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Top 10 Indy 500s, No. 8: Al Unser Jr. edges Goodyear in closest finish in race’s history

Al Unser Jr. holds on to defeat Scott Goodyear in what became one of the closest finishes in history at the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

(Editor’s note: NBC Sports has selected the Top 10 Indy 500s of All-Time through an esteemed panel of former drivers, broadcasters, journalists and historians. The countdown continues today and will run through the 107th Indianapolis 500.)

A race marred by myriad wrecks ended with a pristine finish – the closest in Indianapolis 500 history.

In a battle of Chevrolets, Al Unser Jr. held off Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds (about half a car length) for his first victory at the Brickyard in his 10th start, becoming the third Unser (alongside his father, Al, and uncle Bobby) to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I almost took it a little too easy off Turn 4, and Scott got a run on me,” Unser Jr. said.

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Goodyear, who finished second again in 1997 but never won the Indy 500 in 11 starts, actually didn’t qualify for the race. After being knocked from the field with 6 minutes remaining on Bump Day, Goodyear was added to the field by Walker Racing in place of Mike Groff in the No. 15 Lola-Chevy.

“It is a disappointment because for the last few laps, I thought this was really a possibility,” Goodyear said after the nail-biting finish. “We just drove flat out. We just didn’t have enough to get past him.”

Unser and Goodyear were battling for a victory only because of another unfortunate twist for the Andretti family.

Michael Andretti was in first by nearly 30 seconds before a fuel pump failure knocked the Newman-Haas driver out of the race while leading with 11 laps remaining. His No. 1 Lola-Ford finished 13th after being towed to the pits.

“Michael had us covered all day,” said Unser, whose No. 3 Galmer-Chevrolet for Galles Kraco Racing led 25 laps. “The Lola- Ford Cosworths just outrun us bad all day. The best we could do was best in class.”

Until the remarkable ending, the 1992 Indy 500 had been about Andretti’s dominance amid a plethora of crashes – including pole-sitter Roberto Guerrero before the start.

Trying to warm his tires on an unseasonably cold day in Indianapolis (a high of 58 degrees for May 24, 1992 made it the coldest Indy 500 in history), Guerrero lost control entering the backstretch and spun into the inside wall. Philippe Gache also spun on the pace laps, and the incidents delayed the start by 5 minutes.

The wrecks continued over the next 500 miles as more than 40 percent of the race was run under cautions that collected several big names. Among those who were involved in 13 yellow flags: four-time winner Rick Mears (making his last Indy 500 start), Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk and Tom Sneva.

Jeff Andretti suffered serious foot and leg injuries in a Turn 2 crash, and the misery then struck for his older brother 75 laps later.

In one of his family’s many heartbreaks at Indy, Michael Andretti’s dominant car (which was fast enough to lap the field) suddenly began slowing on the backstretch on Lap 190 of 200.

NBC Sports has ranked the Top 10 Indy 500s through a panel that judged through scores of 1-20 in five categories (with a total of 100 being perfect): quality of racing, memorable moments, strength of competition, historical impact and spectacle.

Here’s a look at No. 8 on the list:

Year: 1992

Winner: Al Unser Jr.

Margin of victory: 0.043 seconds

Lead changes: 17 among six drivers

Cautions: 13 for 85 laps

Other contenders: Michael Andretti led 160 of 200 laps. Aside from Al Unser Jr., the only other drivers to lead multiple laps were third-place finisher Al Unser (four laps led) and fourth-place finisher Eddie Cheever Jr. (nine laps led).

Winning move: Al Unser Jr.’s pass of Scott Goodyear for second with 12 laps remaining proved fateful when Andretti’s fuel pump failed with 11 laps left. Unser inherited the lead from Andretti and led the final 11 laps while fending off Goodyear.

How the voters saw it: Four gave the 1992 Indy 500 scores of 94 or higher, which helped make up for the race being left off the top 10 on half the ballots.