The field for this year’s Indianapolis 500 is filled with drivers with points to prove beyond showing they can win the celebrated race.
From Danica Patrick, who bids farewell to her racing career, to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and hometown favorite Ed Carpenter, the list of drivers with added incentives extends throughout the 33-car grid in the 102nd running of the race Sunday.
Carpenter, a driver and team owner, won the pole position for the third time a week ago with a four-lap average speed of 229.618 mph at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Indy 500 is the holy grail for Carpenter, 37, the stepson of Tony George, a member of the family that owns the speedway. But victory has eluded Carpenter in 14 starts. His best finish was fifth in 2008.
“I don’t want to just be considered a guy that can win poles here,” Carpenter said after qualifying. “Just hoping that things go well for all 500 miles.”
Carpenter’s team also prepared the car for the 36-year-old Patrick, who is ending her racing career in the second half of the so-called “Danica Double.”
The first half was this year’s Daytona 500, the marquee event in NASCAR stock car racing, where Patrick had spent the last six years. She finished 35th in that race after being involved in a crash.
Now, Patrick hopes to cap her career at Indy by winning the race that launched her to stardom in 2005, when she led 19 laps at the Brickyard and nearly won before finishing fourth. She was third in 2009, the best finish in history for a woman at the Indy 500.
Patrick this month quickly brushed off any rust from having been out of Verizon IndyCar Series for six years and qualified seventh for Sunday’s race with an average speed of 228.090 mph.
Castroneves, meanwhile, was shifted out of IndyCar racing this year by team owner Roger Penske and into a second-tier sports-car racing series — IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship — but he will race at Indy, where Penske is giving the 43-year-old Brazilian one more stab at becoming the fourth driver to win four times.
The others are A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
“Hopefully we can get that big number, a big number four,” Castroneves said after qualifying eighth. Penske already holds the record for most Indy 500 wins for an owner with 16.
Other drivers with added motivation in this year’s Memorial Day weekend classic include:
Josef Newgarden: The 27-year-old came of age last year by winning four races and capturing his first IndyCar series title in his first year with Team Penske. This year, he has won two of IndyCar’s first five races.
But the Tennessee native has yet to win the sport’s top prize. Newgarden’s best finish in six Indy 500 attempts was third in 2016 when he drove for Carpenter’s team. He starts fourth Sunday.
Sebastien Bourdais: The French driver was seriously injured when his car crashed into the wall while qualifying for last year’s Indy 500. Despite multiple fractures to his pelvis and right hip, Bourdais, 39, made a remarkable recovery and was racing again by season’s end.
He cemented his return this year by winning IndyCar’s season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., and now hopes to celebrate the anniversary of his crash with his first Indy 500 win. His best finish was seventh in 2014. Bourdais starts fifth.
Scott Dixon: The veteran New Zealander, 37, wants to win his second Indy 500 (the first came in 2008) after also enduring a horrifying crash in last year’s race.
Dixon’s car went airborne, landed on an inside wall and broke in half. But the four-time IndyCar series champion walked away unscathed as the “tub” that surrounds the driver stayed intact. Dixon starts ninth this year.
Alexander Rossi: The 26-year-old Californian wants to prove that his Indy 500 victory in 2016, when he won as a rookie by outlasting others on fuel strategy, was not a fluke.
Rossi, who drives for the Andretti Autosport team, already has shown he can win again on curvy road and street courses. He won at Watkins Glen last year and captured the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April. But he starts at the rear Sunday in 32nd.
J.R. Hildebrand: This list wouldn’t be complete without the 30-year-old California native, who still seeks redemption from 2011. That was when Hildebrand, as a rookie, had a comfortable lead on the last lap but dramatically hit the outside wall on the final turn, ceding the win to the late Dan Wheldon. Hildebrand starts 27th.