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?
1. Tony Stewart
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.
2. Lloyd Ruby
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.
3. Tony Kanaan
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.
4. Scott Goodyear
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.
5. Rex Mays
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. [source]