By: Jeff Majeske
Special Correspondent to SpeedwaySightings.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Winning the Indianapolis 500 is obviously the goal of every driver in the 33-car lineup.
Leading the Indianapolis 500? No thanks.
“(Leading) punches such a big hole that no one really wants to lead,” said Will Power, who starts on the outside of the front row, considered the ideal spot for jumping into the lead at the start of the race. “If you’re leading, you’re burning fuel, doing yourself no good.”
Last year, identical chassis paired with evenly matched engines bred pack racing, a record 68 lead changes and the fastest race in history (187.433 mph average).
This year’s lineup is the fastest (229.382 mph average) and the closest in terms of time (2.1509 seconds between the fastest and slowest qualifier).
So, likely more of the same this year – entertaining for the fans and frustrating for the drivers.
The first six spots are represented by three Chevrolets and three Hondas, offering evidence of the continuing parity.
“It’s created this whole pack where you have to really understand how to run very close to cars because that’s what you’ll be doing all day no matter where you are in the field,” Power said.
“You can’t get away.”
Power believes his Verizon Team Penske crew has his Dallara/Chevrolet better balanced for traffic this year. If so, watch out.
The series points leader always has been stout on road and street courses. After winning last year’s season-finale at Fontana – after starting on the pole – the Australian now has the confidence he can be victorious on a big oval as well.
Here’s a look at the rest of the field:
Other Top Contenders
Helio Castroneves – Three-time winner always steady and consistent. Retro Pennzoil livery – right down to the driver’s suit and helmet – has been popular this month.
Ed Carpenter – Back-to-back pole winner would be a popular champion. He led the most laps last year before settling for 10th.
Simon Pagenaud – Winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis can do the double with a win in the 500. Unknown when he joined the series full-time two years ago, he’s now a factor in nearly every race.
Juan Pablo Montoya – Smooth to the point of nonchalance, it’s unlikely Montoya will dominate in the same way he did when he was a rookie in 2000, leading 167 of the 200 laps. Posted second-fastest speed in qualifying.
Scott Dixon – The Al Unser Sr. of this generation – tough combination of fast, smart, cool and calculating.
James Hinchcliffe – Roared back from concussion-inducing incident in grand prix that sidelined him for the first part of the week
Tony Kanaan – Defending champion was one of the most popular winners in recent years. Has struggled in first season with Target Chip Ganassi, but usually runs well at Indianapolis
Marco Andretti – Started third, finished fourth last year after leading 31 laps. Strong on big ovals
Carlos Munoz – Excellent second-place effort last year as a rookie. Takes some chances, but gets away with it.
Josef Newgarden – Like Carpenter, this would be a popular win. American driver who came up through the open-wheel ladder system to earn a ride with Sarah Fisher’s team. Capable, but this would be a pretty big upset.
Kurt Busch – Looked very smooth before nasty crash on Monday. Good to see drivers from other disciplines try the 500.
Justin Wilson – Steady, consistent driver for Dale Coyne who was fifth last year.
Ryan Hunter-Reay – 2012 series champion has had an OK month, but has been a step behind his teammates at Andretti Autosport
J.R. Hildebrand – Lost 2011 race in heart-breaking fashion by crashing in Turn 4 on the last lap. Unceremoniously bounced from now-defunct Panther Racing, he’s been strong this month as a teammate to Carpenter.
Rookie Jack Hawksworth nearly slipped into the Fast Nine and drives for a team (Bryan Herta Autosport) that won the race in 2011 … Sebastian Bourdais is a four-time Champ Car champion … Oriol Servia finished third in 2011 … Graham Rahal hasn’t found much success in his first season driving for his dad, 1986 winner Bobby Rahal … Mikhail Aleshin is the first Russian to qualify for the 500 … Carlos Huertas is a rookie from Colombia… Pippa Mann is the only woman in this year’s race… Takuma Sato diced with Dario Franchitti before crashing late in 2012 … Alex Tagliani won the pole in 2011 … Townsend Bell finished fourth in 2009 … Charlie Kimball won his first race last year at Mid-Ohio … Jacques Villeneuve won the last “pre-split” 500 in 1995 … James Davison made two starts for Dale Coyne last year… Martin Plowman drives for A.J. Foyt… Ryan Briscoe won the pole in 2012 … Sage Karam is from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of the Andrettis, and turned 19 two months agao … Sebastian Saavedra had the pole for this year’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis … Buddy Lazier won in 1996.
Will Power Photo credit: Jeff Majeske
Other Photo Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar