5 burning questions for Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Will Dixon Ever Get A 2nd Indy 500 Win?

Scott Dixon has to wonder what he ever did to piss this place off. I mean legend states that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway picks its winners. For some reason, despite Scott Dixon becoming the all-time laps led leader in the 106-year history of this great event, second place on the all-time poles list (he has 5, Rick Mears has 6), he still sits here with just one lone Indy 500 victory (2008) in 20 tries.

He was fourth on the overall speed chart in 2021. He was in that exact same spot in 2022. He won the pole both years. As luck would have it, he was fourth on the open test speed chart last month.

Will that equate out to an Indy 500 win?

He says it’s hard telling. There’s so many different testing plans and aero configurations that everyone kind of has their own plans and works as their own pace.

“I don’t know I think the biggest thing is to get through the new aero pieces,” Dixon said on if you can take anything away from the test in regards to May. “Just kind of tick all the boxes on that side of things. We’ve got our own test plan, test bench, dampers, all that kind of stuff that we kind of need to get some matrices done on those. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s kind of it’s an interesting day just because of the winds. So some of the stuff will be a little bit tough, especially this afternoon, but as always, it’s great to be back here and I could be wrong in some ways.”

I mean think about it, the car hasn’t changed much. The personnel mostly remains the same and if they change teams, they take secrets with them. That makes what Ganassi is doing even more impressive that they can remain on top with all these factors.

“Yeah, it’s a team effort,” Dixon told me. “You know, it’s every kind of department I think trying to get the most out of it our kind of our engineering group during a lot of homework in the offseason. Plus the addition you know, with your partners, right, you know, how do I know I’ve been digging real deep for qualifier speed, but also race, speed, drivability, all kinds of those things. “So you know, it’s never again, it’s never going to be 1,2,3,4 or five big things. It’s going to be hundreds of small things. And I think you know, this team last year the year before that, does that really well so you know, I know they haven’t made up so hopefully we can continue to have some great success here.”

Dixon keeps finding ways to lose here at that. He led 73 laps but finished runner-up to his Ganassi teammate of Dario Franchitti in 2009. He led 73 more laps in a 5th place run in 2011. In 2012, he led 53 laps but was runner-up again to Franchitti. He was on the pole and led 83 laps in 2015 but finished 4th. He won the pole in 2017 but had a frightening crash in Turn 1 that year and would come home 32nd. He led 111 laps in a runner-up effort in 2020, 7 laps from the pole in 2021 to where he was caught out by an ill timed first caution which saw his No. 9 Dallara-Honda having to do an emergency pit stop under a closed pit road and then stall as a result. He fell a lap down and would finish 17th.

Last year, he was 2nd in literally all but 1 practice session, qualified on the pole with a record setting pole lap and led 95 circuits before speeding on pit road for his final pit stop. That relegated him to 21st in the end.

Can Dixon finally pick up a second Indy 500 win?

He starts sixth.

Josef Newgarden during Thursday’s Indy 500 open test. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can Team Penske Finally Get Another Indy 500 Win

Roger Penske bought the Speedway in late 2019 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-3 and surprisingly hasn’t even been close. He’s 0-for-4 in the GMR Grand Prix too.

Heading into last year’s Month of May, Team Penske was off to a successful start to the 2022 season and everyone was talking about them being the ones to win last year’s Indy 500. They had won each of the 1st 3 races, started on the front row in 4 of the 5 and have taken 6 of the 15 podiums spots available.

They were once again, nowhere to really be found in Indy.

That included another winless Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

They failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).

Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day. A year later, they’d qualify 17-21-26-32 and finish 3-12-20-30 with just 3 laps led all day.

This was going to be their year right? They looked vastly improved during the week of practice and had all three cars in the top 12 of the four-lap average report from Fast Friday including 3rd and 4th respectively.

However, they once again only got one car through to the Fast 12 Shootout and that’s Will Power taking the 12th and final spot. Scott McLaughlin (232.677 mph) starts in the Middle of Row 5 (14th) and Josef Newgarden (232.402 mph) will roll off in the Middle of Row 6 (17th).

McLaren meanwhile, put two of their three cars to the Shootout last year and finished 2-4-11. All three ahead of the top finishing Penske.

On Saturday, McLaren had all four cars in the Shootout while Penske has one. Has McLaren passed Penske in the pecking order among the Chevrolet camp?

“I think there’s no doubt that they’ve done a tremendous job,” Josef Newgarden told me. “They’ve just excelled. We fell short today. There’s no hiding it. We did not do a good enough job. I can’t speak highly enough about Chevrolet. I think they’ve been tremendous this whole season, particularly tremendous today.

“You can see that by evidence of everybody that was up there. We weren’t missing anything from that side. They’ve been a great partner for us.

“We seem to be able to figure out most situations, but for whatever reason this cruel mistress, she’s just tricking us. I don’t understand how so. I think all of us don’t fully understand it.

“You don’t stop working. I think for us, we’ve just got to continue to put in the work and not have an ego about it. We weren’t good enough, let’s figure out why. Indy is not easy. This is not an easy place to just succeed. I don’t care how many Indy 500s you have, what team you are, there are no guarantees when you show up here.

“We don’t have an ego about it. We have to work hard, come back, do a better job.”

Newgarden says that they’ve not left a single stone unturned in the fight back to the top at Indy.

“Look, there’s no place to hide,” he says. “We’re just not fast enough. We really weren’t. It’s unfortunate. I feel terrible for our team because I’m front and center of being able to witness the amount of effort that has gone into this place. It is just not from a shortage of effort.

“We’re obviously just missing something else. I don’t know how we’re missing it. We’ve worked hard, all of us collectively. We’ve tried to have no ego about it. It’s just not enough.

“I think we’re still short. Unfortunately the weird thing was I think we were more in the mix yesterday. I think the wind plays a big factor into that. Maybe we’re missing something in these type of conditions that we saw today.

“Any way you want to slice it, we just weren’t good enough. We’ve got to go back and really assess again. Unfortunately we’ve been doing that every single year here. What’s most important now is we’re going to focus on the race. I do believe with how tight the field is, as Tony talked about, there’s opportunity anywhere. If you qualify for the race, there’s opportunity anywhere to win this event. We have to put our focus to that now and be able to collect ourselves after the 500 and see what we can do better. I have strong confidence we have great race cars and can be in the fight on Sunday.”

Newgarden has won everything but this race. The 26-race winner in INDYCAR competition is 0-for-11 in this race with just five total Top-10 finishes in it. 3 of those 5 top 10 results were in the top 5 however, but Newgarden has yet to drink the milk here.

Power is one that has won the race (2018).

Scott McLaughlin is the relative newbie. He’s only 0-for-2 here but is eyeing his first top 10 on the 2.5-mile oval. He was 10th in the test.

“There’s always room to grow,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been an up-and-down few years, but obviously last year was fantastic in terms of my development, and then this year having a win already before coming to Indy is a nice feeling.

“But as the guys have said, I think as a team, I think we’ve really worked together well between the three drivers, between the engineers, between everybody that’s behind the scenes and put in the hard work to make sure we get speed.

“But also, it’s not just here. It’s all the other tracks, as well. I think we’ve really worked together and the camaraderie in the team has been great.

“From a personal perspective, there’s always times where I can find a bit more of myself, and I’ll continue chipping away at that. New stuff will pop up every year, doesn’t matter if it’s third, fourth or the tenth year.

“I feel like I’m in a good place right now, feel comfortable in the car, feel comfortable here at this place, and hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the month.”

They come to the Indy 500 reeling off of a disappointing GMR Grand Prix which saw them qualify 12th, 13th and 16th and have just one car even finish in the top 10. That comes after winning 2 of the previous 3 races and having 2 of the 3 podium finishers in the race prior at Barber.

Does Difficulty Of Winning Indy 500 Makes Race Win All That Much Sweeter?

Nearly 800 people in the human existence have ever raced in the Indianapolis 500. Out of those near 800, only 74 of them have won it. It’s an exclusive club to be an Indy 500 winner. Not many people living can say that they’ve done it. That’s also why we’ve seen over the years the emotion that comes out of an Indianapolis 500 champion. I mean, it’s the only race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule that labels the race winner as a “champion.”

It’s not just that the win that’s special. Don’t get me wrong, crossing the yard of bricks is enough to make a grown man weep of happy tears of joy. But, it’s also everything after it too. You’re forever lauded in racing lore when you get to cross the famed yard of bricks first. But, it’s also to what happens during the course of 500 miles to what makes winning here so damn special too.

In order to win Indy, you have to be damn near perfect. Literally. There’s no margin for error here. From on track, to pit road, to everything in between, you can’t slip up or a win will become out of reach in an instant.

Especially now. The field is just so deep, so talented. To beat drivers like this, you have to be perfect.

