INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: Indy 500 track trends, favorites, sleepers, etc

TRACK: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5 mile, oval), DISTANCE: 200 Laps (500 Miles) 

  • In the aero kit era, starting position didn’t really matter at Indy. But, with this universal car that debuted in 2018, it now does. Simon Pagenaud became the first pole winner to win the ‘500 since 2009. Will Power won from third in 2018. Takuma Sato started fourth in his 2017 win and third in 2020 while Helio Castroneves was 8th last year.
  • Combined, Penske and Andretti have won six of the last eight Indy 500’s with a satellite team in Meyer Shank Racing for Andretti winning a year ago as 1 of the 2 they didn’t win. Throw Ganassi in there, and these three organizations have won 13 of the last 17 ‘500’s overall and 17 of the last 22 (since 2000).
  • RLL is the outlier who took two of the top three spots in 2020 and have won 2 of the 5 that the “Big 3” didn’t since 2000. Plus, the last non Penske Chevrolet driver to win at Indy was Al Unser Jr. with Galles in 1992.
  • We’ve had a new, first time winner for the Indy 500 in six of the last eight years. Also, since 2011, we’ve had a different winner each year with the exception of Takuma Sato (2017, 2020) here too. Going back to 2003, only Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato have won this race multiple times in that time frame.
  • Last year was the 1st time in 10 years since we last saw a part time driver win the Indianapolis 500. Dan Wheldon did so in thrilling fashion that day in 2011 which came 10 years prior to Helio Castroneves joining the 4-win club last year. Wheldon’s win came 10 years after the last in which Castroneves did it in 2001 too. Now, can one of the talented drivers on this list do so this year?

TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM

The only comparison to Indianapolis on the schedule now would be Texas since both run the superspeedway package, but you really can’t compare those 2 since Texas is a full 1 mile shorter in length. Texas and Indy are really tracks that just stands on their own.

The top teams at them are also the top teams in the series.

For Indy, Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race in 2018 and again in 2019. They’ve swept the front row both years. In 2018, they led nearly 150 of the 200 laps run. 2019, they combined to lead 155 of the 200 laps.

For 2020 it was Honda’s turn in leading 180 of 200 laps and taking the top four finishing spots.

In 2021, it was more even with Chevy leading 108 and Honda 92 but Honda going 1-2 in the finishing order while Chevy was 3-4-5. Each manufacturer had 3 cars in the top 6 when it was all said and done.

Alex Palou finished 2nd in last year’s Indy 500 and starts 2nd this year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Favorites

Alex Palou (+600)

Palou was +1400 last month. He started seventh here as a rookie in 2020 and was runner-up a year ago after qualifying sixth. Now, he starts on the front row in 2nd and was in the top 10 in 3 of the 4 practice sessions this month.

Pato O’Ward (+900)

He won a race at Texas last year and has finished sixth and fourth respectively in his 2 Indy 500 starts.

Rinus VeeKay (+1100)

Indy is special to him. It’s the spot where he got his first top five, his first podium, his first pole and now his first win. Can he get an Indy 500 win on Sunday? He qualified on the front row last year and finished eighth. He’s back on the front row again this year too.

Sleepers

Marcus Ericsson (+1800)

May be the sleeper of the field. Ericsson was 2nd, 4th, 7th and 5th respectively in the 4 practice sessions, qualified in Row 2 for this Sunday’s race and finished 3rd back in the spring at Texas.

Takuma Sato (+1800)

He has 3 top 3’s in his last 5 Indy starts and has won the Indy 500 with two different teams. Why not a third? Sato was quickest in all 3 practice sessions on opening week, 4th on Monday and starts 10th.

Ed Carpenter (+1800)

The hometown hero is always good here. He has 3 top six finishes in his last four starts and is coming from Row 2 too.

Tony Kanaan (+2000)

Kanaan, has four top 10’s in his last six Indy tries. Enough said.

Simon Pagenaud (+2500)

A similar situation to Castroneves was in last year. Pagenaud is now with MSR and coming off of a third place run last season. He has 3 top 6’s in his last 4 Indy starts including a win in 2019. In his last 4 starts on the season, he has a top 11 in 3 of them including a runner-up in the road course race here two weeks ago.

Alexander Rossi (+2500)

Rossi may have finishes of 27th and 29th respectively in his last 2 Indy starts, but both were due to issues while he was running up front. Prior to that, he had not finished worse than seventh in four starts including a win in 2016 and runner-up in 2019. For these odds, worth a look.

Helio Castroneves (+2800)

He’s now a member of the four-time club. He’s less than a second away from being a six time winner at that. His first two Indy wins came back-to-back, can he do it again? To get a 4-time winner for these odds. Worth the risk.

Graham Rahal (+3000)

He was third in 2020 and had a the field covered before his wheel literally fell off during last year’s race.

Marco Andretti (+5000)

He’s been near the top 10 of the speed chart during race practice all month. Andretti told me his actual race car itself is one of the best he’s had here.

Conor Daly (+5000)

He led the most laps last year and if not for a tire falling out of the sky, he would have been in contention for a win in the end. Daly, starts near where he did a year ago.

Santino Ferrucci (+6000)

He finished seventh in 2019, fourth in 2020 and sixth a year ago in his three Indy appearances. He’s starting a respectable 15th too.

Juan Pablo Montoya (+8000)

A two-time Indy 500 champion, who’s won for two different teams, driving for a third, with a great race car. He finished 10th last year in this same car and you get him for these odds?

Scott Dixon now has 5 Indy poles and 27 INDYCAR poles overall. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Drivers To Avoid

Scott Dixon (+550)

Yes, he’s on the pole for the 5th time of his Indy career. Yes, he was in the top 2 of every practice session so far. Yes, you would see that he led 111 of 200 laps in 2020 and was on the pole last year too. He also has 2 top 3 finishes in his last 4 Indy 500 starts. However, despite all that, he hasn’t won here since 2008 either, has 1 win in his last 26 series starts in general and has 1 win in his 4 prior Indy 500 poles too. May want to go deeper to find the winner.

Josef Newgarden (+1200)

Newgarden has scored just two top fives in nine tries here and coming from 13th.

Will Power (+1400)

His last 2 finishes have been 14th and 30th with 4 of his last six results being 10th or worse. He’s coming from outside the top 10 too.

Colton Herta (+1500)

Started at +650. He’s dropped because he’s starting 25th. His best finish in three tries here is eighth despite 3 top 10 starts.

Scott McLaughlin (+1600)

I fear he’s starting too far back to win this race outright.

Felix Rosenqvist (+2000)

Was at +5000 last month. He’ll start in Row 3 but 2 of his 3 Indy finishes have been 27th or worse.

Jack Harvey (+6600)

Not one of his better tracks on oval configuration with 4 of his 5 finishes being 16th or worse here.

Stefan Wilson (+30000)

No one has ever won from the last starting spot.

AJ Foyt Racing

They’ve not won at Indy since 1999. They’ve not won an Indy Car race since 2013. I don’t see it out of them this year either so don’t take JR Hildebrand (+10000), Kyle Kirkwood (+10000) or Dalton Kellett (+20000).

The Rookies

There’s been three rookie winners here since 1967. The last coming in 2016 on a fluke fuel call. I’d avoid Jimmie Johnson (+1600), Romain Grosjean (+3000), David Malukas (+5000), Callum Ilott (+10000), Devlin DeFrancesco (+10000), Kyle Kirkwood (+10000) and Christian Lundgaard (+10000).

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