Indianapolis 500 Preview

By the time that Sunday rolls around, it will have been 455 days since the last running of the Indianapolis 500. It was originally supposed to run 91 days earlier, but we all know that a lot has transpired in the past few months to put us where we are today. There will be far less pageantry than normal and of course, fans won’t be in attendance – but this will still be the Indianapolis 500 and should not be discounted at all by fans.

I am a little perplexed by the amount of fans that are still moaning and complaining about everything related to this August version of the Indianapolis 500. I get it that fans are upset that they will not be there this weekend. I’m sad that I won’t be there either. I was never angry or upset about missing this year’s race, I was just saddened by it.

But we learned our fate on August 4, which was almost three weeks ago. I learned a long time ago to not sit around complaining about something you had no control over. It does nothing but make you madder than you already were. I think that ship has sailed and it’s time to move on.

Had my boss scheduled her daughter’s wedding over a Memorial Day Sunday and it would have meant career suicide had I skipped it, then would be fuming. I would know that 232,000 were still getting to go, but my boss was forcing me to miss something very important in my life. That would make me upset.

But no one is getting to go. I’ve got a few media friends high enough up the food chain that get to be present – but they are a relative few. Most media members that rank a lot higher than lowly bloggers are sitting at home this weekend also, just like the rest of us.

But a very vocal minority continues to attack Roger Penske and Doug Boles on social media, as if this was all some giant conspiracy aimed specifically at them. Do they really think this is what IndyCar and IMS wanted all along? They act as if this was some hidden agenda by Penske to alienate the fans simply to ruin their streaks of attending races.

I think Roger Penske and Doug Boles moved mountains to try and have fans there this weekend. Personally, I still think it could have been pulled off. But the trends with the virus were going the wrong way at the time. What would be worse, to pull the plug on August 4, or to pull it just before qualifying weekend or even worse – race weekend? Given the information they had at the time, I think IMS officials did what they felt they had to do, regardless of the fact that it went against every instinct they had.

They made their decision, knowing they were going to have to live with it. I just wish the fans would learn to live with it as well. End of rant.

It’s been almost a week, but the IndyCar world is still buzzing about Marco Andretti winning the pole for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Like most people, I have been critical of Marco Andretti over the years. Also like most people, I am very happy about what Marco did last weekend and I would be very happy to see Marco Andretti drinking milk on Sunday. I don’t think it will happen, but I’m not going to rule it out. Sometimes, it’s just your month. That was the way it was with Simon Pagenaud last year, so it could be that way with Marco Andretti this year.

Much has been made about the talent buried deep within the last four rows of this field. There are four former winners, three IndyCar champions and a two-time Formula One champion mired in the last four rows. However, the 1992 Indianapolis 500 came close with four former winners (two four-time winners, and one two-time winner) , a future winner and a future CART champion. The best any of them did was Al Unser finished third.

Much has also been made about the disparity between the Honda and Chevy engines. I’m not a gearhead and I have no idea why, but I understand that the Chevy engine has more consistent speed over long stints, and also works better I traffic. Again, I’m venturing off into an area where I don’t have a real clue what I’m talking about, but the point is – don’t rule out a Chevy winning this race.

That also means to not rule out a Penske car winning the race. After winning everything that was up for grabs in May of 2019, Team Penske was shut out of the Fast Nine in qualifying. Josef Newgarden will be driving the Penske car with the highest starting position – inside Row Five. Josef Newgarden does not have an outstanding track record at IMS. It isn’t bad, but it is very pedestrian. Until he won the race in 2006, you could have said the same thing about Sam Hornish. I think Newgarden will eventually win the Indianapolis 500, but I don’t think it will be this year.

All Penske cars are starting on the inside of their respective rows. Will Power is the next Penske car on the grid, but will start the race on the inside of Row Eight. He won this race in 2018, but has been very inconsistent since. I don’t think he will come out of his funk this weekend.

That leaves the two Penske drivers that I think have the best chance of giving Roger Penske his nineteenth Indianapolis 500 win – Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves. Although he is starting twenty-fifth, I think Simon Pagenaud has an excellent chance of becoming the first back-to-back winner since Helio Castroneves did it in 2001-02. Team Penske underperformed in qualifying, but I expect Pagenaud to work his way to the front fairly quickly. He should be a contender late in the race. Helio Castroneves is my sleeper. I don’ think he will win, but I think he will move way up from his twenty-eighth starting spot and will be there at the end.

Along with Marco Andretti, the Andretti Autosport cars have been fast all month. During qualifying last Saturday, Andretti drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe posted the four fastest times of the day. Any of those four drivers could pull off the win this weekend. Colton Herta has been a little underwhelming this month and I expect that to continue on Sunday. But remember. He went out after only three laps in last year’s race. He just needs some seat time at Indianapolis in race conditions. Zach Veach is still trying to find his way.

