said.
Since becoming a team owner, Michael has had the opportunity to drink the winner’s milk, winning in 2005 with Dan Wheldon and 2007 with Dario Franchitti.