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Indy 500 2013: Ranking Top Contenders in Biggest Race of IndyCar Season

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 24:  Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda, celebrates in victory lane after winning the IRL IndyCar Series 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2009 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

The Indianapolis 500 is IndyCar's moment in the spotlight. It's the one race of the year that attracts both diehard racing fans and casual viewers, who are tuning in not only to see who wins the prestigious race, but also to witness the entire spectacle.

For the drivers, the race represents a chance to set the tone for the rest of the season. It marks the fifth event on the schedule, so those off to a good start will want to build off it and those who are struggling can use it as a confidence and momentum builder.

More importantly, a victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ensures the driver will go down in history alongside giants of the sport like A.J. Foyt and Al Unser. Let's examine the drivers (full starting grid) with the best chance of kissing the bricks.

1. Marco Andretti

Andretti has never finished better than seventh in the IndyCar standings. He's off to a promising start in 2013, though. He ranks second in points, behind Takuma Sato, and has a pair of third-place finishes through four races.

He finished second in his debut Indianapolis 500, which came in 2006, but has never been able to match it. That said, after a strong qualifying run that saw him earn a spot on the front row, he finally looks prepared to break through on the big stage.

It also helps, at least in hindsight, that he started near the front (fourth) last year and didn't contend. It's those type of learning experiences that are helping him grow into a better driver. He will illustrate that on Sunday.

2. Helio Castroneves

Castroneves gets another chance to join the four-win club. Right now, only Rick Mears along with the aforementioned duo of Foyt and Unser have captured the Indy 500 checkered flag four times. The Brazilian star has a good chance to become No. 4.

He'll start eighth. Even though that's not the ideal situation, two of his qualifying laps were right in line with the front row drivers. So he should have the necessary speed to compete, it just comes down to avoiding any early wrecks as everybody jockeys for position.

Having gone through the race 12 times, he should have a good handle on when to make his move. Given the fact he's had a couple lackluster results after a good start to the season, he should have no shortage of motivation heading into big race.

3. Ed Carpenter

The only reason Carpenter, who won the pole with an average speed of nearly 229 mph, isn't higher on the list is his lack of success so far this season. His best finish in the first four races is 14th. Winning the Indianapolis 500 would be a major jump.

That said, it's impossible to ignore his terrific qualifying speeds. When a car is running that well, even an average driver is capable of getting into contention late in the race. It gives the 32-year-old American a chance to score the biggest win of his career.

The biggest key for Carpenter is overcoming adversity. He's not going to hold the lead for all 200 laps. So when he does fade into the pack for awhile, he must show patience and work his way back through the field. If he does that, the sport's biggest race will be within reach.

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