Indianapolis 500 Preview
By the time you read this, Susan and I should be well on our way for our third and final consecutive weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tonight, after we meet up with my oldest brother and his crew, we will all be attending our first-ever Carb Night Burger Bash at 96th St. Steakburgers. Tomorrow morning, we’re headed to the track to see the great Parnelli Jones lead a parade of thirty-three roadsters around the track. After that, Parnelli will have a Q&A session in the Pagoda Plaza. Then we’re headed to the Dallara Factory for a tour before returning to the track for a tenderloin and whatever else we feel like doing. Then it’s Race Day on Sunday.
I may or may not have a post here on Saturday, but I’ll be posting from the IMS Media Center before and after the race on Sunday. Sorry, but I don’t post during the race – I’m too busy watching it. However, I will tweet some during the race and throughout the entire weekend. You may follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @chiapet58.
Practically every website that follows IndyCar has an Indianapolis 500 preview where they pick a winner. I guess with only thirty-three choices, it’s easier than picking lottery numbers – but it’s about as scientific. I find it too difficult to leave my emotions for or against specific drivers, so I can’t really be objective.
My idea of previewing Sunday’s race is more about what to look for before the race as well as what we might expect during the race. Of course, I’ll have to pick a winner eventually. Who knows? If I guess correctly (notice I did say “guess”), I may look like a genius – but I doubt it.
First of all, all weather forecasts indicate that we won’t have to suffer the intense heat we’ve dealt with for the past few years. Most predictions have the high temperatures in the mid-sixties with moderate cloud-cover. That would figure since our main reason for moving across the track was to get under the overhang and sit in the shade. There iis a 30% chance of a shower, but it looks like they’ll get the race in.
Unlike some, I’m very pleased with the announcements we’ve heard regarding some of the pre-race ceremonies. Forty-Niners coach and former Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh is a good choice for driving the Pace Car. Not only is he well thought of in Central Indiana, but he is one of the original owners with Panther Racing. His involvement with Panther goes way beyond the token role that Joe Montana played as a part-owner with Chip Ganassi Racing in 1995. It didn’t take long to figure out that Montana was just there for his name and money. He had no clue what he was watching or doing. Harbaugh, on the other hand, is passionate about the Indianapolis 500 and knows his stuff. Those that think he is a “stick & ball”sport interloper, had better think again.
But if I’m pleased with the selection of the Pace Car driver, I’m ecstatic over the choice to sing the National Anthem on Sunday. Hoosier and Grammy-winning artist Sandi Patty will perform the National Anthem before the race for the sixth time – setting a record for singing the National Anthem more than any other performer. She performed five times in six years between 1987 and 1992. You can be assured of a couple of things regarding her performance. First of all, she’ll belt it out because her voice is as big as a house. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, it will be tasteful. There will be no weak attempts to stylize or modernize it, like so many contemporary performers are inclined to do. She will play it straight – as it should be. Go back and check out race recordings from the early nineties to see what to expect.
And yes, we will be treated once again to the magical moment from our good firend, Mr. Jim Nabors as he sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” – my personal favorite pre-race moment. Savor this moment. Jim turns eighty-three next month. He can’t continue to do it forever.
There will be a military presence at IMS on Race Day, but probably to a lesser extent than normal. Don’t fault the new regime at Hulman & Company for this. It’s a result of the sequester government budget cuts. Hopefully, the huge military representation we’ve grown accustomed to for Race Day will return next year.
Once the green flag flies – look out. You have a solid experienced and patient driver in Ed Carpenter on the pole. But beside and behind Carpenter are some drivers known more their exuberance than their experience. Rookie Carlos Muñoz has already ruffled a few feathers this month. He starts second, right next to Carpenter. On his right is his teammate, Marco Andretti – a driver that was never known for his patience in the past, but also has demonstrated a newfound maturity this season. On the inside of Row Two is EJ Viso, another driver with a history of boneheaded moves. In the middle of the second row is another rookie, AJ Allmendinger. To his right is teammate Will Power. So the first two rows are filled with some question marks. If any of them misbehaves at the start, they could collect half the field behind them.
One driver I’ll be watching at the start is Tony Kanaan. Lately, he has been starting near the back of the field. On Sunday, he’ll start outside the fourth row. Look for him to take advantage of his outside position and make one of his patented moves on the start. He’ll be twelfth when the flag waves. I’ll be curious to see where he is at the completion of Lap One.
There are drivers I’m going to keep my eye on that have no realistic shot to win, but have the chance to end up with a possible Top-Ten finish. One of those is one of my favorites, Pippa Mann. In the third car from the Dale Coyne stable, let’s be honest – Pippa has no shot to win this race. It’s a long shot to think that Justin Wilson in the first Coyne car could win. But don’t discount Pippa. She more than proved her ability two years ago in a second car from Conquest. She started thirty-first and ran close to the Top-Ten before her crew botched a couple of her stops. She finished twentieth while also dealing with a malfunctioning water bottle that prevented her from getting any liquids throughout the race. The resulting cramps did not slow her down. If she has no mechanical gremlins and doesn’t get caught up in someone else’s accident, I think she can have a decent finish.
Another driver I’ll be watching is Buddy Lazier. Buddy has no shot to win. They are vastly underfunded and spent most of practice week thrashing the car together. But that car has two things in its favor – a Chevy engine and Buddy Lazier as its driver. If you overlook Buddy simply because he barely got the car in the field, you are mistaken. He is a savvy driver who can squeeze everything out of a car. He won’t win, but if things go his way, he can manage a Top-Ten finish.
While many are saying the Honda engine will be plenty fast on Race Day, I just don’t buy it. Therefore, I think the quiet month from Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon will continue. For whatever reason – more of a hunch than anything – I think the Honda driver with the best chance to make some noise is Josef Newgarden. Maybe it’s because he’s from Nashville or that he is one of only two drivers who actually speak to me, but I think he is going to make up a lot of ground on Sunday from his twenty-fifth starting position.
The Andretti Autosport cars have been strong all month. Actually, they have been strong all season, as they have won three of the four races so far. But being strong all month doesn’t always translate to success on Race Day. Besides, what fun is it to go with an obvious favorite. Ed Carpenter is a great story. I think he’ll have a strong finish starting from the pole, but I don’t think he’ll win.
Helio Castroneves is going for his fourth Indianapolis 500 win. He has been quiet all month and I don’t think that will change. Ditto for Will Power. Team Penske, the most successful team in 500 history will not win its sixteenth this year.
So who does that leave? Takuma Sato came within a few inches of making that last lap pass on Dario Franchitti, last year. Had he made it stick, he would have won the race. He has already won a race and has AJ Foyt Enterprises leading the points in the Month of May for the first time since the seventies. As much as I’d like to see Foyt back in Victory Lane at Indianapolis, I don’t think it’ll happen Sunday.
So without going through the list of all thirty-three drivers, I’ll reveal my pick to win the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I’ll admit it is a sentimental pick based partially on emotion, but partially on logic. He is with a team that is overdue to win and that seems to finally be more focused on results. In a fashion befitting of Lloyd Ruby, this driver has been in position to win several times before, but fate has always stepped in. This driver has exhibited the patience required to win, but the aggression to not just sit and let things happen. He makes things happen. Who am I talking about? Tony Kanaan. If that happens, it will be an extremely popular victory with the fans. I hope it does.