Indianapolis 500 Preview

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Three-hundred and sixty-two days ago, we all watched Tony Kanaan win a very popular 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Now that we’re almost a year removed from it – I’d have to say it ranks up there with some of the most popular in recent years. Certainly, Dan Wheldon’s second victory in 2011 was near the top. Watching Helio Castroneves celebrate winning his third win in 2009 – just a month after being acquitted for tax evasion, was popular with many fans. Although he was never one of my personal favorites, Sam Hornish passing Marco Andretti just before the yard of bricks ranks near the top for many fans. So who will be drinking the milk in a couple of days? That remains to be seen.

One thing is certain – our wait is almost over. To a fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the start of this weekend is like Christmas Eve. The build-up has been intense for the last few weeks, but many of us have been thinking about it all year. I can honestly say that there is not a single day in the year that goes by without me thinking about the Indianapolis 500. It’s been that way since I was a kid and saw Jim Clark beat Parnelli Jones in 1965. I was pulling for Parnelli, so I left The Speedway that day with a bad taste in my mouth. But it didn’t last long. I immediately started thinking about my next trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t return until Pole Day in 1967. Again, Parnelli Jones was my focus that month because he was in the most incredible looking car I had ever seen – Silent Sam. Parnelli didn’t win that Race Day either. In fact, he never drove in the “500” again.

But I was glad to see AJ Foyt win. He had already established his legacy by then, but he was adding to it. Over the years, I’ve seen lots of drivers fulfill their dreams as well as build their legacies in this great race. I saw Mario Andretti capture his only Indianapolis win in his illustrious driving career. I witnessed three members of the Unser family get their first win. I was there for Al and Al, Jr.’s second win also. I saw Roger Penske nab his first win as a car-owner in 1972. I also happened to be present when Emerson Fittipaldi’s popularity plummeted in a matter of seconds, when he chose to drink orange juice instead of the traditional bottle of milk.

I saw both of Dan Wheldon’s victories and all three of Dario Franchitti’s wins. I was in the stands both times Jacques Villeneuve started. I’ll be there for his third this year. And yes…I was there to finally be able to cheer Tony Kanaan in Victory Lane last year. Who will write the next chapter and have their name immortalized, this year? I have a few in mind, and one that will be my pick.

As is always the case, there are several storylines this year. One is the appearance of Kurt Busch in the race. Having a former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion in the field has created a lot of buzz this month – both with IndyCar as well as NASCAR fans. As is the case with most rookies, he appeared to settle in nicely and get the place figured out, and then BAM! He hit the Turn Two wall hard on Monday, strictly due to becoming a little too comfortable. He’s very lucky. Just before he corrected it, he was headed straight into the SAFER barrier. At that speed, I’m not sure how much good the soft wall will do with a head-on impact. Fortunately, he corrected at the last minute and Busch walked away. His crash did more to market Sunday’s race than any of the cross-country traveling the drivers did on their media blitz the next day – as ESPN ran it many times on SportsCenter.

The return of former winners Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Montoya has been another story to follow. Montoya had the second quickest time in qualifying, but will start tenth. Villeneuve has been unspectacular all month and will start on the outside of the ninth row. Former winner Buddy Lazier will start last.

Pippa Mann had a decent qualifying run and will start on the inside of Row Eight. Her pink and white Susan G. Komen car has been visible online as well as on-track as a means to raising money in the fight against breast cancer. Pippa has worked tirelessly for the past month getting the message out. Here’s hoping she has a good run. You can still make a donation at www.RaceWithPippa.com.

Another story has been the apparent No-Show of the Chip Ganassi Racing team. They placed none of their four cars in the Fast Nine and have appeared to be off the pace pretty much all season; except for some brief moments for Scott Dixon. They finally appeared to be getting a handle on things on the second day of qualifying. This sounds similar to 2012, when they were slow all month until Carb Day. Dario Franchitti ended up winning the race. I think one would be foolish to totally discount the Ganassi cars on race day.

Team Penske has shown speed on some days and lacked speed on others. Don’t forget that this is the team that pretty much single-handedly invented the word “sand-bagging”. The Andretti Autosport team has shown speed, but it seems it was always with the aid of a tow. James Hinchcliffe is on the front row for Andretti after a disjointed month with his concussion in the Grand Prix. After spending most of last week in limbo wondering if he would even be able to drive in Sunday’s race, Hinchcliffe went out and almost won the pole.

Nashville native Josef Newgarden has been consistently fast all month. I’d love to see the budding superstar win. It wouldn’t be too bad for sarah Fisher Hartman Racing either. That team has come far since its early days a few years ago.

Then there is Ed Carpenter Racing. Keep in mind, this is just the third year for this team. They’ve already won two races and now their second straight Indianapolis 500 pole. I think it’s safe to say that this was no fluke. Ed Carpenter was the fastest on Saturday. On an afternoon when most of the Fast Nine could not match the morning speed of Juan Montoya, Carpenter went out and posted an average speed of 231.067 mph.

Not only was Montoya strong on Sunday – his teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves will start third and fourth respectively. Simon Pagenaud won the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and qualified fifth – after being fast most of the month. He could also be a major factor on Sunday. Then again, a wild-card could come into play. You never know about this race.

Last year, I was one of the very few that correctly picked Tony Kanaan to win the Indianapolis 500. Can I make it two in a row? My pick for this year has been consistently fast all month, but has curiously been a little under the radar – for whatever reason. That will change on Sunday. I look for this driver to take command early and be in the running the entire day. Then, I look for him to make his move late in the race a la Rick Mears. Interestingly enough, Rick Mears is still associated with this driver’s team. This driver seems hungry and he happened to win the last five-hundred mile race – the finale at Fontana last October. My pick to win the 2014 Indianapolis 500 is Will Power. We’ll see.

George Phillips

Please Note: Susan and I will be arriving at IMS around noon on Friday. I will have at least one post from the track before heading up to the Carb Night Burger Bash. As usual, I will have several posts here this weekend – especially on Race Day. Please check back often. – GP

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3 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Preview”

  1. Montoya is the reason I chose this year to be my first 500. He has always been a star on oval but has had some bad luck mixed in. In IndyCar, you have to try hard to speed on pit lane and you always take 4 tires. I say he gets it done this time for his 2nd 500 triumph.

  2. I’m impressed with how Kurt Busch has handled himself, both in the car and out of it. I may be overstating his influence, but I think if ratings are up for the 500 this year, he deserves a lot of credit for that. I don’t think he’ll win, but if he can stay out of trouble, a top five is certainly possible.

    I’ll be pulling for Hinch or Newgarden to win, but Dixon is steady as a rock and I think he’ll do it again.

    Looking forward to the George-Point-Of-View this weekend. And for heaven’s sake, someone give that man a cotton Verizon polo.

  3. I think in was on TV that I got an interesting bit of information about this year’s field. this is the first time there have been three drivers in the field who are trying to win their second consecutive Indianapolis 500-TK, Montoya, and Jacques V.

    Oh, yes, and my pick to win – Jack Hawksworth.

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