Celebrity race starter Jack Nicholson was put to some serious hard work at the Indy 500, with a series of early restarts requiring his services.
The race was barely under way when Davey Hamilton went to move up the track only to find the 23 of Tomas Schecker already in the place. He tried to move down, which sent him into a spin that smashed him hard against the inside wall. Second caution caused by Bruno Junqueira betraying his lack of track time, getting too high on the track and getting sucked into the wall for a double hit. Mario Moraes subsequently brushed the wall, damaging the suspension (a bent right rear wishbone) and "whitewalling" the tyres, bringing him into the pits on lap 18 but without causing a yellow.
Helio Castroneves had taken the initial lead, but even before the first caution came out he was overtaken by Dario Franchitti. Will Power was soon past his team mate after the second yellow, putting Helio back down to third place, and Power went on to pass Franchitti for the lead on lap 31.
However, Power's race took a bad turn at his first green flag pit stop on lap 37, when he was ushered out of the pit box before refuelling was complete - a hugely uncharacteristic mistake for an outfit like Penske. It ripped the nozzle of the refuelling hose - which was left attached to the intake valve until it fell off out on track, bringing out the third caution of the race for debris. Power was able to get the hose taken care of and returned to the track, but had to do a drive-thru for causing the caution.
Dario was back out in front at the restart on lap 43, with Helio Castroneves, Raphael Matos, Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter among the closest contenders. That continued to be the status quo through to the fourth caution of the day: John Andretti (who had been penalised for blocking Dan Wheldon just minutes earlier) hit the wall on lap 65.
Naturally everyone pitted under the caution, but it was a bad one for both Scott Dixon and Raphael Matos, whose crews both bungled the tyres and left the cars with only three wheels. Dixon was quick to react, but Matos ended up spinning in pit lane right into another team's pit box, which fortunately was clear of personnel. However, to emphasise the seriousness of the situation, both drivers got drive-thru penalties for the mishap.
Not that the penalty worried Matos for long. Whether it was latent damage form the pit lane spin, or trying too hard to make up lost ground, or simply because he was rattled, but Matos hit the wall hard into turn 1 on lap 73 to bring out another caution. Matos stepped out of the wreck, just a little dazed.
The race was heading toward green flag stops on lap 106 when Vitor Meira slid into the wall on the backstretch. The luckiest man during this was Graham Rahal, who had been penalised for blocking Dan Wheldon some 20 laps previously and ended up going a lap down: he had already entered the pits when this latest caution came out, meaning he could complete his stop while everyone else had to wait.
Tomas Scheckter had already pitted and stayed out while everyone else came in, giving him the lead at the restart until Dario reasserted himself. But the big story, as the race entered its final third, was the presence of Tony Kanaan in second - after he had struggled to qualify and ended up starting a distant 32nd. But on race day it seemed nothing could stop him, and while the race was clearly Dario's to lose, there was also a sense that Tony was just biding his time before delivering the killer blow ...