“It’s a package” said Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud. “Obviously, it’s not just the race car. You have to have luck that day. The stars have to align for you. You need to bring your A game. The entire crew, the strategist, everyone has to make the perfect execution.

“At the end of the day, you also have to have the right package that year on your car. Setup, engine, everything. It’s obviously to me, with the 24 Hours of LeMans, the toughest race of the year to win. There’s so many factors to get right, especially the outside factors beyond your control and you do need the outside factors need to go your way.”

It’s eerie that the guy that he beat in 2019 in Alexander Rossi, echoed the same thing as Pagenaud about an hour earlier in the day when they each told me their thoughts.

“Yeah everything has to go right,” said the 2019 runner-up, but also the 2016 champion in Rossi. “Who would have thought that the strategy that we defaulted to after pit stop problems in ’16 would have been the one to have won the race. There’s no predicting it.

“There’s 33 cars that have a full and equal part to win this thing on Sunday. Pit stops are going to be, I mean each year there’s a little bit more of a track position race over years past because the competition gets better and it gets hotter, that sort of thing.”

500 miles. Four turns per lap. 800 turns all day. The amount of precision, perfection and concentration is what makes that cold drink of milk after 3+ hours of a mentally taxing race so damn worth it.

But, once you win it, it’s something that you don’t ever want to give back either.

“I don’t want anyone to take it from me,” Pagenaud said.

Rossi has always felt the same. He knows that people questioned his love for the race following his 2016 win. It wasn’t that he didn’t love to win, he just didn’t know what to expect. That’s why he says you see even more emotion pouring out of series veterans that have never experienced a win here despite several tries. But, that emotion a second time, it would come out for Rossi.

“Everyone talks about like when Tony (Kanaan) won and Will (Power) won, they’ve been trying so long and that type of emotion came out and that is obviously a real thing,” Rossi said to me last year. “But, for the guys that have won and gotten a taste of it, you don’t know what you don’t know. Until you’ve won, you don’t realize how amazing it is. How special an event that this is to win. Every time that a year goes by and you know someone else will get to go do all that stuff that you get to go do, you just think ‘oh this sucks.’ So for sure it adds fuel to the fire every year that goes by.

When told about Rick Mears getting more and more emotional after each one of his win, Rossi said “oh for sure because you realize every year you come here, you realize how challenging it is to get it done. How all the pieces of the puzzle have to fall in place. Some are in your control and some aren’t. It’s a pretty magical part when it all happens.”

A prime example is finishing second to Pagenaud in 2019. Rossi notes that he thinks about that race more right now than his win in ’16 because of how close he was and how you can’t squander a race winning car here due to all the circumstances around it.

“To this day I still haven’t watched an Indy 500 from start to finish that I’ve competed in,” continued Rossi. “I mean, I still think about the 2019 finish more of the 2016 win because it’s more recent or maybe it’s because it sucks to finish second. It’s a horrible feeling especially when it’s a second place for when you know you got up there trying to do something wild.

“Like in 2016, if we finished second, that’s a total different emotion. To have a car to potentially win and you come up short is tough because it’s so hard around here that puts you in that position. It takes so many factors and elements that puts you up there to win the Indianapolis 500. You never know if you’re going to have it again. When you see that opportunity and it gets away from you, it’s hard to swallow.”

On May 28, another driver will go down in Indy lore. Only Helio Castroneves and Takuma Sato in this field have won this thing more than once, but even if either of them, the emotion will be just as joyful as the others.

Will We Ever See Another 4-Time Winner?

We finally got another four-time winner here at Indy. It took 30 years since we’ve last witnessed this feat at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in regards to the Indianapolis 500. Rick Mears last did it in 1991 before Helio Castroneves joined Indy lore in May 2021. Mears’ win came four years after Al Unser joined the club in 1987. That came a decade after AJ Foyt being the first to accomplish this exclusive feat in 1977.

Now that Castroneves has done it, will we ever see it again? If we do, will it take three more decades for it to happen or is this one of those sports stats that may never be touched again?

“I don’t see why it won’t happen,” said Ed Carpenter to me. “There’s definitely a lot of talent but it also takes a lot of luck to make that happen. There’s plenty of people that have come along that have the talent to win 4 or more but it’s not as simple as that in a 500 mile race. I’m sure it will happen eventually whether it’s Helio who will start a new club or someone else.”

