Indy 500 2014: Ranking Top Drivers to Watch in Marquee Race

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Indy 500 2014: Ranking Top Drivers to Watch in Marquee Race
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The Indianapolis 500 is the one IndyCar race that attracts widespread mainstream attention. A lot of that is due to the race's storied history. Sunday's competition will mark the 98th edition of the event, which, along with Memorial Day weekend, is the unofficial start of summer.

This year's Indy 500 also carries a little extra intrigue because it's wide open. Normally, a small group of cars stands out from the pack during the week, but that really hasn't been the case. There are plenty of drivers with a realistic hope of capturing the checkered flag.

The high level of competitiveness should make for a memorable day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So let's check out the top drivers to watch on Sunday as they battle for the most coveted race victory on the IndyCar circuit.

1. Helio Castroneves

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Castroneves became a household name more than a decade ago when he won back-to-back Indy 500 races in 2001 and 2002. He's only been able to win the race once since that point, however. Another triumph would put him in rare air.

Only three drivers have won the IndyCar showcase four times: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears. No other active driver has more than one victory. Michael Marot of the Associated Press (via ABC News) passed along comments from Castroneves about chasing history:

"I imagine it, I dream about it, but I don't think about what it would be like. But I hope I can tell you after Sunday."

The Brazilian superstar has a golden opportunity to end the five-year pursuit. He'll start on the second row, and his top-end speeds were right on par with the best cars in the field. Add in his experience at the track, and he's the driver to beat Sunday.

2. Will Power

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Power hasn't caught many breaks at Indianapolis in recent years. After two top-10 finishes in his first three starts, his best result over the past three years was a 14th-place finish. He finished just inside the top 20 last year despite leading for 16 laps.

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The good news is that he's off to a tremendous start to the season. Power has finished no worse than eighth in the season's first four races, including a win in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. That's exactly the type of form a driver wants heading to Indy.

He continued to showcase a fast car during qualifying. He'll start third and was one of the most consistent drivers across the four laps. Factor in that he's due to catch a couple breaks in the marquee race, and Power has to like his chances.

3. Ed Carpenter

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Carpenter was able to match his feat from last year by winning his second straight Indy 500 pole. He ended up leading nearly 40 laps in the 2013 race but could only muster a 10th-place finish. It was a missed opportunity.

The American has an even better car this time around, and he hopes that leads to his first Indy 500 victory. The IndyCar Series noted that his qualifying laps, which cracked 231 mph on average, were the fastest in more than a decade:

Carpenter is racing a limited schedule this season, putting an even greater emphasis on getting a strong result in the Indy 500. There's no doubting his car's speed, so he just has to find away to avoid the wrecks and get into contention heading into the final laps.