Nobody could have predicted that rookie JR Hildebrand would hit the wall off the final corner while leading in the 2011 Indy 500
There is no more intense four hours on the calendar year in motorsports than those which will make up The Greatest Spectacle in Racing this coming Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This Sunday will mark the 101st time the Indianapolis 500 has been run. And if this year's edition of the storied event is anything like the previous 100, it's going to be a wild ride.
Perhaps it's the prestige of etching one's name into the record books, or the feeling one receives when he gets to drink the milk in Indy's Winner's Circle. Maybe it's the taste of those bricks, or the ride around the track after all that hard work has been done.
Whatever the reason, the Indianapolis 500 always leaves us with plenty to talk about and is never predictable.
Just one year ago, rookie JR Hildebrand led the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 coming off Turn 4 when his No. 4 Panther Racing car hit the outside barrier. As a heartbroken Hildebrand limped his machine to the line, the late Dan Wheldon wheeled his car to the checkered flag, taking his second Indy win.
Try as we might, we writers never can seem to succeed when it comes to predicting these unpredictable events. But it is our job to do so, and with that comes our 10 bold predictions for this year's Indy 500 race.
Danica Patrick will miss the Indy 500 for the first time since 2004
Contrary to popular belief, the former Izod Indycar Series headliner will not be missed come Sunday.
In fact, Danica Patrick's absence from the storied venue may be a plus for this year's running of the Indy 500, as media attention will be freed up to focus on all 33 deserving drivers.
Among those drivers is a trio of females, each of whom should prove to be a contender come Sunday. But more on them in a moment.
Patrick, meanwhile, will continue on with her foray into NASCAR as she attempts to put together a solid effort in the Nationwide Series race at Charlotte on Saturday night.
Sure, the attention Patrick often brought to Indycar may have dwindled a little since her departure.
But the Indy 500 survived for 93 years before she first raced in it. Surely, this race can pull it off again.
Ana Beatriz has the best chance of all the females at a Top 10 run
With Patrick's departure, the general consensus is that Simona de Silvestro will be the top female at Indy.
Ana Beatriz may just have something to say about that.
Beatriz finished 21st in last year's Indy 500, and thus far the Brazilian driver appears to be the best equipped of all the female drivers to earn a Top 10 at Indy.
Beatriz's teammates, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti all qualified inside the Top 5 and have shown tremendous speed so far at Indy.
Beatriz hasn't been too shabby herself, posting the seventh-fastest time in Friday's practice and qualifying 13th.
Simona de Silvestro and rookie Katherine Legge may put together good runs on Sunday. But if you're betting on which female will do best in the Indy 500, bet on Beatriz.
Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing have dominated Indycar in recent years
When you think Indy, a few names come to mind.
Among them are Penske and Ganassi.
That's because over the last four years, the Indy 500 has been won by a driver with a car owned by either Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi. Combined, Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing own 19 Indy 500 victories.
This year, that number will not reach 20.
While Penske has Ryan Briscoe on Pole for the Indy 500 and has won every race this season, the Indy 500 has not been kind to Roger in recent years. A year ago, his best finishing driver was Will Power, who finished 14th.
Ganassi, meanwhile, has struggled to even compete with Penske as well as Andretti Autosport here in 2012, with Scott Dixon being the team's highest driver in the standings at sixth.
Couple that with the fact that the Indy 500 brings out the best in every single team, and there's a good chance we'll have another upset on our hands come Sunday.
James Hinchcliffe has been Andretti Autosport's flagship driver in 2012
A year ago, Andretti Autosport had no drivers place inside the Top 8 at the Indy 500. Two years ago, they nearly sent Indycar veteran Tony Kanaan home from the Indy 500.
This year, it's a whole different story for the Andretti boys.
Michael has his drivers in a terrific position heading into this year's running of the Indy 500, as Ryan Hunter-Reay sits fourth in the standings with perhaps the surprise of the season sitting in third.
That surprise is James Hinchcliffe, who one year ago did not even finish the Indy 500 after contact just prior to the halfway point sent him to the garage.
