Indianapolis 500 Preview

In just three days, the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 will crown a new champion. The hype has been built up, the drivers have been battle tested, and the milk is on its way. This Sunday, lives will be changed forever, as 33 brave souls aim for immortality at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There are plenty of storylines entering this year’s race, but none bigger than the addition of two-time Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso. The McLaren driver has teamed up with Andretti Autosport in an attempt to win the second item on his bucket list, to go along with his wins at Monaco. Quite honestly, we all thought he was in for quite the surprise, but he is the one that has surprised all of us. He has had a remarkable month, acing every test and hurdle.

A few usual scenarios are also once again on the table. Can Helio Castroneves finally join the four-time winners club? Will Juan Montoya match his Penske teammate and win his third? How about seeing a first-time winner like Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, or hometown favorite Ed Carpenter? It will all play out in just three days.

The Favorites

While there isn’t a clear cut favorite as has been the case in the past, there are about 18 drivers that could realistically win this race. There are certain guys you certainly can’t count out, and others that are primed for making a splash. Yes, Honda appears to have the advantage once again on the 2.5 mile oval, but the reliability of the Chevrolet engines and the track record for Roger Penske have them ready to pounce on Sunday.

Andretti Autosport has six cars in the race, and five of them are starting inside the top ten. Defending Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi starts on the front row, with Takuma Sato and Alonso right behind him. Marco and Ryan Hunter-Reay could easily end up battling for the win in the final laps. Andretti cars are always fast here, and this year is no exception.

Team Penske has five cars entered this year, but Will Power is the only one starting in the top 15 on Sunday. Montoya, Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are starting 18th, 19th, 22nd, and 23rd. While that isn’t ideal, in the last five races, the winning driver started outside of the top ten. Penske is synonymous with success at Indianapolis, so all five drivers should be in contention on race day.

Chip Ganassi Racing doesn’t have the depth that Andretti and Penske have, but their ace is just as good as anyone. It’s hard to believe, but for all of his talent and success, Scott Dixon has only one victory here, and it was nearly a decade ago. Starting from pole position shows that he has the speed, but everyone knows it takes much more than that to win this race. Tony Kanaan gives Chip another solid shot at returning to victory circle, so add him to the list here.

Other contenders outside of the big three teams would include Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand. The ECR duo has shined most of the month, and especially during qualifying. They are unquestionably the fastest Chevrolet cars in the field, and that will go a long way over the course of 500 miles. Graham Rahal starts in 14th position, but he should be considered a major threat again this year. If this race goes the way his 2017 season has gone thus far though, the luck that the eventual winner needs probably won’t be there with him.

They Have A Shot

The next tier is a group of drivers that can win the race, but it would be somewhat of a surprise. This list starts with James Hinchcliffe, who started from pole position here a year ago. He and the SPM team haven’t had the speed this month, but Hinch is a great sneaky pick to win. Ed Jones has been incredibly fast all month. He and Dale Coyne teammate Sebastien Bourdais had the two fastest laps of the entire month, which says something about the team.

Another Rookie winner would be a big surprise, but he clearly has the tools to get to the front. Sage Karam has quietly had a great month of May. After a thrilling march to the front of the field in last year’s race, it ended with a risky move on the outside of Turn 1 with Townsend Bell. This kid obviously knows how to go to the front, and he seems to have more patience and understanding of the situations he is in. If you’re looking for a dark horse pick, Sage is the guy.

History and Statistics

With 100 years worth of statistics to play with, some numbers and trends can get a bit skewed. Obviously some things that occurred in the early years of this race won’t hold the same value in today’s modern era. Still, there are some interesting things to consider when looking at the field this year.

There are 11 car numbers entered in the race that have never won the Indianapolis 500. There are 9 starting positions that have never had a driver win the race either. Of those, there are four drivers that qualify for both of those categories; Juan Montoya (22, starting 18th), Buddy Lazier (44, starting 30th), Zach Veach (40, starting 32nd), and James Davison (18, starting 33rd). Montoya is probably the only one with a shot at winning on Sunday, but it is interesting to note.

There are four Rookies in the field this year – Alonso, Jones, Veach, and Jack Harvey. Last year Rossi became the first Rookie winner since Castroneves in 2001. A Rookie winning the Indy 500 in back-to-back years has actually happened twice before. Jules Goux and Rene Thomas did it in 1913 and 1914, and Frank Lockhart and George Souders went back-to-back in 1926 and 1927. Both Alonso and Jones have a decent shot this year.

Dixon can become the first driver to win the race from pole position since Castroneves in 2009. It would be the 21st time the pole sitter has won, and would actually be the second time for Dixon, who did so the year prior when he won in 2008. The win would also break a tie between Ganassi and Foyt (four each) for the third-most team wins in the event. They would then be tied with Andretti and Lou Moore with five, but still far behind Penske’s 16 victories.

Traditions

The Indianapolis 500 is built on tradition. The same pre-race activities will ignite the crowd and send chills across a group of more than 300,000 people just minutes before the green flag. You can just feel it.

The Purdue Band will take to the track at 9:35 AM, followed by Indianapolis 500 winning drivers taking some laps at 10:38 in the morning. Driver introductions are set for 11:35, with Angela Brown singing “God Bless America” at 11:46. At approximately 11:56, “Taps” will be played, followed by “America The Beautiful” and the National Anthem performed by Bbe Rexha. Jim Cornelison will sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at 12:12 PM, and then the command for “Drivers Start Your Engines” will be given. The field of 33 will begin to pull away.

The television broadcast on ABC will begin at 11 AM ET across the country. For those in the blackout area, the race will air at 8 PM. The Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network will once again have the live broadcast of the race, with Mark Jaynes as the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jerry Baker, Nick Yeoman, Jake Query, and Chris Denari will call the race from each turn. To say they do a marvelous job would be a massive understatement.

As you descend upon the speedway on Memorial Day Weekend, an indescribable feeling overwhelms you. The sun glistens over the pagoda, and you feel the brisk morning air in the shadows of the grandstands. Generations of people have experienced the cultural touchstone known as Race Day in Indianapolis.

For more than a century, drivers from all over the world have been showcasing their bravery and talent, risking it all to win at the Roman Colosseum of racing. Nearly 400,000 fans, 33 drivers, and 1 trophy complete the scene, like a Van Gogh painting that has come to life.

It’s impossible to summarize this monumental event in just a few words, but many have tried. In 1955, Alice Greene referred to the Indianapolis 500 as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Alice was right.

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