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Memory Lane: The Greatest Finish, 1992

The closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history, between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear in 1992, almost didn’t happen for a reason often forgotten – Goodyear didn’t qualify for the race.

Ted Prappas bumped Goodyear from the field of 33 drivers by .089 of a second with six minutes remaining in qualifying on Bump Day. But Walker Racing announced during Race Week that Goodyear, the team’s primary driver, would replace Mike Groff in the starting field. Goodyear was forced to start last in the field.

The 1992 race always will be remembered for its heart-stopping finish, but the rest of the race comprised one of the roughest Race Days in “500” history. Sunday, May 24 dawned unseasonably cold, and the high temperature of 58 degrees remains the coldest Race Day in Indianapolis 500 history.

Those brisk temperatures and gusty, cold wind caused numerous accidents, including pole sitter Roberto Guerrero crashing out on the backstretch while warming his tires on the pace laps. Other drivers who crashed or were collected in the numerous accidents included past winners Rick Mears (in his final “500” start), Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk and Tom Sneva, and Stan Fox, Phillippe Gache, Jim Crawford, Jimmy Vasser, Brian Bonner, Jeff Andretti and Gary Bettenhausen.

Michael Andretti had the field covered with his dominant Newman-Haas Lola/Ford Cosworth, leading 160 of the first 188 laps. Only five cars were on the lead lap at Lap 150.

The prospect of Andretti’s first Indy victory after years of heartbreak – and the end of the Andretti drought at Indy since Mario Andretti earned his only “500” victory in 1969 – appeared to add a bright spot to an otherwise forgettable race, which also included serious foot and leg injuries to Michael Andretti’s brother, Jeff, in one of the many crashes.

Michael Andretti led Goodyear by 28 seconds with 12 laps to go. A lap later, Unser passed Goodyear for second but was lapped by Andretti in Turn 2.

Then heartbreak struck when Andretti’s invincible car slowed on the backstretch, halted in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4 by fuel pump failure.

That triggered the final caution of the race, from Laps 190-193, and began perhaps the most unlikely and stirring two-man duel for victory in the history of the race.

Unser led by three-tenths of a second with four laps remaining, parrying Goodyear through the final lap.

Goodyear continued to draft Unser on the final lap, staying within two car lengths. But Unser’s Galles Racing Galmer/Chevrolet got slightly loose in Turn 4 on the final lap, and Goodyear pounced.

He pulled up to Unser’s gearbox on the front straight, with the checkered flag in the air. Goodyear darted out of the draft and to the inside but fell just a few feet short of Unser at the Yard of Bricks start-finish line.

The official margin of victory was .043 of a second – almost exactly half of the time span that bumped Scott Goodyear from the field just a week earlier – in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

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