How Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) will look

INDIANAPOLIS — I wrote about how the drivers take care of each other at the start of the race but by the end of it, it’s all many for himself. I wrote about the teammate vs. teammate angle as well as the battle in general on how this could be one of the most thrilling endings in the 105 year history of the Indianapolis 500 itself. 

But, how does the race look from that start to the finish?

“I think it’s an unknown,” Alexander Rossi said. “In theory the cooler conditions are going to be more grip. But, we’ve also practiced in heat.”

Simon Pagenaud agreed saying that the temperature is going to be lower so it changes the game on downforce which is really good for racing.

“Some people would maybe think about having less downforce for speed and some may think of adding more for passing,” he said. “It’s going to depend on chassis strength. We feel like we have a good chassis so we can take that risk. We have to take the risk to go forward.

“I think it’s going to be harder to hold a lead, so I don’t think you’ll see someone lead the race as I did in ’19.

His teammate and 2018 race winner Will Power says that he feels as good now as he ever has.

“Yeah, I mean, I feel more comfortable than I’ve ever felt around here right now, just from experience,” he said. “And it’s amazing that you keep learning as you go. It’s different every year. The package once again is certainly going to race different. It’s going to be closer, kind of packed-up sort of racing where the top two will switch back and forth.

“I think you’ve got to just put yourself in that position like every year in that last stint. You have to be in that top two on the last restart or the last pit stop, whatever is the last thing that happens.”

Felix Roseenqvist said last week that he thinks that the race has become more of a qualifying race but it’s looking to him that its been easier to pass this year it might make it mix up a little bit more.

His teammate Pato O’Ward agreed.

“It’s still more important to have a good race car,” he told me. “Last year, I didn’t really qualify up front. I started 15th and we finished sixth because we had a good race car. There’s going to be a point in the race to where you’re going to get behind a 15 car train. Everyone’s car is going to feel like absolute trash but you just need to make your car feel the least trash.”

With the last three winners coming from the front row, qualifying success is just as important here again.

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 was a difficult race in terms of passing, hence the changes made between last year and this. So, INDYCAR held a test at the end of October at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year to help with the superspeedway racing package. The race last August featured a lot of single file racing with on track passing being really hard to do.

See, from 2012 through 2017, the racing at Indy looked like something you’d see NASCAR have at Daytona or Talladega. No, it wasn’t a “pack race” but rather a sling shot race to where you don’t want to be leading. The tow as well as the drag was so big in those cars, that it made passing easy.

The 2012 race had 34 lead changes. The 2013 race had a race record 68 of them. 34 more followed in 2014 with 37, 54 and 35 more between 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

INDYCAR wanted to reel that in a bit. Unfortunately, they went too far in the other direction. Since this new car came out in 2018, passing has been great on road/street courses as well as short ovals. Indy, well it’s been really difficult. We had 30 lead changes in 2018, 29 in 2019 and just 21 last year.

That’s why the changes have been made again.

The series knows though that they can’t go too far the other way because it could create artificial racing. Passing isn’t supposed to be easy. The faster cars are supposed to be up front. They’re just searching for a happy medium.

“You know when you have one car it’s not an issue or two cars you can travel and pass, but when you’re behind five, six cars, it’s like, good luck,” Juan Pablo Montoya said.

“I think they improved the car, but if you look at the guys when you run in a pack, the top three guys, they can pass each other and you look really racy. You drop to sixth or seventh and you’re like praying for dear life.”

His former Team Penske teammate of Helio Castroneves said that the new flooring that they have with the bargeboard and strakes has changed a little bit of the feeling with the ride height.

“As we know, if you’re running behind people there’s a lot of turbulence,” said the three-time winner. 

While the passing up front is easier, it’s not from really fifth on back for good reason. See, think of it this way, the leader has no one in front of him. These cars have so much drag on them, he’s a sitting duck. Second place can get a tow off the leader. He’s going considerably faster. He can pass. Third place can do the same to second. But, fourth place is harder because third place is getting a tow on second place. The second place car is getting a tow on the leader. How can you pass the car in front when he too has a tow and going as fast as you. 

That, plus the turbulent air mid pack makes these cars unstable. Clean air rings king. 

The other thing is, saving fuel is so crucial here so that you can make your stints. Newgarden says that they’ve gotten so good at that fuel strategy only because fuel saving is prevalent to win a race. It’s not exciting but it’s crucial. 

That can make earlier in the race less exciting in the sense guys are immediately trying to settle in and then to hit a fuel number. As the race goes on and the tires degrade, the action will pick up. 

I predict this will be a fun race up front but a treacherous one behind. In turn, that makes pit sequences the most important aspect of the race. These drivers are all so talented, so it’s going to be rare to see someone make a mistake. The guys with track position have to be perfect in order to not lose it. The guys behind are hungry and know they need to be aggressive getting onto and off pit lane. Clean in and out laps as well as a fast pit stop can gain you positions on track. Bad sequences can also cause you to lose ground too.

So, the winner on Sunday will be a full team win with the upmost perfect in every phase.

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