Over the past decade, the favorites to win the Indianapolis 500 have been comprised of three teams.
This year, not having those teams dominate could be exactly what the sport needs.
The success that Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport have had in recent memory has been staggering. They have combined to win ten of the last eleven races at Indy. Since 2000, the only team to win besides the "Big Three" was Rahal/Letterman Racing with Buddy Rice in 2004
The top drivers like Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon remain, yet it appears that the other teams have finally started to break the barrier that has stood between them.
Known to IndyCar fans as the "Big Five," the two Ganassi drivers and three Penske drivers have had their ups and downs here in Indianapolis this month.
Helio Castroneves had a slower-than-expected qualifying run which landed him in 16 starting position, while Will Power also slightly under performed, as many thought he would be a contender for the Pole. Ryan Briscoe had his own struggles after wrecking his primary car in early morning practice last Saturday just before qualifying.
Both Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti had fuel problems during qualifications for the Firestone Fast Nine. The teams made critical, rare mistakes when calculating the fuel during their runs.
Dario ran out of fuel at the end of his third lap, and Scott began to run out as he came out of turn four on his final lap. Franchitti took the worst hit, but it was a mistake that nobody thought a team of this caliber would ever make.
By now, everyone knows the struggles that Andretti Autosport had on both days. What happened is in the past, and now they are focused on preparing their cars for race setup. Even though they managed to squeeze in their drivers (some on time, others with money), it wouldn't appear that any of them have a realistic chance of winning the race.
What does that leave us with? Some very talented drivers with really good teams.
Alex Tagliani and Townsend Bell aren't big names to people that aren't familiar with the sport, but they are drivers that have shown they have the talent it takes to win this race. Tagliani was one of the fastest cars over the course of the entire month here, and Bell has always been fast in Indy.
Both drivers are a part of Sam Schmidt's team, which has been coming along very nicely over the past couple of years. Alex is on the Pole for this race, and his teammate Bell will be right behind him on the inside of row two.
Joining Alex on the front row is another driver that some people won't recognize. Oriol Servia is a veteran driver that is finally hitting his stride with a well-established team in Newman Haas Racing.
The team has been around for awhile, but the emergence of rookie James Hinchcliffe paired with Servia has been a winning combination all season long. Servia is not only starting this race in third, but he sits in third position in the Championship Point Standings as well.
Some people have been surprised by the runs that Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand and former winner Dan Wheldon had. These are all examples of the perfect mixture of talented drivers with very capable teams. Panther Racing has always been good here, as they have finished in second place the last three years in a row.
The announcement this week that Danica Patrick is most likely heading to NASCAR next year has put many people on edge.
Some fear that the sport might not recover, while others like myself believe that not much will change, and it may even be better for the sport. I realize that she has been competitive in many races, but having only one (fuel mileage) win in six years doesn't exactly make her a star. See Anna Kournikova. I get that she has brought many fans to the sport, but if legendary drivers that won multiple championships and Indy 500s aren't bigger than the sport, why would she be?
The level of competition has gotten much better, and it will only help the sport more if someone other than the "Big Five" wins the race on Sunday.
To see fresh faces in victory lane that are overcome with joy, excitement and true appreciation is something that every fan should want to see. Seeing the same drivers and teams win over and over gets exhausting. Fans of NASCAR saw this in the '90s with Jeff Gordon, and the last five years with Jimmie Johnson.
While the favorite for the 95th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is probably one of the "Big Five" (Dixon), the chances look very good that we could see some else drinking the milk on Sunday.
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