Mixed emotions for Unser Jr

A 29th place finish in the Indianapolis 500 normally is not the kind of result to bring pleasure to a two-time 500 winner such as Al Unser Jr

Mixed emotions for Unser Jr

But the joy of simply being here again racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend was enough to soothe the disappointment Unser felt after his early departure from the race and his worst finish ever in the 500.

"It was great," Unser said, standing outside his garage in Gasoline Alley, sweat streaking his face. "Just to describe the feeling is awesome. You go around this place, there's so many people-all the race fans. It's the greatest spectacle in racing. And I loved every minute of it."

Unser started from the outside of the sixth row in 18th position and quickly moved up. By lap 50, he was running in ninth, about 35 seconds behind leader Juan Montoya, dueling with Jimmy Vasser in front of him and Robby McGehee behind.

But his problems began when pole winner Greg Ray's car was, in Ray's words, "caught by a gust of wind" and smacked the turn two wall.

Minutes later, Unser's car began overheating. He radioed his crew and said he was in trouble.

"Yeah, I can definitely smell water," Unser said.

Afterwards, Unser said, "Ray hit the wall in (turn) two and I got debris in the radiator, punched a hole in it and lost all the water."

Unser's team directed him to the garage, where they replaced the radiator. When he returned to competition, he was about 10 laps down. He pressed on for a time, then decided it wasn't worth it.

"We went back out to get points for the Northern Light Series (IRL) championship," Unser said. "The guys did a great job in coming back and repairing it. But I just didn't have anybody to race. There's no sense in going out there and racing yourself. I ran like this when I was 25. I've done that for a lot of years. I ain't going to do it no more.

"I would just put a lot of drivers at risk. I would put myself at risk. You just can't go out there and just run in circles. So I decided to park it for the day. You know, this ain't stock car racing. This is open wheel racing. It's 220 mph Indy cars, and I didn't want to be a danger."

Unser, 38, won this race in 1992 and 1994. He failed to qualify for the race in 1995 when driving for Roger Penske, then did not return the following year when CART teams split from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before 1995, he had six straight top-10 finishes, including five top-fives. His worst previous finish was in his third 500 in 1985, when he finished 25th.

"The car was competitive to win," Unser said Sunday. "We were pretty happy with it. We had a little too much downforce in it, but we were dialing it out. We were making it quicker and quicker and, you know, what can I say? It's too bad the day ended by something getting stuck in the radiator."

Unser 's return to Indianapolis brings the Unser family back in full force to a track steeped in tradition and history, much of it written by his father, Al Sr., his uncle Bobby and himself.

"We'll be back with a vengeance," Unser said. "It's just too bad we have to wait 364 days for it. It was just great taking those pace laps, seeing those fans and being here again."

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