It’s Memorial Day weekend, a time full of remembrance and tradition. One of the longest-standing traditions in motor racing is the Indianapolis 500. The greatest spectacle in racing is set for Sunday afternoon with the traditional field of 33 IndyCars taking the 2.5-mile oval at more than 200 mph.
From Danica Patrick’s return for her swan song to Helio Castroneves trying once again to tie the record with four Indy 500 victories, this year’s race is not short of storylines.
The biggest talk about the race is probably about Patrick and her “Danica Double” this year, racing the Daytona 500 in February for NASCAR and now the Indy 500 to finish off her racing career.
Patrick, 36, started her career in IndyCar, winning a race in 2008 in Japan, before shifting to NASCAR. She led the Indy 500 in her rookie year back in 2005 and finished fourth. Her best effort was third in 2009, and she’s only finished outside the top-10 once in seven tries at the 500.
She’ll start on the inside of row three in seventh position in the bright-green, No. 13 GoDaddy.com-sponsored car with Ed Carpenter Racing. With Pippa Mann not fast enough to make it into the field of 33, Patrick will be the lone woman driving in the race. Patrick also has a decent shot at becoming the first woman to ever win the race.
Carpenter won his third P1 pole award with his fast speeds topping out at 230 mph in last weekend’s qualifying. The Indianapolis native is still looking for his sip of milk for the 500.
Historically, drivers want to start from the first two rows (top six spots) to have the best chance of winning the race. Of the 101 races, the winner has come from row one 42 times. However, the last time it happened was in 2010 when Dario Franchitti won from the outside of the first row. The year prior was the last time the polesitter went on to victory when Castroneves won his third Indy 500. Scott Dixon, who starts ninth this year, also started from the pole for his only Indy 500 win back in 2008.
The past five years, winners have come from row four twice, and rows five, seven and two. Those in the last-row party have never won the Indy 500. That’s not the best news from Jack Harvey, 2016 race winner Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly, the starters in spots 31-33 this year.
Here’s the breakdown of winners and their starting rows:
- Row 1: 42 wins
- Row 2: 19 wins
- Row 3: 8 wins
- Row 4: 7 wins
- Row 5: 9 wins
- Row 6: 4 wins
- Row 7: 6 wins
- Row 8: 2 wins
- Row 9: 2 wins
- Row 10: 2 wins
- Row 11: 0 wins
This year’s field includes six previous winners: Castroneves, Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Takuma Sato, the defending champion. Castroneves was the last driver to win back-to-back 500s. Before that, go back to 1970 and 1971 when Al Unser Sr. won. This feat has been accomplished just five times in Indy 500 history. Sato will try from 16th on Sunday.
Team owner Roger Penske has had plenty of success at the speedway, and he’ll have a good shot again with his four cars starting in the top nine. Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, a Tennessee native, will start in spots 2-4, while Castroneves will try from the win from the eighth spot. Penske has 200 Indy Car victories and 16 in the Indy 500. The last victory with the Penske name came in 2015 with Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to the open-wheel series.
Castroneves won in 2001, 2002 and 2009. He’s finished second twice (2014, 2017) in his quest to join racing legends A.J. Foyt (current team owner), Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only drivers to win the Indy 500 four times. Castroneves, 43, is no longer a full-time driver for Penske and instead switched to sports cars this season. He returned for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis earlier this month and will make the start at Indy in the special Pennzoil-sponsored car.
Three of the past four years, the winner has come from the Andretti Autosport team. It’s an interesting twist because the Andretti name has had some of the worst luck over the past few decades. Drivers Mario, Michael, John, Jeff and Marco all have the name Andretti behind them, but only Mario won the race back in 1969. He tried for another 20-plus years to get another victory but to no avail. His son Michael never made it to victory lane and at one point held the record for the most laps led by a driver that had never won the race.
Third-generation driver Marco will make his 13th start in the race with still lots of pressure. He’s in the No. 98 car (Rossi in 2016 and Dan Wheldon in 2011 each won with 98 on the side) starting in 12th position on the outside of row four. Marco’s best chance to win came back in 2006 as a rookie when he was beaten at the line by Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. by 0.0635 of a second in one of the closest margins of victory in the race’s history. Al Unser Jr.’s victory by 0.043 of a second of current ABC racing analyst Scott Goodyear still stands as the closest finish.
Along with Marco, Andretti Autosport fields cars for Stefan Wilson (starts 23rd), Rossi, Carlos Munoz (21st), 2014 Indy 500 champion Hunter-Reay (14th) and Zach Veach (25th). British driver Wilson is the younger brother of Justin Wilson, a former Indy 500 driver who died in 2015 after being struck by debris during a race at Pocono Raceway.
In the battle of engines, Penske and Carpenter teams are racing with Chevys, while Andretti Autosport runs Hondas.
It will be interesting to see what’s ahead for the 500-mile race, which pit strategies work out and which drivers are caught up in cautions. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be one of great success, or a place of deep heartbreak for drivers and their teams as they try to win the biggest race in the world.
After all the pomp and circumstance of the national anthem, a Jim Nabors-less rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” “God Bless America,” salutes to the military, drivers introductions and the command to start engines, the race is scheduled to start at 11:19 a.m., broadcast on ABC.