Green flag in hand for the second year in a row at the nation's biggest IndyCar event, Ed Carpenter looks to take home first place this time around in the 2014 Indy 500 and separate himself from a stacked overall leaderboard.
The amount of parity in the IndyCar scene this season has been quite staggering. Will Power sits with 149 points to lead the standings, but laps-led leader Ryan Hunter-Reay is just one point back.
Carpernter, countless others and two returning legends make for one heck of a way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Before diving in to those notable stories, here is a look at the starting grid:
|4||10||Juan Pablo Montoya|
Complete starting grid courtesy of NBCSports.com.
Let's start at the top with local hero Carpenter, who is a point of emphasis for domestic viewers considering the sport is in the midst of a massive drought in terms of American winners. Only four Americans have claimed the checkered flag since 1996, the most recent coming in 2006. That's good for the longest drought in Indy 500 history.
No pressure, Carpenter.
To be fair, Carpenter has remained humble in the face of another green flag and seems dialed in on a better performance than his 10th-place finish at the track last season, as captured by Indy Motor Speedway's official website:
It's awesome to do this two years in a row; I was surprised last year and didn't expect to do it this year with such deep competition. It’s exciting, but after going through this last year and not winning the race I’ve been so much more determined. Now it's all about the race, and we want to close the deal.
Carpenter has looked good in trials, but leading just 37 laps in last year's race was hardly enough to get the job done. As he muses, it is once again quite a deep field.
Look at Helio Castroneves, who is in hot pursuit for a historic fourth first-place finish. Doing so would place the 39-year-old driver in rare company and tie the all-time record. His experience makes for quite the formidable presence on the track come Sunday.
The same applies to Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya; the former captured the checkered flag in 1995 and then bolted for Formula One; the latter followed the same formula, with his win in 2000 and departure shortly thereafter.
Now, they're both back at the same time.
As Nate Ryan of USA Today points out, Montoya struggled at first in trials but rebounded and has himself in a nice 10th-place start on Sunday:
Juan Pablo Montoya disappointed with quals but borderline giddy talking Indianapolis and the race. Can tell he's happy to be here. #indycar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 18, 2014
Ed Carpenter is fastest on the final day of qualifying at 231.067 mph. Second-fastest lap was Juan Pablo Montoya (231.007) in 10th. #indycar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 18, 2014
The loss of three-time champ Dario Franchitti to retirement hurts, but the unexpected addition of both Villeneuve and Montoya makes for a field ripe with savvy veterans looking to put a final stamp on their career resumes.
Perhaps the most interesting story of all this weekend—not to mention the field's biggest wildcard—is Kurt Busch, who is attempting a Memorial-Day Double by competing in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600.
Busch is just the fourth driver in history to attempt the feat and could also break the American's dry spell in Indianapolis at the same time. He'll surely be a focal point of the proceedings, despite the overwhelming amount of storylines and surefire contenders.
In all, the 98th running of the Indy 500 is a proverbial can't miss event on the sporting calendar.