Indy 500 2015: Most Interesting Drivers and Storylines to Watch

Mark Buckingham@@MABuckinghamFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2015

The starting line up for the Indianapolis 500 pose on the start/finish line before the start of practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 18, 2015.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The buildup to the 2015 Indy 500 has been overshadowed by high-profile crashes in practice and has already provided several storylines ahead of Sunday’s race.

James Hinchcliffe was taken to the hospital following a crash on Monday, according to BBC Sport, which saw practice shut down for three hours. He had surgery on a thigh injury and was also briefly set on fire when his Honda crashed. He received support from Josef Newgarden, who suffered a crash last week:

He will miss the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but there will still be a fascinating field of drivers for the highlight of the IndyCar Series.

Here, we take a look at the drivers to watch and the storylines surrounding the Indy 500:

Drivers to Watch

Scott Dixon

AJ Mast/Associated Press

Scott Dixon, a three-time IndyCar Series champion, will start this year’s Indy 500 from pole position, per the Series’ official website, as he bids to repeat his 2008 success.

Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon was on pole position when he won the Indy 500 seven years ago, and he spearheads a front row that also contains Will Power and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Dixon has already won once in 2015, and if he can make the most of pole position and get an early lead, he is going to prove a hard driver to pass.

It’s not easy winning the Indy 500 from pole position, or from the front, but Dixon’s experience of doing so gives him a great chance of claiming a second victory in the race.

Helio Castroneves

A record-equalling fourth win in the Indy 500 would be a memorable late birthday present for Helio Castroneves, who turned 40 on May 10.

The Brazilian won as a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001 and followed up by winning a year later. He was also successful in 2009.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Castroneves has already endured a tumultuous buildup to the race after he went airborne in practice last week when he hit the perimeter in the first of the crashes that have plagued the race’s preparations, per the Guardian.

He will be starting from the fifth position on Row 2 on the grid, but that shouldn’t be an inconvenience for him. Given he has been on pole twice for five starts in 2015 already, he may enjoy the chance to sit off of the front row. With three top-five finishes this year as well, he is in good form.

Tony Kanaan

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

Another 40-year-old Brazilian, Tony Kanaan speaks four languages, per the IndyCar Series’ official website, and he was a winner of the race in 2013.

He has had four top-10 finishes so far in 2015 but has the opportunity to improve upon that record in the Indy 500 after qualifying in fourth place.

Speaking after Hinchcliffe’s crash, per Bruce Martin of Fox Sports, Kanaan acknowledged the dangerous nature of the sport, saying:

We need to understand this is a very dangerous sport. It always has been since the 1900s. As drivers we are fully aware of that. Every time we get in a race car we don’t know if we are going to come out of it in one piece. That is what makes us different people. It’s never easy when a friend gets hurt but this is the sport that we chose. If people feel uncomfortable about that then they should not be in a race car.

Storylines

Juan Pablo Montoya

It has been 15 years since Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indy 500 on his debut in the race, and it would be some story if he can win for the second time.

Montoya leads the IndyCar Series this year and has already clocked up four top-five finishes from five starts.

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

However, if he is going to win the race for a second time, he is going to have to do it the hard way from Row 5 on the grid after he only qualified as the 15th fastest.

Montoya, though, is not concerned about his starting position, and the Team Penske driver is confident he has the car to give him a shot of improving on last year’s fifth-place finish.

He said, per Mark Glendenning of AutoSport.com: "The car in race trim is fantastic. It's probably the best oval car I've had. I'm really excited for the race. This is just making our lives a little more difficult than we needed.”

Driver Safety

Joe Watts/Associated Press

Following the number of crashes in practice, officials will be hoping the Indy 500 itself passes off without any major incidents.

In addition to Castroneves and Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and Ed Carpenter were also involved in crashes ahead of the race.

The accidents have come at a time when safety is paramount, and Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press (via ABCnews.com) has described the situation as a “mess”:

It shouldn't be accidents followed by the appearance of an amateur hour in crisis management from series leadership creating the narrative leading into Sunday's race. This is a mess — a hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best situation — at a time when IndyCar was so excited to show off the new bodywork on the Chevrolets and the Hondas and the increased speeds around the famed Brickyard.

The crashes in practice led to a change in the rules, per BBC Sport's report, which regulated that cars must run on race-level aerodynamics during practice.

The accidents have taken much of the lustre off of the buildup to what is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the U.S. sporting calendar.

Come the day of the race, everyone will want to focus on an incident-free Indy 500, and the ingredients are there for it to be one of the most exciting renewals in recent years.