Dario Franchitti. Scott Dixon. Helio Castroneves.
Each of these drivers are perennial favorites to take home the Borg-Warner trophy, but this year is different. The field of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 is deeper than ever before, and there are many drivers who could change the status quo.
Here are the 7 best bets for an underdog to cross the yard of bricks before everyone else.
Vitor Meira on Pole Day
34-year-old Vitor Meira, the driver of the #14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises machine, can never be counted out. Meira has finished second at Indianapolis twice, both in 2005 with Rahal Letterman Racing and in 2008 with Panther Racing.
Although Meira was badly injured in 2009, suffering a broken back in a late race crash, he has returned stronger than ever before.
Meira will roll off the grid 11th, with a four-lap qualifying speed of 225.590 mph.
It isn't often that you hear of a high school graduate deferring their acceptance to MIT, but that's exactly what Panther Racing driver J.R. Hildebrand did.
Hildebrand raced his way through both ChampCar Atlantics and the Firestone Indy Lights series, making his IndyCar Series debut in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. He has since taken over the National Guard sponsorship at Panther Racing from Dan Wheldon, and will roll off the grid 12th in the centennial Indianapolis 500.
Simona de Silvestro earned the respect of many in the racing world on Pole Day, after qualifying her car with second degree burns suffered during a crash in practice just two days earlier. The Swiss driver, named 2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, was forced to switch to her backup car, and qualified 24th just before the rains began.
Although she has no wins in the series, she has four top-10 finishes in just two years, and cannot be counted out at Indianapolis. No matter her finish, she has proven she has the guts to race with the best of the best.
Although just a part-time IndyCar series driver, Ed Carpenter has shown that low budget teams can compete with the powerhouses. Carpenter has taken fan favorite Sarah Fisher's race team to a new level, qualifying the #67 machine 8th in the Indianapolis 500.
In the past three years at Indianapolis, Carpenter has two top ten finishes, and led laps in 2008. A new engineer and driver has provided Sarah Fisher Racing with a breath of fresh air, and Carpenter cannot be counted out on race day
In his first visit to Indianapolis since 2008, Buddy Rice qualified his Panther Racing machine 7th.
Rice, a winner of both the Indianapolis 500 (2004) and the 24 Hours of Daytona (2009) races, is a crafty veteran who has experience in multiple racing venues. Following Bump Day, Panther Racing announced sponsorship for Rice by Fuzzy's Vodka, a company owned by PGA veteran Fuzzy Zoeller. Rice has two top 10 finishes in six 500s, and is a definite darkhorse in 2011.
Townsend Bell, 2010
Townsend Bell, another part-time driver for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, shocked most race fans by qualifying his machine 4th on Pole Day. Although Bell has never ran a full-time schedule, he has consistently performed at Indianapolis, with both a top 10 and top 5 finish in his 4 starts.
Bell has had limited exposure to fans and has remained confident of a good finish at Indianapolis in 2011.
Although qualifying on row 1 means that you can't fly under the radar as much as you'd hoped, veteran Oriol Servia is still an underdog.
Servia, driving for Newman/Haas Racing, has top 10 finishes in all 4 races in the 2011 season, and is carrying that momentum into the Brickyard. The Spanish driver qualified 3rd with a four lap average of 227.168 mph, and is the number one underdog going into the 2011 Indianapolis 500.