It is a poorly kept secret that the 98th running of the Indy 500 happens to be the deepest lineup the IndyCar series has produced in more than a decade.
There are plenty of sentimental favorites. Fans will flock to the likes of Kurt Busch and Ed Carpenter, two feel-good stories as the former attempts the Memorial Day Double and the latter sits in the pole position for the second consecutive year.
But the real contenders have more significant claims to the label. Whether it's momentum, past experience or more, the following racers are the top names to watch in a cluttered field.
With MotoSport in his genes after his father, Bob, was a successful open-wheel driver, Will Power is one of the sport's most recognizable names and stands a good chance to take home the checkered flag after qualifying on the outside of row one.
A close contender for the Drivers’ Championship in three of the past four years, Power traditionally struggles on oval tracks. But he is coming off a triumph in the sport's last race at an oval track in Fontana, California and has a great starting position this time around.
Power says this starting slot will prove integral to his chances on Sunday, per The Sports Network, via the Miami Herald:
"It's definitely a good place to start," Power said. "The further up you are, the better you are. The further inside you are, the better you are. It's a very long race and very interesting style of racing, different to any other racing we have all year with the way the draft works. Just have to make sure we run well in traffic and put ourselves in a position at the end of Sunday to win that thing.
It's never wise to count out a man who recovered from a crash that broke his back in 2009. By all accounts, Power is better than ever and poised to be in serious contention on Sunday.
Of course the defending champ makes such a list.
But not just because he stole the checkered flag last year.
No, Tony Kanaan makes the cut because, combined with his already stellar driving ability, he is in a new situation that does nothing but improve his chances over the course of the 500 laps.
With Dario Franchitti calling it a career, Kanaan has moved to the Ganassi team. As he himself notes, the change has led to nothing but good things, including the all-important checkered flag on Carb Day:
Experience and momentum are quite the tandem, so don't be shocked if Kanaan makes it two in a row.
Go figure, an Andretti is a favorite, right?
Wrong. Marco has received little attention leading up the race, in part because the family name has gone 45 years without a winner.
Marco certainly has what it takes to change that on Sunday. As David Malsher of Racer.com illustrates, it seems just a matter of time before Marco seizes the checkered flag:
Marco's nearest miss with Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Victory Lane was in his rookie season, 2006, when he came home just 0.0635sec behind Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. Since then, the third-gen racer has scored three more top-four finishes at the Brickyard, but his grandfather Mario's 1969 win remains the only time an Andretti drank the milk.
There is a lot of pressure on Marco to get things done, but he is clearly accustomed to it by this point. If he can perform better in the clutch, he will drink the milk when all is said and done.