Entering Sunday’s 97th Indianapolis 500 (11 AM EDT, ABC), more questions than normal abound. Qualifying has not truly answered any of them, and in fact, likely created several more. So, with the full knowledge that these “answers” could look foolish come Monday, let’s tackle some of these questions.
Can polesitter Ed Carpenter really win?
Ed Carpenter winning the pole over five Andretti and three Penske cars is already a great accomplishment. Many who don’t follow the sport would likely suggest that the story ends there.
Sure, Ed will never be a great road racer (though he’s no longer a moving chicane), but on ovals, he’s a proven winner. He may only operate a single-car team, but that small outfit has proven to be very professional.
Should you be surprised if he drinks the milk? No.
Will rookie Carlos Munoz last 500 miles? If so, can he win?
The young Colombian might be the biggest surprise of May. His speed is evident, starting in the middle of the first row. Can his aggressive style- entering each turn very low with a high exit- survive 200 laps? YHE is skeptical, but IF he does, he will be one of Sunday’s wildcards.
Is this Marco Andretti’s year?
On paper, this is an easy “YES.” Most of the paddock points to Marco as the favorite. He’s been fast and solid in traffic all month. In fact, the entire Andretti Autosport team has been a force.
Of course, races, especially 500-milers, are never run on paper. Indianapolis doesn’t just “let” the most deserving driver win. Ask Marco’s father and grandfather. The third-generation driver could have won multiple 500’s, but luck (and a lack of patience) has so far haunted him.
Will we have a new member of the 4-time winner’s club?
No one will be surprised if either Helio Castroneves or Dario Franchitti win on Sunday, but YHE thinks one of them is in a better spot to win. Sure, the Hondas are slightly down on raw speed, but as Carb Day shows, they’re right there on race pace.
Castroneves, meanwhile, has shown decent speed, but his car has not been ideal. Franchitti seems pleased with his car, despite a mid-field starting spot. Over 500 miles, the advantage goes to the defending champ.
What would be the best “story” for IndyCar come Monday?
To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter. No sporting event, in the end, cares about “great story lines.” The most deserving, on that day, will win.
In another sense, YHE has given up on trying to answer this question. Since “The Split,” we have seen many “false dawns,” only to end up right where we started. It might be that nothing will truly move the needle.
Still, some story lines would seem to garner more attention than others. Obviously, a new member of the four-time winner’s club would be a big deal. So, too, would a win by Marco Andretti or Graham Rahal.
AJ Allmendinger might never have been a big name in NASCAR, but a win on Sunday would be the ultimate tale of redemption. Make no mistake, Allmendinger’s car has been consistently quick and, unlike his Penske teammates, solid in traffic. It’s not outlandish to call him a favorite.
Finally, there’s James Hinchcliffe. His big, goofy personality is well-known to those in the sport. A win in the 500 might finally be the launching pad needed to breakthrough to the rest of the public. Furthermore, he’s just a really good guy.
Is there any other factor that could alter the outcome?
Sunday’s forecast has gotten progressively worse over the week. Rain may well be a factor, to the point that a Monday race is a distinct possibility. A rain-shortened event is the ultimate wildcard. Luck and strategic thinking will determine a victor in that case.
So, who wins this thing?
Say, anyone remember Ryan Hunter-Reay? You know, the series’ American defending champion? Given the lack of offseason promotion, IndyCar acted like it forgot him.
Well, if the weather holds, it will be hard to ignore an Indianapolis 500 winner.