The smart money will be on the lead car from Chip Ganassi Racing driven by Scott Dixon, who has been extremely fast all month. Dixon will start in the middle of the front row, just after being nipped by Marco Andretti last Sunday for the pole. He has already won three races this season and has a forty-nine point lead in the points. But Dixon’s two Swedish teammates, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson, have been fast as well – but IMS usually favors those with experience. I think Dixon will finish higher than his Ganassi teammates on Sunday.

Ed Carpenter Racing usually shines at IMS, but it is usually Ed Carpenter, himself, that is doing the shining. This year, Ed finds himself starting sixteenth and his local favorite teammate, Conor Daly is starting eighteenth. They have both been upstaged by their rookie teammate, Rinus VeeKay – who is driving the only Chevy-powered car that appeared in the Fast Nine. By starting fourth, VeeKay is the fastest rookie in the field and has been turning heads ever since his disastrous debut at Texas, in which he crashed twice in the same day. Since then, he has been very impressive. That continued through last weekend. He will be fun to watch on Sunday.

The other impressive rookie in the Fast Nine was Alex Palou, who is driving for Dale Coyne. He has managed to upstage his teammate, last year’s rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci, who will start on the inside of Row Seven. Veteran James Davison will start on the outside of Row Nine. If any Coyne drivers have a chance on Sunday, it will be Palou – but I don’t think that will happen.

One of the other interesting teams with rookies is Arrow McLaren SP. Although he drove in several NTT IndyCar Series races last year, Pato O’Ward is still a rookie at Indianapolis. If you recall, he was bumped last year and did not start the race. He will be one to watch on Sunday, along with his teammates. One is a true IndyCar rookie, while the other is a two-time World Champion. Oliver Askew has been impressive at times this season, and has looked like the rookie that he is at other times. Something tells me he will look like a rookie on Sunday. Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, will contend for the win – even though he is starting from the middle of Row Nine.

AJ Foyt’s tam has been refreshingly fast at Indianapolis this month. Although he starts on Row Ten, Charlie Kimball has shown speed; while you can ever count out Tony Kanaan, who will start in the middle of Row Eight. Dalton Kellet has kept his nose clean this month.

That leaves Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as the last of the contending teams. Regular drivers, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, have shown speed; while Spencer Pigot has been up there at times also. Pigot is running for Citrone/Buhl Autosport in association with Bobby Rahal’s team. Sato earned his first-ever front-row start last weekend, while Graham Rahal will start in the middle of Row Three – his second-highest start in thirteen races. Sato will give us some thrills throughout the day, but I don’t see him winning this race for the second time on Sunday.

When I pick normal races, I usually goes with the one that makes the most sense. If I was doing that today, I would go with Scott Dixon. All odds point to him finally winning his second Indianapolis 500. But I don’t see that happening. My sentimental picks would be Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves; but I doubt that any of those will win. If Dixon can’t win, I’d say that Simon Pagenaud has the best shot. But the racing gods will conspire against him winning two in a row.

Instead of going with my head, my heart, or going out on a limb – my Indianapolis picks are usually from a general gut feeling. That’s what I’m going with this time. That’s why I say that Graham Rahal will win on Sunday, becoming the first second-generation Indianapolis 500 winner since Al Unser, Jr.

Enjoy the race, everyone.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Preview”

  1. Phil Kaiser Says:

    No, you know George, what we are complaining about are things like this: TODAY (August 21) in Marion County (Indianapolis) all MOVIE THEATERS will be allowed to open up and have customers! INDOORS! On Sunday AFTER THE RACE one can head out to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to take in The Hoosier Hundred, live and in person! Why? Because they decided they were going to have a race with fans!

    I still say Penske should’ve sat down our mayor Hogwash and told him, “Son, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its 500 Mile Race MADE THIS CITY, it wasn’t the other way around. Do you know how much MONEY we bring in to your economy, son? Well, WE are going to have our race, you go back to your bunker and relax. We’ll wake you up when it’s over.”

    Penske is 83 (?) years old and has more money than God. What was Hogwash going to do? Take his birthday away? Fine him a billion dollars? C’mon y’all, Penske folded like a cheap suit when many others are telling the Democrats who run this city to POUND SAND.

    What you are forgetting, George, is that the Race brings in tens of thousands of dollars for school kids (through their concession stands) and other local businesses that without it probably won’t make it through this. It is incredibly short-sighted to keep making this JUST about a race , when if you actually live in our community you would find that it’s SO MUCH MORE THAN A RACE!

    Think again, folks….

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis, Indiana

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    Interesting to see the “spectators” at the 2020 INDY 500 qualifications this past weekend.

