Indianapolis 500 Preview

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The Month of May comes to a climax this weekend. In all honesty, we’ve been building up to this weekend since last Memorial Day. To me, there is nothing as miserable as the drive back home from Indianapolis on Monday, the day after the Indianapolis 500.

Last Sunday night, Susan and I drove back home in the wee hours of Monday morning. We were tired, but it didn’t matter. We knew we would be returning in just a matter of days. But on Monday, it will all be over. We will have a lot of new memories to relive, but the excitement and anticipation that has been part of our lives for the past month will be gone. Normalcy will return. Tomorrow will be my third Saturday in a row at IMS, taking in everything it has to offer. Next Saturday, I’ll be mowing my yard and catching up on all the household chores I’ve neglected for the past month. It’s too depressing to think about.

But before the humdrum of life smacks us in the face next week, there is still a little matter to deal with – the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

After the drama of this past weekend, when we saw the likes of DragonSpeed, Juncos and Clauson Marshall Racing all qualify at the expense of Fernando Alonso and McLaren; can this weekend’s race live up to last weekend? Probably so.

It’s mindboggling to think that this weekend will write a new chapter in the history of this great race. Will Sunday’s race be semi-forgettable as 2008 or 2009 or will what we see Sunday be talked about for decades to come, like 1960 or 2006? I’m not picking on Scott Dixon’s lone victory or Helio’s third, but there was really no stand-alone moment in those races like the Rodger Ward-Jim Rathmann battle or Sam Hornish passing Marco Andretti at the line for the win.

We won’t really know until the checkered flag falls where history will rank the 2019 Indianapolis 500, but if the events of last weekend are any indication – it’ll be interesting, to say the least.

One thing that practice and qualifying showed us is that there is no clear favorite. Throughout last week, there was no dominant team or driver that had the field in their rearview mirror each day. Team Penske led the first couple of practices, but then were sort of invisible after that. One wondered if they tied their sandbags to their cars after Wednesday’s practice. But other than Simon Pagenaud putting his car on the pole, the Penske cars remained under the radar in qualifying. Behind Pagenaud, Will Power starting sixth was the highest a Penske car qualified. Josef Newgarden will roll off eighth, while Helio Castroneves will start twelfth.

The Andretti cars didn’t do so well either. The Honda engine has not been spectacular this month. Only Alexander Rossi made the Fast Nine for Andretti Autosport, and he qualified ninth. Marco Andretti barely missed the Fast Nine and qualified tenth, with Conor Daly just a tick slower at eleventh. But Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach had to be considered disappointments, when they qualified twenty-second and twenty-eighth respectively.

I guess you could say that Ed Carpenter Racing would be favored with their three cars qualifying second, third and fourth. But two of their three drivers are still fairly inexperienced. Ed Jones will be racing in only his third Indianapolis 500, when he starts fourth on Sunday. He will be with his third team in his third “500”. He finished third as a rookie in 2017 with Dale Coyne, but crashed out on Lap 57 last year while driving for Chip Ganassi. He has shown speed this month, but does he have the experience to carry the car for 500 miles?

Spencer Pigot will be in his fourth “500”, when he starts from the outside of the front-row. This will be the first time he has been with the same team for the second year in a row. Last year he started sixth, but finished twentieth. His best finish was two years ago with Juncos Racing. I’m just not convinced that Pigot is ready to challenge for his first Indianapolis 500 win.

The boss is another story. The namesake for the team, Ed Carpenter, will be making his sixteenth consecutive Indianapolis 500 start. He has won on other ovals, and has had decent finishes at Indianapolis. Last year, Carpenter finished second to Will Power by only three seconds. Although he says he was focused on the race and not qualifying, I think starting second to Pagenaud bothers him. He knows had he won the pole last week that would have been four poles for him, tying him for a very exclusive club that consists only of Rex Mays, AJ Foyt, and Helio Castroneves. Only Rick Mears has more with a record six Indianapolis 500 poles. Since he is “settling” for the middle of the front row, I think he will channel that disappointment into trying for a special day on Sunday.

Some are picking Colton Herta as a sleeper pick, but I’m not ready to jump on that bandwagon. Since his win at COTA, he has finished last, last and next to last. I think he needs to focus on getting through his first race before he envisions himself drinking milk on Sunday.