You have Takuma Sato and Castroneves as the only multi-time winners in this field. Heck, only 20 drivers in this world can say that they’ve won this race more than once. Sato, has two wins in six years, but can he realistically win two more soon? He’s already the fifth oldest winner ever at 43. Does he have enough time to get to four wins?

He’s a one-off entry and 46-years-old.

The oldest to win this race is Al Unser at 47. I feel like the odds of Sato getting to four is highly unlikely.

No one else left has more than one Indy 500 win in their career. With the field as competitive as it’s arguably ever been and only four drivers having won this race more than once since 1998, what makes you think we’ll get drivers winners at least three times over the next decade? I mean, we’ve only had two repeat winners of this race in the last 67 years so the odds of someone rattling off a lot of wins in a short span isn’t likely.

Since 2013, only Sato has won this race more than once. We’ve seen parity in teams winning too. Andretti won in 2017. Penske won in 2018 and 2019. RLL won in 2020. MSR won in 2021. Ganassi last year. That’s 5 organizations in 6 years by six different drivers.

The four win feat may be one of those stats that as low as it sounds, may be unreachable for quite some time.

“It’s difficult because you want to compare Helio to Mario or compare to Rick Mears but it’s such a different era,” Simon Pagenaud told me. “These guys every time they went out there, they risked their lives. I’m not going to set up that we’re not risking our lives but it’s obviously not as dangerous as it was. It’s a different mindset. The kids when they come in, they know that when they hit the wall, it’s not going to kill them. That’s so different. The kids in Mario’s time the mentality that you had to be in when you go home to see your kids it was very different. Now it’s the cars are much close. You have much more data. More videos to look at. It’s a very different job and thought process. So Helio’s had to adjust the 20 something years that he’s been around. That’s also a quality because that’s a huge adjustment.”

No More Double Points A Good Or Bad Thing?

For the first time since the 2013 season, the Indianapolis 500 will pay the same amount of points as the rest of the races on the schedule. The NTT INDYCAR Series issued a release on Thursday night confirming the news.

The series first adopted the move to a double points race for 2014. It was initially slated for the three 500-mile races run that season (Indianapolis, Pocono, Fontana). A year later, that was dropped in favor of double points for just the Indy 500 as well as the season finale.

That lasted through 2019. With a change in stewardship between the Hulman George Family to Roger Penske, the double points model was scrapped for the season finale but left alone for Indy.

That drew the ire of drivers and teams. Most favored a move away from double points for any race all together. Now, the move was finally made.

I get both sides of the coin here in a reason for it and against it. The race is the biggest of the season and should reward more points and money. Why not have this race stand out above the rest? It’s not just another race on the schedule. It’s bigger than that.

So, it should award double points.

Some drivers say, no. Will Power last year that he was strongly against it saying that the race should be double purse instead of double points. He says the intensity of winning this race wouldn’t matter if you gave 0 points.

However, I can put that quarter and rest it on my thumb and flick it over to the other side and say that it doesn’t merit double points too. Does the Daytona 500 or Monaco Grand Prix award more points than the other races on the NASCAR and F1 schedules respectively? Does the Super Bowl double points scored for touchdowns and field goals?

The problem with double points for Indy is two-fold. One-offs can steal some valuable points from full time entries. Also, it can hide the fact that someone had a bad season but got a top three or four at Indy can nullify some bad results later and keep them in the title race longer. It works reverse to someone who maybe had a heck of a season but didn’t get a top 10 or dare I say top 15 at Indy and cost them valuable points to a championship rival that did.

Indy essentially counts for two races and if you have a bad result, it can make or break your championship hopes down the road. Is that fair?

That’s why I see this on both sides and can see why it’s a debate. For fans, it absolutely adds to the intensity and pressure. That’s a win. For teams though, this race they already want to win at the most, do they need added pressure?

The other part is that we’ve not seen a driver win the championship and the Indy 500 in the same season since 2010. It’s only happened 5 times since the 1996 split at that. So, while winning the Indy 500 with double points now is great, it doesn’t mean a guaranteed title either. No driver has won Indy with double points and won the title in the same year.

“I think it’s good we’ve dropped the double points in the finale,” Newgarden said last year. “I was never a fan of that, and I’m still not quite a fan of the double points at Indy. But like I said, we know the rules, we know the landscape going in, so I don’t think we can fall back on that. It would be an endless discussion of saying if this went different or that went different, I could go down the road and cite a lot of examples, but we always end up where we are, and unfortunately, we’re a little bit short this year.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s