For nearly a hundred years, the Indianapolis 500 has loomed over the month of May. Eyes have turned to it in anticipation. Men have traveled over incredible distances to attend it. Only a select few have the honor to compete in it. From Helio Castroneves to Tony Kanaan, the field is (at least, when this article was written) preparing for another possibly equally looming time: The Night Before.
Be it the proverbial calm before the storm or not, everyone knows that Race Day is coming. All the work that has gone into the compressed month comes to a head only a few hours away. For now all they can do is wait. Wait for the 800 left-handed turns ahead. Wait for the 300,000 to file into their seats and prepare for what could be their finest hour or the lowest moment.
Will Helio win his fourth? Can Kanaan be the first driver ever to pass 32 cars on way to victory? Will one of the four women drink the milk? Can someone other than Ganassi and Penske get to lay claim to the Borg-Warner Trophy? Many questions persist but one reigns supreme: Who is going to win?
"I think you have to be on your toes," said the 2008 Indy winner, Scott Dixon. "You need to treat the race as a moving target. Everything changes. It's going to be tough to get through it; the ones who make the decisions quicker are the ones who will come out on top."
To determine who will come out on top, we've broken down the field into four categories: Favorites, Contenders, Long-Shots and The Drivers you shouldn't bet the farm on. Some of the names might surprise you.
"I like being the hunted, instead of the hunter," said the three-time champion Helio Castroneves; which might be the sentiments that most of these five gentlemen share. With the exception of three, every Indy 500 in the 2000s was won by a driver from Team Penske of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Why would this year be any different? The Team Penske stable: Ryan Briscoe, Castroneves, and Will Power all qualified in the top four. Ganassi's drivers: Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be starting on the outside of the first to rows, so it's not like there is much drop off. With the combination of talented drivers, experienced crews, winning owners and missiles instead of IndyCars, it will be a surprise to see anyone else in victory circle.
These are the drivers outside of the Big Two that have the best chance of victory. Driving for a new team, in former unimpressive equipment, FAZZT Race Team's Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira are poised to be a treat. The both posted fast times in qualifying, the question lies if they can pull everything together during the race. If they are able to, watch out.
Former winner Dan Wheldon always shows up for Indy. He finished second in the same National Guard Honda that he is driving this year. Townsend Bell finished fourth last year in a one-off deal for KV Racing. He returns to Indy in another one-off deal, but this year he drives for a combined effort of Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing. He starts tenth and is well worth that starting position and maybe worth a sip of milk after the race.
"They do have very good cars, so you can't count them out," said Castroneves of the next two contenders. Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan would not strike you as treats for victory if you looked at the starting grid. But Andretti came within a miracle pass by Sam Hornish Jr. of winning this race in 2006, and he has been competitive at every 500 - with the exception of last year - that he has entered. Kanaan is one of the better drivers in the field. And though he will be starting last, does anyone expect him to stay there?
"That's what Indy is all about: making history," Kanaan said about the chance to be the first driver ever to go from last to first. "We're definitely going to try." If he is able to pull it off, he will be able to accomplish what Scott Goodyear wasn't in 1992. The year that Goodyear came from P. 33 to lose to Al Unser Jr. by the blink of an eye.
The other Andretti Autosport drivers fall under this category. If Andretti shows up with their usually solid IndyCars then John Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick will be threats to win the race, even though they're qualification efforts were underwhelming.
Ed Carpenter has his first real chance at winning the big race on his home track. Graham Rahal always has a chance, if he can keep if out of the wall. If he does, the team the guided Buddy Rice to victory in 2004, will give him all the help he needs. Newman/Haas Racing has never won Indy, but Hideki Mutoh is a very consistent driver and if it comes down to a full mileage race, don't be surprised if he is in the mix at the end.
Tomas Scheckter is the wild card. He has all the talent in the world, but is there enough in his Dreyer & Reinbold car to propel him to victory.
I wouldn't put too much money on the remaining 15 cars. They might be talented drivers but they still would have to pass these 18 in order to drink the milk. But anything can happen. There are 800 turns to go.
94th Indianapolis 500