Last year, Will Power won from the outside of the front row so his win was not a surprise. But the two years prior to that were surprises – at least, at the time. Rookie Alexander Rossi was the last one standing when all cars in front of him were running out of fuel. Somehow, he coaxed his fuel-starved car around and took the checkered flag in an unlikely victory. The following year, Takuma Sato won the “500” in only his second IndyCar victory. Few were picking Sato on that particular Race Morning.

But I think this year we will have another surprise winner. That has been the nature of this month when you can’t really get a handle on who’s strong and who isn’t.

So now it’s time to make my dreaded pick. Since I have had this site, I’ve picked only one Indianapolis 500 winner – Tony Kanaan in 2013. Normally, whoever I pick crashes. In fact, here are my previous picks and how they fared; 2018, Helio Castroneves crashed; 2017,Scott Dixon, spectacular crash; 2016 Helio Castroneves, ninth; 2015 Tony Kanaan, crashed; well…you get the idea. More times than not, my picking a driver ensures a poor finish.

I am very tempted to go with Ed Carpenter, and I mean very tempted. But I think he will leave Sunday with another bittersweet taste in his mouth. He will have another decent finish, but will not be drinking the milk. Instead I am going with a driver who is well-deserving, and has certainly paid his dues at this track. He has been relatively quiet for most of the month, but has been very solid and steady. I’ve been leaning toward this driver ever since practice started and I just have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner will be Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne will finally drink milk.

Of course, one factor that all teams and fans will be dealing with is the weather. The forecast for Sunday is dismal – some forecasts calling for a 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms on Race Day. If you’ll recall, there was a similar Race Day forecast last year and the weather turned out not to be a factor. There has not been a race affected by rain since 2007 and there has not been a total washout since 1997, so we are probably due. Still, you hope that they can get the race in at some point on Sunday. The good news is that the forecast for Monday looks much better, if they need it. If it goes past Monday, we’ll have to miss it. We both have to work on Tuesday.

Susan and I actually drove up last night so that we could be at IMS in plenty of time for the final practice, which begins at 11:00 am EDT. This year, the practice has been extended from one hour to ninety minutes. We will be at the track most of the day after that. We’ll be here all day for Legend’s Day tomorrow before getting to bed early Saturday night. I have fears of massive traffic jams, so it is always my goal to be inside the gates when the bomb goes off at 6:00 am Sunday.

Last year, we cut it close. We had taken about five steps inside the Media Gate when it went off. Two years before that, we were already in the Media Center when it went off. There is an eerie calm on Race Morning when you are inside the track before the sun comes up and it’s empty. You know what’s coming in just a couple of hours, but the peaceful aura at the moment is almost alarming.

Please follow us on Twitter for photos and videos throughout the weekend, but with a quarter of a million people surrounding you – tweeting is almost impossible on race Day. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later today.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Preview”

  1. Typed three names in before going with Ed. I’d be thrilled if you picked the winner.

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    Obviously as a student of 500 history, I’d love to see Helio win his 4th.

    As a Foyt fan, I’d love to see TK win one more for AJ.

    In honor of Mario’s 50th anniversary, a win by Marco wouldn’t hurt my feelings.

    Sure I’d love to see “local boy” Ed Carpenter win one for the homies.

    But, if I had to look through the entire month I’d have to take one of two: Simon Pagenaud or Alexander Rossi. And, since Penske won last year, my money is going on Alexander Rossi.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    If the race is dodging rain and ends shortened, we could see a surprise winner, though one, I expect who has clearly been fast and competing at the front all race. It would not surprise me to see someone in the back get hooked up and pull off a Rossi-like charge to the front, especially if it is a bit cloudier/cooler and passing in the pack is more doable.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    I will never forget the sight of Hornish drafting around Marco for the win. Did not see that coming as being possible. To his credit Marco did not block him. The damn Indianapolis weather forecast has to be driving NBC (and me) crazy. I will go with Simon, Marco, or Ed as my picks.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    I will predict, with great confidence that the winner will be – the first driver under the checkered flag.

  6. Your last paragraph couldn’t be more spot on. There is an eerie calm that takes your breath away. It is absolutely my favorite moment of the year.

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