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Indy 500: Can Anyone Besides Andretti, Penske, or Ganassi Win the 500?

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIMay 10, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, celebrates in victory circle after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

With the Indianapolis Speedway’s opening just a mere four days away, the excitement of the 100th running of the Indy 500 is starting to build.  Drivers are starting to arrive in town, teams are setting up their spaces at the track, and fans, like me, are getting more and more anxious.

This year’s race will have a lot of storylines behind it.  Will this be Danica’s last 500?  How many female drivers will make the field?  What big name drivers will get bumped out on bump day?  How will the race be impacted on the 100th anniversary?  How will the new double file restart rule come into play?  The most intriguing to me, however, is can a team outside of Ganassi, Penske, or Andretti win the 500?

Since 2001 Ganassi, Penske, and Andretti teams have won nine of the 10 Indianapolis 500s.  The lone year a team other than those three won was 2004 with Rahal Letterman Racing’s Buddy Rice.

With this season being so unpredictable and the competition so high, can this be the year that a new team enters victory lane in Indianapolis?

A lot of factors come into play with this question.  The set ups, the drive, the determination, the skill, and the most important factor of all, luck, will come into play to win this race.  Five hundred miles is a long way, and the driver that stays the most patient and has the most poise will set him or herself up to be the winner in the end.

It will be hard to beat those three mega-teams this month, but if it was going to happen during any year, this would be that year.  With the closeness of the fields and the new double file restarts, anything can happen.  At some point during the first four races, all three of these teams have had struggles; however, lady luck has been present at some point as well.

Will Power has been the most consistent driver this season, winning all four poles, but he struggles on ovals.  Fellow Penske teammate Helio Castroneves has hit just about everything and everybody in his sight, and he’s been lacking the luck it takes to win the 500.  The third driver in the Penske stable, Ryan Briscoe, has never really had much success at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I honestly don’t think he has it in him to win the 500.

Andretti Autosport, which took home two of those nine 500 victories this past decade, has struggled this season.  The team’s only bright spot was Mike Conway’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach victory.  With the four drivers that Andretti has this May, it would be difficult to pick any of them to win.  Danica and Marco show the most promise, but both have struggled qualifying this season and have had a hard time adjusting to ill handling race cars.  Mix that with the closeness of competition, and that’s a recipe for a long day at Indy.

Ganassi racing has the best shot of the three teams to win this year.  Dario Franchitti is the defending race champ, and he has two Indy 500 victories on his resume.  His teammate, Scott Dixon, also runs well at the Speedway, and is the 2008 Indy 500 champion.  Ganassi also has two other drivers that have a shot at winning, Graham Rahal and rookie Charlie Kimball, but realistically Franchitti and Dixon will be the ones to watch.

Outside of Ganassi, almost any team can win the race.  Look for drivers like Vitor Meira of AJ Foyt Enterprises, Alex Tagliani of Schmidt Motorsports, or even Oriol Servia of Newman/Hass to try and steal a victory in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”  Other possible sleepers would be Townsend Bell at Schmidt Motorsports and 2005 Indy 500 champ, Dan Wheldon with Herta Autosport. 

Although Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti are the big names when it comes to the Indy 500, Wheldon has actually led more laps then both of them. Look to Wheldon to have a good showing this year because of his relentless fight to land a permanent ride for the rest of the season.

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