Indy 500: Previewing and Predicting the 95th Running at Indianapolis
The Eve of the 500
We have waited patiently for almost a year now. The anticipation and excitement has been building for weeks. Finally, the 100th anniversary of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is set to run tomorrow, and it looks like Mother Nature is going to cooperate.
It has been 100 years since Ray Harroun won the inaugural race in 1911, and a full year since last year's race won by Dario Franchitti. The practices have come and gone, the drama of Pole Day and Bump Day have played out, and now that Carb Day has officially come to an end, it is time to get ready for the greatest race in the world.
The field is one of the deepest we have seen in a very long time, as represented by the qualifying order. Not only have the "Big Three" teams struggled, but the teams like Sam Schmidt, Newman Haas, Bryan Herta and Sarah Fisher Racing have been fast all month long. Making these picks was extremely tough, and I don't plan on them being very accurate. Anything can happen in this race, which is just another reason why we love it as much as we do.
First to Crash: Bertrand Baguette
I think Baguette has talent as a driver, but starting in 14th is a slippery place to be, especially going into a race of this magnitude. He is in the middle of Row 5, which is more of a reason why I am picking him here. Anyone without experience in this race trying to settle into a position going into Turn 1 in his spot would probably be the choice here. Hopefully we don't see a big name driver get taken out in the first few laps.
Hard Charger: Graham Rahal
It would seem logical to take Tony Kanaan here because this is basically what he does every race. However, Rahal actually has a top-10 car and will be starting in 30th position, giving him more cars to pass than TK. Getting through the traffic could be a problem for him, but if he is able to weave his way by the slower cars in the back, there is no reason he can't finish up front. His car is very good, they just had some bad luck in qualifying with the engine.
Lame Duck: Takuma Sato
KV Racing hasn't really made any noise this month, good or bad. While Sato was the quickest of the three full-time drivers, I don't know if he has a car capable of finishing in the top 10. He will start in 10th, but I don't expect him to stay up there with better drivers and better cars behind him. I was surprised to see that he qualified as well as he did, given their practice results from the entire month.
Dark Horse: Vitor Meira
To be a dark horse for this race, in my opinion, you have to start behind the third row. I like the Townsend Bell, Buddy Rice and Ed Carpenter picks, but I want to go back a little further to Vitor Meira. He has had his moments here at Indy, from amazing passes on the front stretch, to unbelievable backwards crashes along the wall in Turn 1. He has had his fair share of ups and downs, which include two runner-up finishes in this race. He has been hiding in the weeds all month, as quiet as can be. These are the guys that you really have to keep an eye on.
Rookie of TheYear: James Hinchcliffe
Obviously I think this one comes down to Hinch and Hildebrand. While JR has some great speed with his Panther Racing machine, I think James does a better job of making his way through traffic. JR has shown that he can go fast around the track by himself, but I think Newman Haas also showed what they are capable of. I like both of these guys, but I think James is just a tick better.
3rd Place: Alex Tagliani
Alex has been one of the big stories here this month. He was fast here last year without much practice, and this year they were the fastest of them all. The team as a whole has been amazing, and they definitely will have a great chance at winning. I don't see another winner from pole, even though there have been 28 of them in the history of this race. Race trim is different than Qualifying trim, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him battling for the win late in the race.
2nd Place: Dan Wheldon
Many people see this as the sexy pick this year. Wheldon is a former winner and is starting up front with a great car. It would be hard to imagine a part-time driver/team winning this race, but if anyone can do it, it would be these guys. The experience that Wheldon has is certainly going to help him, but he must avoid trouble in the first few laps, as he will be starting on the outside of Row 2. It would be great to see him get the win for Herta, but I see him coming up just a bit short.
Winner: Scott Dixon
Just before qualifications began this year, I was trying to decide between Dixon or Ryan Briscoe as my early favorite to win. I felt Briscoe had the fastest car, but after he crashed his primary car that morning, I immediately turned to Dixon.
Scott will be starting second and has owned the top of the speed charts in the last few practice sessions. Obviously he knows how to get around here, as he demonstrated in 2008 when he won from pole. I think most people will say he is the favorite for this race, and for good reason. Scott Dixon is about to become a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.