    NBC showed the innovative “spectators” set up in the Main Gate parking lot “social distancing” sitting in their beach chairs, coolers by their side facing the video screens which were mounted on the grandstands facing the Main Gate parking lot.

    So these smart people will be the ones who will honestly be able to state …. I attended the 2020 INDY 500.

    Good for them and for the IMS powers to be from NOT blocking/prohibiting fans from participating.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    It is hard to pick against Dixon, but a 500 mile race, especially at Indy, has such an extra layer of unpredictability that the best choice just seems less often like the right choice. In fact, Dixon could almost be considered a modern day Ralph DePalma with his record in the 500… 3 poles, 450+ laps led, and just the 1 win. We know he can close the deal at Indy, as he did in 2008, but we’ve seen so many more times where he’s a top contender and cannot too.

    George, I like that Rahal pick. Graham is the kind of driver who has the aggressive but not foolish (usually) racecraft to make passes where it is tough to pass, and this year’s race would seem to favor such a driver. My heart goes there, of course, but my head says someone from Andretti will put it together this year. If that someone is Marco… well isn’t that 2020 for you? I would be so very happy for him, though.

  4. Mark Wick Says:

    George, we agree on the team but not the driver.I am picking Sato. He has looked better than Graham this year, he is starting on the front row, he has experience, he has already won this race, he knows not to make a desperate pass in Turn 1, and he has maturity and calmness now.

  5. It’s been a long year, I know if has for you George! I need this race, I need this! I know it won’t be the same but I know I will still get that chill down my spine when the green flag comes out Sunday. We need this medicine in our lives, to just feel normal for a few hours. I hope others feel this way too.

    Enjoy it from home and we will enjoy it more when we can get back home again!

    I am taking Pato for the win Sunday, my underdog choice. Dixon is more likely though, Herta has a good shot too.

    Mostly, I want a safe race and a good race!

  6. George, I have been going to the famed Speedway since 1973. It is an imbedded part of my life. Of course this year has been a most trying year. First it was moved from May to August with fans. Then down to 50% fans…..then 25% fans allowed…..and finally 0 fans allowed. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I now wish it would have been ran in May if this was the final outcome. I gotta admit I’m not just sad but downright ticked off. I will watch it of course but this race won’t be the same. It is a mere shadow of itself. Without the fans, pageantry, etc it just can’t be the same. Sorry to be the Debbie downer but this sucks this year.

  7. I am just so glad IndyCar is racing at the Speedway on Sunday. I’d be buzzed if Simon could pull off a win again.

  8. I think that Dixon is the obvious favorite, probably the most obvious favorite in several years. But if it’s not Dixon—and given the various random things that can happen, there’s no such thing as a prohibitive favorite in IndyCar racing these days—then who?

    Rahal is an interesting choice. He’s always been a much better racer than a qualifier, but he’s actually got a good qualifying position this time around—his first time in the front three rows in a decade. BTW, if he wins, he’ll tie Sam Hanks’s record for having participated in the most Indy 500s for a first-time winner, as this will be Rahal’s 13th 500 and Hanks won in his 13th 500. (Marco would break the record, and Ed Carpenter would shatter it in his 17th 500.) DraftKings lists Rahal as +2500 and those odds strike me as too long.

    But he’s not one of my choices. If something happens to Dixon, which Honda has the best chance? I don’t think it’s Rahal. You have to consider Rossi, as he’s been the best Honda pilot in recent years not named Dixon, but both he and the Andretti team have been having an off year, Indy qualifying notwithstanding. So, I think I’ll go with a non-Andretti driver. Which leads me to Felix Rosenqvist. He was the only driver who was able to hang with Dixon at Texas, which is the largest oval that Indy cars have raced on to date. He’s already got a win this year. So, if it’s not Dixon, then one of my choices is Rosenqvist (who’s also significantly underpriced at +2500).

    Now let’s turn to Chevy. The huge advantage that the Hondas had in qualifying with the boost turned up seems to disappear at the boost levels that will be used in the race, so I agree that the Chevies shouldn’t be counted out, which means that Penske shouldn’t be counted out, regardless of what happened on Pole Day. Newgarden has been the best Penske all month, not to mention being the most accomplished driver (in IndyCar, anyway) in the field without a 500 win. He’s my other non-Dixon choice.

  9. I’m hoping for Ed Carpenter to win as his window of opportunity is beginning to close. If not Ed, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon or Tony Kanaan would be fine with me.

    I think Roger Penske bowed to the political pressure put on him. Our little dictators in the states are having entirely too much fun bossing all of us around. Just heard the Kentucky Derby will be run without fans. I was actually hoping to go to Churchill Downs this year. Salvage something from the “Glorious Month of May.” Won’t be able to do that either.

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