IndyCar's top drivers will circle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 200 times on Sunday in hopes of netting the sport's grandest prize.
The Indianapolis 500 is IndyCar's Super Bowl, albeit sprinkled early into the season with the leaderboard still largely up in the air. This year presents its 98th running, yet another chance to enhance the storied event's rich history.
A long day awaits, so let's prepare by examining some of the top storylines on tap for this afternoon.
When: Sunday, May 25, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Start Time: Green Flag at 12:12 p.m. ET
TV Info: ABC, noon-3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3
Tony Kanaan Looks for Improbable Repeat
Tony Kanaan is the reigning Indy 500 champion, but you wouldn't know it from any discussions about 2014's running. Last year's winner isn't perceived as much of a contender this time around.
This year provides a perfect storm of competition, featuring established veterans looking to cement their legacy and fresh faces hitting their stride. Kanaan realizes the challenge that lies ahead, per USA Today's Nate Ryan:
Tony Kanaan on Indianapolis 500: "No one is going to pull away. It’s going to be a pack race for sure." #indycar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 23, 2014
It's also fair to doubt his ability to reclaim the checkered flag. For starters, he boasts just one IndyCar victory over the past four years and has not mustered a single top-five finish in 2014.
A massive target is firmly locked on his back as he looks to prove 2013's victory was more than a fluke. The 39-year-old may have escaped with his signature win last year, but the chances of replicating that effort look slim.
Helio Castroneves' Quest for History
Another past winner looks to return to the podium once again, as Helio Castroneves can etch his name into the record books with another Indy 500 victory.
He wouldn't hold the landmark achievement for himself, but adding to his current three first-place finishes would vault the 39-year-old into a tie for the most wins at the event, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Helio Castroneves needs 1 more win to tie the record of 4 #Indy500 victories. He would also tie for the fastest to reach 4 wins.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 24, 2014
The legend jumped out to a quick start, winning the decorated race during his first two tries in 2001 and 2002. Since then, he has not crossed the finish line first since 2009.
Yet the Team Penske veteran is currently ranked fourth in the IndyCar standings, so don't report his demise just yet. He has generated top-10 finishes in all but two of his 13 Indy 500 ventures. His fourth-place starting spot represents his most fruitful opening position since 2010.
Castroneves gets yet another chance at immortality on Sunday. Let's see if he converts this time.
Standings Leaders Fight to Remain on Top
Two of IndyCar's early achievers will have their work cut out for them in their quest to maintain prime real estate on the leaderboard.
Will Power, no relation to Max, stands in first with 149 points, one ahead of 2012 standings champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. He's earned one win while mustering top-10 finishes in all four races this year.
Yet Power has claimed 18 of his 20 career victories on road or street course, placing him at a disadvantage on the oval. He can pull that monkey off his back for good by prevailing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Hunter-Reay is riding right on his tail with one victory and three top-five finishes. He also leads all drivers with 109 laps led, a testament to his steady performance all year.
But he starts all the way back in Row 7 after a disappointing 19th-place showing during the qualifying run. He'll have to climb ahead to rapidly erase that deficit a year after finishing in third at last year's Indy 500.