It’s a wide-open field in Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500. So wide open, in fact, that it’s hard to see a clear-cut favorite in the field of 33 drivers that will celebrate at the end of the race in the most famous Victory Lane in all of racing.
It’s also a race loaded with storylines.
Tony Kanaan is the defending winner of the Indianapolis 500 and he starts way back in 16th place after struggling in qualifying with his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. But Kanaan’s confidence on race day will be high after he was the fastest driver in the final practice session known as Carb Day on Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Teammate Scott Dixon is the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner and starts in the middle of Row 4. The three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion is flanked by two drivers from NASCAR – Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner and former Formula 1 driver that raced in NASCAR from 2007-2013 in on the inside.
“I want to win the 500, again,” Montoya said. “That is my plan this year – to get my face back on the BorgWarner Trophy.”
On the outside is 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch, who has been impressive in practice and is attempting to be the first driver in 10 years to compete in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
“There is a stop and smell the roses moment but it’s getting close to race time,” Busch said. “To come down here three-wide for the start of the race is one of the great moments in sports. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner but his last victory came in 2009. Castroneves starts inside Row 2 in a bright-yellow Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet – a paint scheme that screams history at the Indy 500. Johnny Rutherford won his third Indy 500 with that paint scheme in 1980 and Al Unser won the 1984 and 1988 500s with the livery.
“This is the biggest race of the season for us,” Castroneves said. “It’s the only race that everyone says, ‘If I can only win one race, this is it.’ I try to embrace it as much as I can. I’m thinking about what we can do. We’ve pretty much at the end of setting up the car. I know the team has done the best job possible. Hopefully it ends well for us Sunday. You’re thinking about a win no matter if it’s four or five and we keep going.
“A number is part of history. But I’m all the time thinking of what I can do to win this race. Last year it wasn’t enough. Was it strategy or setup or pit stops. We all analyzed a lot of things after last year. Now with the design of this car, we are looking for details that I never saw before. Hopefully those details will make the difference Sunday.”
Indiana’s own Ed Carpenter won the pole for the second year in a row with a four-lap average of 231.067 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet. With two IndyCar Series victories as a driver and another earlier this year when one of his drivers, Mike Conway, won at Long Beach Carpenter’s team is more than capable of achieving Indy 500 glory.
James Hinchcliffe of Toronto suffered a concussion two weeks ago in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and his participation in this event was in doubt for close to a week. He passed the closed concussion test five days later and qualified his Dallara/Honda to the middle of the front row with a four-lap average of 230.839 mph.
Will Power is IndyCar’s “King of the Road” because 18 of his 20 career victories have come on street and road courses. But he dominated last year’s season-finale at the 2-mile oval in Fontana, California and is confident he has mastered the art of oval racing. He starts on the outside of Row 1 as he attempts to give team owner Roger Penske a record-extending 16th Indy 500 victory.
Simon Pagenaud of France has already won a big race at Indianapolis this month in the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10. The driver for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports has all the ingredients necessary to sweep both races at Indy this month and starts in the middle of Row 2.
Marco Andretti nearly won this race as a 19-year-old rookie in 2006 but was passed by Sam Hornish, Jr. just 450 feet from the checkered flag. Andretti starts on the outside of Row 2 in a Dallara/Honda.
Rookie Jack Hawksworth of England has been impressive in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season. The driver from Bradford, England starts on the inside of Row 5 next to Sheffield, England’s Justin Wilson and rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin of Moscow, Russia.
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar Series championship but had a miserable qualification performance last weekend. He starts way back in 19th place inside Row 7 next to Graham Rahal, whose father won the 1986 Indianapolis 500.
Jacques Villeneuve returns to the Indy 500 for the first time since he won the 1995 500-mile race, overcoming a two-lap penalty for passing the pace car that year. He lines up on the outside of Row 9. Buddy Lazier is the 1996 Indy 500 winner and drove to victory that day less than two months after suffering a broken back in a crash at Phoenix International Raceway that year. It was one of the most heroic victories in Indy 500 history. Lazier starts last in the 33-car field.
There are so many storylines in the 98th Indianapolis 500 including a recent streak of records for most lead changes in the past two 500s, including 68 last year. Because of the current Dallara DW012 race chassis, most of the drivers expect the same type of race on Sunday.
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. Eastern Time. Sunday’s guests include three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and front row starter James Hinchcliffe. Show host Rob D’amico and Martin will preview Sunday’s 98th Indianapolis 500.Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Indy 500, IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Will Power