Indy 500 2014: Top Drivers to Watch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Indy 500 2014: Top Drivers to Watch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Indianapolis 500 kicks into high gear on Sunday, pitting IndyCar's top drivers against each other in the sport's most anticipated event of the year.

Last Sunday's Fast Nine qualifying event set the bar high with a highly contested battle for the first position. Ed Carpenter ultimately won for the second straight season, setting up an intriguing starting grid for the big race's 98th running.

Here are the top grid position slotted for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend along with a look at some of the marquee names to watch.

2014 Indianapolis 500 Fast Nine Starting Grid
Position Driver Lap Average
1 Ed Carpenter 231.067
2 James Hinchcliffe 230.839
3 Will Power 230.697
4 Helio Castroneves 230.649
5 Simon Pagenaud 230.614
6 Marco Andretti 230.544
7 Carlos Munoz 230.146
8 Josef Newgarden 229.893
9 JR Hildebrand 228.726

IndianapolisMotorSpeedway.com

 

Helio Castroneves

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Established veteran Helio Castroneves must always be taken seriously as one of IndyCar's top contenders.

Currently ranked fourth in the standings, the 39-year-old can bolster his outlook by winning his fourth Indy 500 title and first since 2009. A victory this weekend would create 13 years of space between his first and last triumph.

While he has finished inside the top 10 in all four starts this year, he has yet to notch a victory, which begs the question of how much longer he can hold a spot near the top of the IndyCar leaderboard.

Always a dependable choice to finish near the top of the pack, Castroneves can cement an already incredible legacy with one more Indy 500 victory.

 

Ed Carpenter

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

For the second straight year, Ed Carpenter will start the Indy 500 from the pole position after winning the Fast Nine qualifier. Let's see if he can capitalize this time around.

Last year, Carpenter finished 10th after winning the pole. He narrowly edged out James Hinchcliffe on Sunday's final lap to once again take it. As noted by IndyCar's Media Relations' Twitter account, that put him on a short list of drivers to ace the qualifier in consecutive years:

The owner of his team, Carpenter delegated races on road and street courses to Mike Conway so he can focus on ovals, his strong suit.

Conway made good on that decision by winning a street race last month in Long Beach, California.

As USA Today's Curt Cavin reported, Carpenter is not worried about entering the Indy 500 rusty.

"No one's raced on an oval since (the race at Auto Club Speedway), so I don't feel like I missed very much," he said. "I don't feel lacking or unprepared."

Carpenter can make a major splash on Sunday to show he still has it at age 33.

 

Kurt Busch

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Kurt Busch has a long day ahead of him, as the racer plans to compete in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.

If he finishes both events, he'll drive 1,100 miles combined. A NASCAR veteran, Busch is new to the Indy 500 scene, embarking on his first run after qualifying for 12th place with an average speed of 230.782 miles per hour.

He isn't transitioning smoothly to the new venue. On Monday, he crashed on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway course after losing control on a turn. He left the car under his own power and was cleared from the medical center. 

According to USA Today's Nate Ryan, the accident will not interfere with his attempt to complete the IndyCar-NASCAR double:

Busch did not sound overly concerned when speaking with ESPN.com's John Oreovicz:

It's nice to [crash] at an opportune time. We still have Carb Day to shake things down and get back in the groove. This created a lot of work for the Andretti guys and I feel bad for that. As a rookie, there's things you learn and put it up on the edge and get away with, and then there's times when it will bite you. It's just tough.

Holding his own throughout his busy day would prove impressive.

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