Indy 500: Five Drivers Starting Behind Row Three That Can Win on Sunday
20 drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 from the pole position. Another 22 drivers have gone on to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing after starting in second or third (11 each). The front row has accounted for 42 wins, while the rest of the 30 positions have a total of 52.
There are so many big names in the rear of the field this year.
With 40 entries in this year's race, the talent was very deep, and as Bump Day showed, it was extremely competitive. Penske slipped a few times, Ganassi had the fuel mess on Pole Day and probably the story of the year was the struggles of Andretti Autosport. The smaller teams like Sam Schmidt, Newman Haas and Sarah Fisher Racing have looked strong and could make for a Cinderella story.
The first three rows have won a combined 67 races, which means making the Firestone Fast Nine is extremely beneficial. While the winner will likely come from the front three rows again, we should take a look at the other contenders starting behind them that have a good shot at tasting the milk on Sunday.
Row 4: Vitor Meira
The focus of the AJ Foyt team the past couple days has been the selling of his second car to Michael Andretti. While that car qualified in 19th, it will start in last and will be driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Meira, on the other hand, qualified very well and has been laying low all month long.
There wasn't a lot of buzz and finger pointing towards Vitor as being one of the cars to beat. This is exactly what the team wants, and they feel that this is their best opportunity to win the race since Meira has been coming here. While he isn't the most popular driver in the series, Vitor has shown he has the talent it takes to be up front when it counts.
Row 6: Helio Castroneves
This is somewhat of an obvious pick here. While almost every had tagged Helio as a contender for the pole (or at least the front row), he struggled a bit in his qualifying run, landing in 16th position. While it came as a shock to everyone, don't mistake that for how his performance will be on Sunday. Once they get their race trim worked out, Helio will make his way towards the front.
He is still motivated to get that elusive fourth victory here. In practices where they were running race trim, he was one of the fastest on the track. Not considering Helio a contender for this race would be a huge mistake.
Row 8: Tony Kanaan
Perhaps no other driver has shown the ability to work his way up to the front of the pack after starting in the rear like TK has. Just last year, Tony started in the 32nd position, making it up to second place with just ten laps remaining. Had he not been a couple of laps shy on fuel, he could have contended for the win.
Besides being a fan favorite, Tony is still one of the most talented drivers in the series. He knows how special it would be to win here, and his conditioning and preparation for this race are second to none.
Row 8: Paul Tracy
Another veteran driver that is motivated to win here (for different reasons) is starting in the same row as Kanaan. Paul Tracy didn't make the field last year, and this year he did it in impressive fashion.
Just before a monsoon came washing over the speedway, Tracy took his car out on track and put down the fastest qualifying run on Bump Day. He said he was getting rain drops on his windshield on his third lap, but he was pushing it to the limit. The hunger is still there deep down inside, and Paul will certainly lay it all on the line to win on Sunday.
Row 9: Ryan Briscoe
Briscoe was my pick since Opening Day to win the race this year. I had a gut feeling that he was due after the tough break he had last year. All of the focus seems to be on his teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves. I think he is better than most people realize. All month long he was at the top of the speed charts in every practice session.
Unfortunately, he lost control of his primary car in early morning practice on Pole Day. He was taken off on a stretcher, but was cleared later to drive again. The team brought out the backup car, but obviously the speed just hasn't been there. After a solid qualifying run on Bump Day and time to work on it before the race, I expect the team to have it running even better. Winning in a backup car is a stretch, I know, but Ryan is a talented driver.