5 way too early things to watch for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS — The 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is behind us. Helio Castroneves won that on Sunday. As we all sit in despair in our light depression waiting on next year’s race, it got my mind thinking, what should we be looking for to watch in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500?

Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean could probably be here, but that’s pure speculation and hard to put as a top five thing when we don’t 100% know. So, I left them off for the time being.

Here are my way too early top five things to watch for next year’s Month of May.

Can Helio Castroneves Break The Record?

Helio Castroneves joined Indy lore on Sunday with his record tying fourth Indianapolis 500 triumph. Now, can he break the record in 2022?

It’s not out of the realm of possibilities. I don’t see any reason as to why Meyer Shank Racing wouldn’t bring him back next season or at least the potential for him to join a powerhouse team too. Winning two straight Indy 500’s is difficult, but it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. In fact, Castroneves did it in 2001 and again in 2002. Can he win numbers 4 and 5 in 2021 and 2022?

Castroneves showed me this past month that he’s showing no signs of slowing down, so I’d give him as good as a shot as any to win again next May.

What Does Scott Dixon Have To Do To Win Again Here?

Only Rick Mears’ six Indy 500 poles is more than Dixon’s four. Dixon, only need a handful of laps led to become the all-time Indy 500 lap leader. He has 51 career wins, one shy of second most all-time in series history. His six championships are one shy of tying AJ Foyt for most ever. He’s second in runner-ups, podiums and top fives.

Despite all of that, Dixon has just one Indy 500 win. In 2020, he started second, led 111 laps, but came home second in the end. This past year, he won the pole, was quickest on Day 2 of practice, fastest on Fast Friday, fastest on Carb Day and best in both qualifying days. He was the man to beat. The stars were aligning.

A fluke crash on pit road in the middle of the opening pit sequence ruined that for him this year. In 2017, he won the pole for the ‘500, was robbed at gun point in a Taco Bell drive through that night, look the part in the early portions of the race itself but in a fluke way, ran over Jay Howard’s slow car in Turn 1 and launched airborne in a frightening crash.

If it could go wrong for Dixon at Indy, it has. What does he have to do to win again here? He’s 1-for-19. Can he get a second win in 20 tries next May?

Will Newgarden Finally Get An Indy Win?

We keep saying this every year, but once we get to the Month of May, Josef Newgarden is always becomes the sexy pick for an Indy 500 win. The problem is, he’s still winless. Newgarden, is 0-for-10. Will he ever get a chance to drink the milk on Memorial Day weekend here?

The Team Penske driver was ninth in 2015, third in 2016, eighth in 2018, fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2020. He had a great strategy play to get in the mix on Sunday, but it just didn’t pan out in a 12th place effort. Can he join Indy lore next year?

Will Penske Improve?

Roger Penske bought the Speedway and turned the ultimate flex up to a whole new level. See, his parking space is located just outside of the media center in the shadows of the pagoda. Everyone else’s space is known through initials. Mark Miles’ is MM. Doug Boles’ is DB. Penske’s? It’s 18. Not RP. The 18 stands for Indy 500 victories.

At the time, he had won two straight Indy 500’s. A third seemed likely in the very near future. But, as we sit here today, he’s 0-for-2 and surprisingly isn’t even close.

What’s baffling is, Penske, spent a lot of time, money and resources from last year’s race to this year’s race to improve their Indy speed. The problem was, everyone else improved too.

Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day.

The thing is, they’d only qualify 17-21-26-32 this year. They finished 3-12-20-30 with just three laps all day. Simon Pagenaud has looked like the best Penske driver the last two years with him leading all three laps on Sunday and 14 of the 16 in 2020. Can Penske find the qualifying speed to get up front in 2022 and then become a factor in the race itself?

How Will The Race Look?

Jay Frye and his talented team around him have done a great job of trying to make this racing package perfect. They know passing shouldn’t be easy. It’s the most talented race cars drivers in the world, so you can’t dumb this thing down to where anyone can do it. But, with the UAK, passing was almost too difficult. The flip side of things is these are the best drivers in the world and they rarely make mistakes. So, how can you pass a driver of equal talent in a car that’s equally as good on a track to where they’re going similar speeds?

In 2018, the first year of the UAK, the lead changed dropped from record levels prior to 30. The next year, it was down to 29. Most of those during pit sequences. Then, factor in the Aeroscreen for 2020, it went down to 21 lead changes.

So, as they’ve done each year, INDYCAR has held multiple tests to figure out ways to improve the show. How do you make these cars race closer but not make it too easy. That’s the fine balance they’re working with.

2021 looked vastly improved from 2020. The front few cars could pass with ease while fifth on back was difficult. We did see 35 lead changes, the most since 2017. If the lapped cars in front at the end weren’t in the way, I know with the upmost certainty that Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou would have had a hell of a battle for the win. Strategy played a part in how Castroneves got the victory, but Palou could have made a counter move back if cars weren’t in front of Helio.

The beginning portions of the race are always going to be all about fuel saving with the ending an intense shootout. I feel like INDYCAR is close to a perfect package here and that the 2022 race will be even better with the direction that they’re heading in.

Also, you have the veterans vs.  youth movement too. One of these years, these younger drivers are going to win. 24 year old Alex Palou qualified seventh in 2020 and finished second in 2021. He looks the part. 21 year old Pato O’Ward was sixth in 2020 and fourth in 2021. 23 year old Santino Ferrucci was seventh in 2019, fourth in 2020 and sixth in a one-off in 2021. 21 year old Colton Herta qualified second this year while 20 year old Rinus VeeKay qualified third and finished in the top 10.

So, do we see a veteran dominate like they did this past May in leading every speed chart or do one of these youth drivers finally break down the barriers to victory lane?

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