This year's running of the Indianapolis 500 has many story lines. If Pole Day and Bump Day have shown us anything, it is to expect the unexpected this year at Indianapolis. Small teams have shown tremendous speed, while larger, more financially sound teams have struggled to get up to speed and, in some cases, qualify to make the 33 car field.
There are six drivers that come to mind that have earned the status of contender for Sunday's race. This group is as diverse as the field in its entirety. Starting with Target/Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, here are the six drivers that are ready to win at Indy.
Starting Position: 2nd
Dixon, the two-time series champion and former winner of the Indianapolis 500, is the lone representative of super team Target Chip Ganassi Racing to make the front row. Dixon is always fast at Indy and has not finished worse than 6th in the last five Indy 500's. This is Dixon's first front row start since starting in the pole position in 2008, the year he won his first 500.
Dixon is an expert at conserving fuel while remaining quick enough to remain in constant contact with the lead pack. The "Iceman" is as technically sound as any racer in the circuit and will not likely take himself out of the race by way of a mistake of his doing. Expect Dixon to remain at or near the front for most of the race, waiting to strike when the time is right to make a run at this second 500 victory.
Starting Position: 1st
Tagliani is the surprise of the month of May so far. Tagliani was fast all week long leading up to Pole Day, when he captured his first career Indy Pole in three attempts for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Tagliani was fast in qualifying in 2010, but it did not translate to the race itself. This year, on the pole position, Tagliani will have the best starting position as the eleven rows of three make the first turn on lap one. Besides having a fast car, Tagliani is racing for owner Sam Schmidt, a former driver who was paralyzed in a testing accident. Tagliani and Schmidt are the feel good stories at Indianapolis, and they have a good chance to pull off the upset over the two dominant teams in the series, Ganassi and Team Penske.
Starting Position: 5th
Not only does Power have one of the best names in sports, but he drives for the most successful team ever at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske. The series points leader, Power has never done well on ovals. Power has great success on road and street courses, but the oval at Indianapolis is more treacherous than any twist or turn he ever encountered on a street course.
Power's lack of oval success is outweighed by the team behind him. With a record fifteen victories at Indianapolis, Roger Penske knows how to put his drivers in position to win. It would not be a shock to see Power in victory lane instead of his teammate and three-time Indy 500 winner, Helio Castroneves. Penske's success, combined with Power's raw abilities, could create a special day for the young Australian.
Starting Position: 6th
Wheldon is one of those drivers who has Indianapolis figured out as well as a driver can. Finishing runner-up the last two years, the 2005 winner returns in a car supplied by former teammate, Bryan Herta.
Wheldon, despite this being his first and possibly only race of the year, will be a force to be reckoned with on race day. Wheldon is one of the few "one-timers" with a decent shot at winning the race. The Englishman could put aside the pall of being the driver who won the Indy 500 in which Danica Patrick finished fourth by winning his second 500.
Starting Position: 9th
Franchitti, the defending race winner and two-time champion of the 500, can never be counted out of this race. However, starting 9th is uncharacteristic of the Scotsman. After running out of fuel on the fourth and final lap of his qualifying run during the nine car shootout for the pole position, Franchitti automatically was assigned the 9th starting position.
Despite this bad luck, Franchitti is still a contender on race day. As the case is for any driver in the Team Penske camp, a driver for Ganassi always stands a great chance to win the 500. It is never safe to underestimate the power of a good team at Indianapolis. This is what makes Franchitti a contender, combined with his record of two victories at the speedway.
Starting Position: 23rd
Kanaan is my wild card pick to win the 500 this year. Despite starting 23rd, Kanaan has a knack for racing up through the field like no other. Kanaan is known to make most of his passes on starts and restarts. With the introduction of the rule of double file restarts, Kanaan could make up a significant amount of ground over the course of the race.
In 2010, Kanaan started 32nd out of 33 and raced his way up to 2nd with just under ten laps remaining. If not for a late fuel stop, Kanaan would have won his first 500 from the worst starting position of any previous winner of the race.
Kanaan may be a long shot to win, but it is a safe bet that he will make it interesting come race day from his mid-pack starting position.