We have a close race going atop the IndyCar standings, and the sport's most prestigious event, the Indianapolis 500, figures to shake things up in a big way.
After Fast Nine qualifying Sunday, Ed Carpenter earned the pole for the second consecutive year. This will be the first race Carpenter will enter this season, as Mike Conway has driven the car on road and street courses.
Carpenter just edged out James Hinchcliffe on Sunday. Hinchcliffe has only one top-10 finish this year and will look to improve his standing Saturday starting from the second position.
Here's a look at the top of the race's starting grid:
The complete starting grid can be found at IndianapolisMotorSpeedway.com.
With the positions locked in, let's take a look at some of the most interesting storylines and drivers to watch as the race approaches.
Can Helio Castroneves Join Elite Company?
Only three drivers have earned four Indianapolis 500 victories, the last being Rick Mears in 1991. Castroneves won the race in 2001, 2002 and 2009, and he's looking to join elite company this time around.
So far, he's looked good. Castroneves posted the Fast Nine's fastest qualifying lap at 231.671. However, he fell off on his final two laps and holds the fourth position to begin the race.
The driver was quick to tweet his results following the qualifying round:
Qualified 4th for IndyCar Series 230.649 Mph! http://t.co/h7hxaLsWHb— Helio Castroneves (@h3lio) May 18, 2014
So far in 2014, Castroneves has raced four times, earning two top-five finishes and two top-10 finishes. He currently sits fourth in IndyCar standings. A win Saturday would boost his season standing in a big way as he earned a ridiculous fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.
Will the Second Time Be the Charm for Ed Carpenter?
For the second year in a row, Carpenter holds the pole position for the Indianapolis 500. IndyCar PR tweeted the history of his achievement:
An Indiana native, Carpenter received plenty of praise on Twitter, including from the Indiana Pacers:
Unfortunately for Carpenter, starting in first position didn't quite work out last year. He was quickly passed by Marco Andretti, who started in third position, and was never really able to regain his grasp on the race. He led 37 laps but finished in 10th place.
After qualifying, Carpenter spoke of the race and his mentality this year compared to last, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
"It was a harder run than last year," he said. "I knew what the average was, so I was just hanging on. I was surprised last year. Obviously, we felt good this year that we had a chance this year. But it's all about the race. Hopefully, we can close the deal this year."
Once again, plenty of tough drivers will be nipping at Carpenter's heels. We'll see Saturday if he can come through this time around.
Race Atop the Standings
There's quite a tight race so far atop the IndyCar standings. There's also a good possibility we'll see some major shifts upon the conclusion of the Indianapolis 500.
Here's a look at how the standings currently sit:
|Rank||Driver||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10||Laps Led|
The full standings can be viewed at NBCSports.com.
Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud have looked great so far this season. Each has earned a win and multiple top-five and top-10 finishes. Power and Pagenaud posted some nice numbers during qualifying and will start the Indianapolis 500 at the third and fifth positions, respectively. Hunter-Reay, on the other hand, will start all the way back in 19th position.
Sure, winning from the 19th position isn't impossible. Just last year, Tony Kanaan won after starting 12th. But it doesn't make things easy.
To make matters worse for Hunter-Reay, three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves will begin the race in fourth position and also sits in fourth place in the season's standings.
If Power, Pagenaud and Castroneves can maintain positions near the front of the pack—and even possibly find a lead at some point during the race—Hunter-Reay could see his No. 2 ranking in points dissipate quickly.
*Season standings current as of 4:45 p.m. ET on Sun., May 18.