02 May 2011

The Greatest 33: No. 30 - Danny Sullivan

With 27 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, Drive Hard, Turn Left and SB Nation Indiana is starting its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Fans can build their own field by clicking here. Today, Drive Hard, Turn Left and SB Nation Indiana looks at a driver who created one of IMS' indelible memories, Danny Sullivan.
The inclusion of Danny Sullivan in the Greatest 33 is a personal one for me.  Sullivan was my first racing hero - in an era of Unsers and Andrettis, I gravitated towards the driver from Louisville, Ky.  That he created my first real racing memory happened to be a bonus.
I was not at the 1985 Indianapolis 500 (it was the final 500 to air on tape delay in prime time), but I saw the replays countless times as a child, and they helped form my Indycar fandom at a young age.  Sullivan, in just his second season back in the states after a brief foray into Formula One, was a promising driver in his first year with Roger Penske.  Starting eighth, he moved to the front to engage Mario Andretti in a memorable duel for the lead.
Misreading his lap marker, Sullivan thought he was running out of laps to pass Andretti, and darted to the apron in Turn 1 on Lap 120, making the pass in the shortchute, only to lose the rear of his car just before the entrance to Turn 2.  Somehow, Sullivan kept the car off the wall, while Andretti narrowly avoiding t-boning the No. 5 Miller American machine.
Having only flat-spotted his tires, Sullivan changed tires under yellow and then dodged a wreck on the restart of the race, eventually passing Andretti for good on Lap 140 and leading the final 60 laps to become "the new American hero," in the words of ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay.
1985 would mark the pinnacle of Sullivan's time at Indianapolis; in 1988, Sullivan sat in the middle of row 1 as Penske swept all three spots in the first row.  Leading a race-high 91 laps, Sullivan's best chance at capturing a second 500 were dashed on Lap 102, when his front wing adjusters slipped, taking away steering from the car.
The Greatest 33:
30. Danny Sullivan
31. Tony Kanaan
32. Michael Andretti
33. Eddie Sachs

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