The 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 has all the makings of a true classic. Things seem to get tighter and more competitive on a yearly basis, and it is almost impossible to confidently pick a winner from Sunday's field.
Drivers have proven capable of winning from essentially any starting position in recent years, and the importance of drafting makes things extremely unpredictable. That is certainly nerve-wracking for the drivers, but it is an IndyCar racing fan's dream.
There are tons of factors that will ultimately decide who takes the checkered flag Sunday, but here is the full qualifying rundown along with predictions for how the front-row starters will fare.
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis
When: Sunday, May 25 at 12 p.m. ET
|Starting Position||Driver||Car No.|
|10||Juan Pablo Montoya||2|
Few consider Ed Carpenter to be an elite IndyCar driver, with two wins and a career-best 12th-place finish in the points standings to his credit. That said, he has made a habit out of having success at Indianapolis Motor Speedways over the past couple years.
After capturing the Indy 500 pole last year, Carpenter turned the trick once again in 2014, according to Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
Last year's pole resulted in one of the driver's better finishes at Indy, as he placed 10th. That was considered a strong run for Carpenter since he was somewhat of a surprising pole-sitter, but he acknowledged that expectations have changed one year later, per The Associated Press (h/t Sports Illustrated):
It was so exciting last year because going into qualifying I wasn't really eyeing the pole. This year we knew Day 1 we had a fast car, so you go for it. Especially after last year. You set your sights higher. It's a different experience this time. I would have been more disappointed if we didn't win the pole.
The IndyCar circuit has been dominated by foreign drivers in recent years. That is especially true of the Indianapolis 500, as no American has reached Victory Lane since Sam Hornish Jr. did so in 2006. Carpenter is certainly among the best American hopes this year, with an ideal starting position at his disposal.
Carpenter gained a lot of experience last year in terms of learning how to run near the front at Indy, so he should be a factor. He won't have quite enough to win, but a solid top-10 finish of sixth will be viewed as a great accomplishment.
There was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Indianapolis 500 status of Canadian star James Hinchcliffe just one week ago. The driver went from a question mark to the No. 2 starting spot, however, and he certainly must be considered a threat to vie for celebratory milk chugging.
According to the AP (h/t USA Today), Hinchcliffe was concussed at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis May 10 when he was hit in the head with debris. He was in serious danger of missing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing but was lucky enough to be cleared for competition.
A slight mistake prevented Hinchcliffe from usurping Carpenter for the pole, but he was happy just to be in the position he was in after suffering a potentially serious injury, per Nate Ryan of USA Today:
James Hinchcliffe (second) a tad disappointed because he cracked the throttle. But glad considering "how things were six days ago." #indycar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 18, 2014
Hinchcliffe is still fairly new to the IRL, so he hasn't had many Indy 500 runs. Aside from a sixth-place finish in 2012, he hasn't been much of a factor. He definitely has a car that is fast enough to keep him up front, but he'll have a large group of contenders to hold off.
With Hinchcliffe still trying to gain his footing in Indianapolis and coming off an injury as well, look for him to drop back a bit and finish 12th.
Will Power has been among the most dominant IRL drivers since 2010, but he has had to deal with plenty of frustration. The skilled Aussie has finished fourth or better in the standings every year since 2010, including three second-place finishes from 2010 through 2012. Unfortunately, he has been unable to close the deal and win the title.
Which Indianapolis 500 front-row starter will finish best?
Power is in position to end his drought early this season, as he currently sits in first, but there are many races left to come. One that has never agreed with him, though, is the Indy 500. He placed a solid eighth in 2010, but his past three runs in Indianapolis have been nothing to write home about.
Power has struggled to even crack the top 10, although he is riding a fairly impressive streak right now. Dating back to the end of last season, he has finished eighth or better in six straight races, including three victories over that time frame.
It remains to be seen if his hot streak will carry over to Indy, but Power seems to have a good idea of how he plans to proceed if he is near the front in the latter stages, according to Chris Estrada of MotorSports Talk.
I think I would like to be leading on the last lap because I think you can stay ahead, although you'll work that out in the race. You'll have a good idea whether you'll be in front or not. ... It'll be exactly the same but everybody gets smarter every year, don't they? They start to think, 'Do I really wanna lead?' Because they'll be burning fuel. It constantly changes, and everyone turns up in better cars, so it's that much tighter.
Power's comments suggest that things will be chaotic during Sunday's closing laps, and he figures to have a hand in it considering how great his form is. Unfortunately, his lack of success at Indy will loom large, as he will fall just short and finish second.
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