Ranking the Indy 500 Field

5/24/12 in IndyCar   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Quiet, But Lurking
 
11. Alex Tagliani (No. 98, Barracuda Networks, Blue and Black)
 
Last year’s pole winner in a car owned by last year’s winning team, yet nobody is talking about Alex Tagliani or Bryan Herta Autosport. They qualified a good 11th, the second highest Honda car on the grid. Nobody’s talking about this team, but then again, nobody really was last year either.
 
10. Graham Rahal (No. 38, Service Central, Blue and Red)
 
Many predicted this would be Graham’s breakout year, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s starting 12th, which seems OK, but was actually the third best Honda and the best of the entire Ganassi team. If Honda can get back to where they were in practice compared to Chevy, Graham should be right in the thick of it.
 
The Sentimental Favorite
 
9. Tony Kanaan (No. 11, GEICO/Mouser, Blue and White)May 19, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan poses for a photo after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
 
Ask IndyCar fans who they most want to see win and Kanaan will likely get the most votes. TK has run the Indy 500 ten times, has led in seven of those races, but every year has suffered some misfortunate. He is up there with Ted Horn, Lloyd Ruby, Michael Andretti, and others among the best never to have won the race. This year, Chevy’s dominance in qualifying helped TK to an 8th starting spot. If Chevy remains the engine with the advantage on race day, he should be right there. The question really is will the luck finally be there.
 
The Top-Tier Contenders
 
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28, DHL/SunDrop, Yellow and White)
 
Hunter-Reay finally didn’t have to sweat making the race, putting it on the outside of the front row. His overall record at the 500 though is very spotty, with one top ten and three races as a complete non-factor. His car is obviously fast, and he’s too good to not be considered a top contender, but his 500 record is just about the weakest of those contenders, and thus he slots here.
 
7. James Hinchcliffe (No. 27, GoDaddy, Green)
 
He’s not just Danica’s replacement anymore. Hinchcliffe had already been having a breakout season, and this month it has more than continued. He missed the pole by .003 mph, or 9.1 inches. With his talent and personality, Hinchcliffe will be a star. That said, this is only his second 500, and his first ended ignominiously in the wall halfway. He also has yet to win an IndyCar race at all. It doesn’t disqualify him from winning in the least, but it’s a factor against the experience drivers he’s up against.
 
6. Scott Dixon (No. 9, Target, Red and White)
 
The 2008 winner looked like he’d right there during practice. Then qualifying happen, Honda got their butt kicked, and thus Dixon starts 15th. Being mid pack at the start is dangerous. Get through that, and expect the Iceman to have his say in the proceedings.
 
5. Will Power (No. 12, Verizon, Black and White)
 
On road and street courses, Will Power is on another planet from everyone else right now. On ovals though, something always seems to go wrong. In the 2010 Indy 500, his crew left part of his fuel hose in, getting him black flagged. Last year, a tire fell off after Power left the pits. There’s still a question of whether Power even has the racing ability to win at Indy, but first he has to avoid the bad luck that kept him from being able to answer the question in the first place.

4. Dario Franchitti (No. 50, Target, Red and White)
 
So far, it hasn’t been Dario’s year. He hasn’t gotten the hang of the DW12 yet, and Honda being a step behind Chevy hasn’t helped. Of course, Honda’s woes compared to Chevy continued in qualifying, and thus Franchitti starts an unheard of 16th. All that said, can you really count out a two time Indy 500 winner and a championship team like Ganassi Racing? Of course not. You know Dario will be ready when the green flag waves.
 
3. Marco Andretti (No. 26, RC Cola, Blue and Red)
 
Marco’s career has been considered a disappointment so far, but he shines at Indy, with a second and two thirds in just six starts. With Andretti Autosport finally getting it together, Marco finds himself right there, starting 4th. Amazingly enough, Mario’s win in 1969 is still the only win for the Andretti family as drivers. This year is looking like Marco’s best chance thus far in his career to break the famous Andretti Curse.
 
2. Ryan Briscoe (No. 2, IZOD, Red and Black)
 
The pole sitter has been the forgotten man at Team Penske these last few years. Without the 500 wins of Castroneves or the championship aspirations of Power, most of the talk about Briscoe was speculation as to when he’s been replaced. Needless to say, no one’s saying that this week. The elements are there for Briscoe to win this race: He has what appears to be the right engine. He’s on the most successful team in IndyCar history. Is he the right driver?
 
May 19, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar series driver Helio Castroneves waves to the crowd during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIREThe Favorite
 
1. Helio Castroneves (No. 3, Shell, Orange and White)
 
In the end though, my pick has to be Helio. He’s looked rejuvenated this year with the new car, and unlike his teammates, has three wins at Indianapolis. Starting 6th, he’ll be right in the hunt from the drop of the green flag. As I said before, this is a wide open race, and roughly half the field could win, but in the end, I like Helio to take his 4th Indianapolis 500 title and march into the history books.
 
Who is your pick to win the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?
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