Sunday Favors Multiple Drivers Seeking First Indy 500 Win
By Corey Elliot
If the last five years tell us anything, race fans shouldn’t be surprised to see a new face in victory lane taking the famous drink of milk at the conclusion of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Four of the last five winners of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing have been first-time champions. In fact, the first seven spots on the grid for Sunday’s race features drivers who are still seeking their first ever Indy 500 win.
Tony Kanaan, who won the 2013 Indy 500, was the fastest on Friday. Kanaan, three-time winner Helio Castroneves and the 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon are the strongest three former winners in the field and shouldn’t be dismissed. However, here are ten drivers seeking their first Indy 500 victory who will be true contenders on Sunday:
Ed Carpenter is one of the most experienced drivers in the race and he has been vocal about his past at the Indianapolis 500, a past that includes missed opportunity and chances that slipped through the cracks of destiny. If there’s one thing fans should expect out of the Butler grad it’s this: look for Carpenter to run a smart race, but expect him to take chances we’ve not seen him take in prior years.
Simon Pagenaud and Will Power might as well work together throughout the race on Sunday. They’re teammates and each has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in the Verizon IndyCar Series except a win in the Indy 500. Now, the reality of the situation is nobody truly works together in this race. Especially when both have voiced the reality of their careers: a win in the Indy 500 would complete their career check lists.
If you’re into office race pools or placing bets with fellow spectators in the grandstands at IMS before the race, you have as good a chance as anyone if you draw Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot or Danica Patrick. Pigot and Patrick make it three Ed Carpenter Racing cars in the first seven spots on the grid, while Newgarden joins teammates Power and Pagenaud as the power pack from Penske Racing. And if there was ever a driver you shouldn’t be shocked at seeing in victory lane, look no further than Bourdais. The fastest qualifying Honda driver is a four-time series champion who missed last year’s Indy 500 due to an injury he suffered when he wrecked during qualifications. Bourdais will be smart, but don’t expect him to lay down for other drivers. He will be in the mix late on Sunday.
If you think Patrick came to drive around for 200 laps and play it safe just to be able to say she finished the final race of her career with her car in one piece, you’re sadly mistaken. Patrick has openly expressed her regret about 2005, when she opted to conserve fuel rather than keep her lead she had on the late Dan Wheldon with less than ten laps to go. The move to conserve fuel meant slowing down, and that resulted in her finishing fourth. Patrick didn’t return to this race to finish fourth.
Marco Andretti is trying to reverse whatever curse may truly be out there, hovering above the Andretti name like a grey rain cloud that follows the family wherever they race. Everyone remembers his blunder of a finish in 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. stole the 500 victory right out of his hands. Expect Andretti to drive aggressively early to move his car from 12th to the front. If he stays out of trouble and gets his car to the front, Andretti will be around when it matters.
Carlos Munoz has twice finished second in just five starts at the Indy 500. Don’t be fooled by his starting position. While he rolls off 21st, he knows his way around this track and has what it takes to place himself in the mix at the end of the day. Munoz will make noise on Sunday, and it wouldn’t be a shocker to see the Colombian take the checkered flag.
Ed Jones was the 2017 rookie of the year. Well, to most fans who saw the race and watched him finish third in his first start at the Indy 500, he was absolutely the rookie of the year. The actual award went to another driver. Regardless of 2017, Jones is now keyed up in a Ganassi Racing machine, the best equipment and crew he’s ever had. He starts 29th, but I expect to see Jones in the top ten as the final laps of the race approach.
So who wins the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500?
Expect Castroneves, Kanaan and Dixon to contend, but I think this year’s race goes to a first-time winner, once again. Toss is up between Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais, but I think those two will have the strongest cars throughout the race on Sunday and the skills to put themselves in the right position. Here is how I think the top ten looks at lap 200:
- Alexander Rossi
Corey Elliot is a freelance journalist who is an accredited member of the media