Indianapolis 500: Ranking the Field Before Race Practice Begins

No NameAnalyst IMay 7, 2011

Indianapolis 500: Ranking the Field Before Race Practice Begins

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    The Ganassi duo of Franchitti and Dixon

    There may be one thing tougher to do than win the Indianapolis 500. Predicting how the race will play out.

    As is the case with any sporting event, there will be the odds on favorites, the guys that will have a great chance, some dark horses, and then the ones that are just thankful to be a part of it. This year is no exception, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the very first Indianapolis 500.

    As of today, there are 41 entries for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, with practice set to begin next week. As we go through each of the drivers and teams, I will classify them as either a Favorite, a Good Bet, a Dark Horse, or a Non-Factor. While you may disagree with some, I assure you I have done my research, but trying to predict what will happen in this race is virtually impossible.

The Favorites

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    Helio will go for his fourth "500" win this year

    These five guys should be obvious to most fans. Not only are they all drivers for the two best teams (Penske and Ganassi), but they have all proven they are some of the most talented drivers in the sport.

    • Dario Franchitti
    • Scott Dixon
    • Helio Castroneves
    • Will Power
    • Ryan Briscoe

    While three of these five drivers have combined for six Indy 500 wins, it is Power and Briscoe that will have something to prove this year. Power has been dominant on the road/street courses, but lost the Championship last year because he wasn't able to finish on the ovals.

    Briscoe has been very close in so many races, so a win at Indianapolis would really cement his place in the series. There has been speculation that he might be on the way out if he can't get a win this year, but I think Roger has enough faith and confidence in him that he can get the job done.

    It is extremely likely that this year's winner will come from one of these five drivers.

The Good Bets

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    Grandpa won, Dad didn't. What will Marco do?

    Outside of the top five guys, these drivers have all shown they have the talent and the machines to match. They are very capable of winning this race, and if they are able to, it should not be considered an "upset" by any stretch of the imagination.



    • Danica Patrick
    • Marco Andretti
    • Mike Conway
    • Ryan Hunter-Reay
    • Graham Rahal
    • Alex Tagliani
    • Tony Kanaan
    • Dan Wheldon
    • Townsend Bell

    Any of the four (full-time) Andretti Autosport cars will have a great shot at winning once again this year. Marco lost the 2006 race in the final few hundred feet to Sam Hornish, while Danica and Hunter-Reay have shown they can run near the front. Conway's crash last year will get the majority of the headlines this year, but he is fast, and he has a car that will give him a great shot at redemption.

    Rahal is now technically in a Ganassi car, although it may not be at the same level of Franchitti and Dixon. Still, this should be a much better car than he had last year, which he qualified in seventh. Alex Tagliani was incredibly fast last year, and things should be no different in 2011.

    Tony Kanaan might actually be at the top of this list, because he has so much experience and talent. He has had some bad luck as of late, but the KV Racing team should give him a car that nearly matches his skill level. He will pass a lot of cars in this race, again.

    Dan Wheldon has five top-five finishes in the "500", including his win in 2005 while driving for Michael Andretti. He has finished in second place the past two years, driving for Panther Racing. It will be interesting to see how his car performs with Bryan Herta Autosport.

    Townsend Bell is a sneaky pick here. Probably not the best bet on this list, he still finished in fourth in 2009 with KV. This year, he will be racing for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, along side Tagliani. These two will surprise some people this year.

The Dark Horses

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    Can Wilson finally break out?

    The Dark Horses are usually the ones that come out early in this race. The underdog strikes early and makes things very interesting. They usually come back down to reality in the end, although there have been some that have gone on to do some special things. Looking at this list, there are some intriguing names that could make history on May 29th.

    • Oriol Servia
    • Takuma Sato
    • Vitor Meira
    • Alex Lloyd
    • Justin Wilson
    • Ed Carpenter
    • Simona De Silvestro

    Servia has been one of the biggest surprises in this young season. He has finished in the top ten in every race this year, and currently sits in third place in the Championship standings. Sato seems to have benefited from Kanaan's move to KV Racing, as he has also run well this year, coming up just a bit short on a gamble in the last race in Sao Paulo.

    Vitor still has something to prove, but driving a car for AJ Foyt to victory lane would make for some interesting headlines. Alex Lloyd is a little under the radar, but he has shown he knows his way around this place. Last year he started in 26th position, only to finish in fourth. He will run with the same team, Dale Coyne Racing, once again this year.

    Justin Wilson is a really good pick here. He seems like he is just waiting to have a breakout race. Already proven himself on the road/street courses, he will look to leave a mark on the series heading into the next race.

    Ed Carpenter and Simona will be fan favorites, but both barely made this list. Carpenter is the hometown hero driving for Sarah Fisher Racing, and Simona has had a lot of fan support since she made her way onto the scene last year, winning the rookie award.

The Non-Factors

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    Could Matos pull off the major upset?

    Perhaps non-factors is the wrong name for these drivers. Obviously, they will factor into the race in one way or another, but it is also apparent that they will not be drinking the milk on May 29th. If one of them does make it to victory lane, it would be like the Cleveland Browns wining the Super Bowl.



    • JR Hildebrand
    • Ho-Pin Tung
    • Davey Hamilton
    • Raphael Matos
    • James Jakes
    • Paul Tracy
    • Scott Speed
    • Ana Beatriz
    • Bertrand Baguette
    • Sebastian Saavedra
    • John Andretti
    • EJ Viso
    • Charlie Kimball
    • Jay Howard
    • James Hinchcliffe
    • Tomas Sheckter
    • Bruno Junqueira

    First of all, I placed all of the rookies in this list because, well, they are rookies. Not to say it can't happen though, and I wouldn't be stunned if either Hinchcliffe or Hildebrand runs up front for a better part of this race. That being said, I don't see a rookie winning this year.

    Ho-Pin Tung is a nice story, but to think that a guy that has never raced in these cars at all is going to beat every other driver in this race is laughable. Hamilton just isn't the same driver we saw in the early days. He has only one top five finish in this race, which came in 1998. Last year he finished in dead last, and in 29th the year before.

    Matos is a guy that we thought had the potential, and who knows, maybe he could prove us wrong. Tracy would be a great story, considering what happened here in 2002. Last year he failed to qualify, and even though he has a better chance of making the field this year, he has never finished well in this race, besides the '02 incident.

    Sheckter has had some decent finishes in the past, but nothing that will make you believe he can win this year. The other drivers are all part-time drivers, with the exception of Viso. I don't think Viso can make it 200 laps without hitting something or someone, let alone actually winning the race.


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    Everyone wants it, who will get it?

    The simple fact is, the field is going to be very deep this year. The cream of the crop will still rise to the top, but there are some more legitimate contenders to deal with this season. The rookies should be exciting to watch, particularly Hinchcliffe and Hildebrand. Bump day is going to provide a lot of excitement and drama, as there will be some good teams and drivers going home.