Now, Hinchcliffe will get to start on the outside of Pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe with Hunter-Reay right next to him in third and Marco Andretti in fourth, putting all three full-time Andretti Autosport drivers inside the Top 4 to start the race.
Don't be surprised if one of them pulls into the Winner's Circle on Sunday.
Charlie Kimball became the first diabetic ever to finish the Indy 500 in 2011
A year ago, Charlie Kimball pulled off a feat never before accomplished.
He didn't win the Indy 500. Nor did he finish inside the Top 5 or even the Top 10.
But Charlie Kimball finished.
The reason that feat is so significant is because Kimball is a diabetic, and by finishing last year's race he became the first diabetic ever to complete the Indy 500.
With an additional year under his belt now, the second-year Chip Ganassi driver may just take it a step further and earn an Indy Top 10 on Sunday.
Josef Newgarden has been fast so far at Indy
If you want to look for a sleeper in Sunday's Indy 500, it may just be Josef Newgarden.
The 21-year-old Indycar rookie has struggled to start the 2012 season but unloaded with a rocket at Indy.
Newgarden was the fastest driver in practice on Wednesday and followed that up with the second-quickest time on Thursday before qualifying seventh for the 500 on Saturday.
Eight rookies have won the Indy 500, while JR Hildebrand nearly made it nine just one year ago.
Perhaps this year it will be Newgarden who engraves his name in the history books in his first attempt at Indy.
If he doesn't, a Top 5 looks to be very well within reach.
Simon Pagenaud has impressed so far in 2012
For those of you who watch the Izod Indycar Series on a regular basis, Pagenaud finishing as the highest rookie would come as no surprise.
After all, at fifth in the standings Pagenaud has shown to be leaps and bounds better than all of the other rookies in the 2012 class.
But consider this: If rookie Josef Newgarden does indeed finish inside the Top 5 on Sunday, Pagenaud would almost certainly have to finish inside the Top 3 to earn Rookie of the Race honors.
He can do it.
Pagenaud already has a pair of Top 5s in 2012 including a runner-up a Long Beach. And while Indy is a totally different animal, the fact that Pagenaud has already adjusted to the elevated level of competition in his first full season shows he's ready for the challenge.
JR Hildebrand(pictured) and Townsend Bell both suffered heartbreak at Indy in 2011
Pick your poison.
A year ago, Townsend Bell and his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team looked as though they could upset the field after running with the front of the pack along with teammate and Pole-sitter Alex Tagliani most of the day.
But with just 43 laps to go, Bell had a crash that took him out of contention for good.
Then there's the story of JR Hildebrand who, as you know by now, crashed while leading coming to the checkered flag.
Both young American drivers suffered excruciating heartbreak that fateful day, yet both are back and ready to avenge their losses.
They start just two positions apart, with Hildebrand in 18th and Bell in 20th. So don't be surprised if they move to the front to avenge their losses together.
Takuma Sato's career year will continue at Indy
Finishing better than 20th should come easy to third-year Izod Indycar driver Takuma Sato.
The Japanese driver is putting together a career year in 2012 despite having two DNFs to start the season.
Sato has strung together back-to-back Top 10s with his most recent being a third-place effort in Brazil. With that kind of momentum going his way, Sato could easily contend for a Top 10 finish in his third Indy 500 start.
Sato will roll off 19th, and barring a problem should cruise to his best Indy 500 finish.
Will 2012 finally be the year Tony Kanaan wins the Indy 500?
Not too many people would argue with this sentimental story.
The driver with more consecutive starts than anybody else in the Indycar garage area has tried 10 times to win "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," but to no avail.
Kanaan has led the third-most laps of any driver in Indycar history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway among those without and Indy win.
The man they call T.K. has been in a position to win the Indy 500 every single year since 2002, yet has been plagued by misfortune in every Indy event.
Even still, Kanaan continues to drive his guts out at the 2.5-mile rectangle every year in hopes of capturing that elusive Indianapolis 500 victory.
2012 is the year he finally gets it done.