Sunday marks the best day of the racing calendar with the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 (Sunday, 1:00, ABC). As I did last year, I'll be playing handicapper as a way of previewing the race. This is, of course, for recreational purposes only. The Danica picture comes after the jump.
THE BIG DOGS
Dan Wheldon 2:1 Wheldon has dominated the Indy Car series so far this year, particularly on the ovals. He's starting a disappointing sixth, but given recent results, he's still the favorite.
Helio Castroneves 3:1 A two-time former champion who is starting on the pole. Yeah, I'd say he's a major contender.
Sam Hornish, Jr. 5:1 Hornish has struggled so far this season, down in 6th in the points. However, it's hard to downgrade the defending race and series champion too much.
Tony Kanaan 6:1 Kanaan is always up there, but can never seem to get over the hump. He's starting second, so the time for him could be now.
Scott Dixon 6:1 The man everyone forgets. Quiet as a mouse, but by driving a Ganassi car, he has to be one of the favorites. Still more likely to finish 2nd or 3rd than win.
Dario Franchitti 8:1 Mr. Ashley Judd has had a good start to the season, going from finishing 7th, to 5th, to 3rd, to 2nd as the season has progressed. Is that an omen?
THE FAN FAVORITES
Danica Patrick 10:1 Danica's transition to Andretti Green hasn't been smooth, and the Anna K comparisons continue to mount. However, Danica shows her best at Indy. If the top six falter (which is really the only way anyone else can win), than Danica has as good a shot as anyone.
Marco Andretti 12:1 If Danica's had issues, than Marco has had nightmares this season. In both 1.5 mile ovals so far (Homestead and Kansas), Marco's car has been completely undrivable. Given last year's second place at Indy, Marco can't be counted out, but to have a chance, those setup issues must be worked out.
Michael Andretti 15:1 This might be overrating Michael's chances. Everyone wants to him to finally win the Indy 500, but the only reason he was close last year was due to fuel strategy. Can he get lucky like that again? Chances are he won't.
THE DARK HORSES
Tomas Scheckter 15:1 Scheckter has been the best of the rest, ranking 7th in the points this season. He's always been fast, so if he can keep it on the track, he's got a shot.
Ryan Briscoe 18:1 Briscoe's only around for Indy, but he's no ordinary one race program. His team is owned by Roger Penske's son Jay, and is using Penske equipment. The result? Briscoe will start 7th, and is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Vitor Meira 20:1 It hasn't been the best start for Meira, and he qualified a disappointing 19th, but Meira has run well in the past (without a win though), including at Indy. Meira has never finished worse than 12th here, including a 2nd in 2005. You can't completely rule out a guy who's run that well at Indy.
LOOKING FOR A TOP TEN
Scott Sharp 25:1 Sharp has been around forever during the IRL era, seemingly finishing somewhere between 8th-14th every race. Except more of the same.
Buddy Rice 25:1 It's hard to get less respect as a former Indy 500 champion than Rice does. His move to Dreyer & Reinbold has not paid dividends so far. He just doesn't have the speed to contend for the win. Sad, since Rice should be one of the bigger stars in the series.
Jeff Simmons 30:1 Not much to say at this point. We've hit the middle of the pack of the IRL regulars. Having an offseason to prepare appears to have helped Simmons.
Ed Carpenter 30:1 Would Carpenter be in the series if he wasn't IRL owner Tony George's stepson? I think we all know the answer to that.
Buddy Lazier 30:1 The 1996 champ has actually had solid results lately (5th and 12th last two years) despite getting older. That's what gets him this high.
Darren Manning 35:1 Manning is driving for AJ Foyt in Foyt's 50th year at the Speedway. Will a miracle happen? Probably not.
Sarah Fisher 35:1 Fisher's back at Indy for the first time since 2004. With more experience, Fisher should beat her best finish at Indy, 21st.
THE REST OF THE REGULARS
AJ Foyt IV 40:1 Rule of Indy: Any Foyt driving that isn't the original AJ is not good.
Kosuke Matsuura 45:1 It's been a tough year for Matsuura, one that's probably made him a dead man walking. He won't be a factor.
THE SOLID VETS
Roger Yasukawa 50:1 I see no reason that Yasukawa can't replicate last year's performance, starting 28th and finishing 16th.
John Andretti 60:1 Speaking of long layoffs, John Andretti (nephew of Mario) hasn't been here since 1994. Naturally, there's still a third of the field that's worse.
Davey Hamilton 75:1 If this were NASCAR, everyone would know Davey Hamilton's story. Hamilton had some IRL success in the 90s, but suffered a huge crash in 2001, nearly destroying his feet. After 21 surgeries and a year in a wheelchair, Hamilton has come back to Indy after six years away, giving up part of his insurance settlement to do so. It's an amazing tale of perseverance.
Jaques Lazier 100:1 I don't really know why the other Lazier keeps hanging around, but here we are.
Richie Hearn 150:1 Anyone who can wait until Bump Day to get in car, take about 20 laps of practice and get the car to 222 mph is a racer, despite not racing anything other than karts for two years.
ONE FALLEN LEGEND
Al Unser, Jr. 200:1 Yes, he's a legend, and yes, it's great that he's teamed up with AJ Foyt, but given his DUI arrest and coming hearing, Little Al has other problems. Let's hope he's dealing with them.
JUST STAY OUT OF THE WAY
Alex Barron 250:1 This isn't a knock on Barron, who's a solid driver, but in the two IndyCar races he's run with this team, the car has been crap.
Roberto Moreno 500:1 Moreno is known as SuperSub for all the subbing he's done in his career. This race is more of the same, as Moreno was called in to replace Stephane Gregoire, who broke his back in practice. The problem here is a) Moreno got little practice and b) Moreno is 48, making him the Ultimate Retread of the race.
Phil Giebler 1,000:1 This 28 year old rookie has had some nice results in the Indy Pro Series. He has a learning curve, but he's handled himself well. Starting last though means he'll be a backmarker all day though.
Jon Herb 5,000:1 Herb has no career Indy start. He finished 27th in 2001. I don't know why he's here either.
Milka Duno 10,000:1 Duno's superspeedway experience is essentially zero. She stayed out of the way in Kansas though, and was decent in practice, so there's hope this won't be a complete disaster.
Marty Roth 25,000:1 When others in the garage try to convince you to stick to the owner part of your owner/driver outfit so you're results will improve, you are not good at driving. If Roth wins the 500, then Indy racing should just quit right there. It'd be over.
There you have it: The full field for the Indy 500. Who is your pick to win this race? Will you even watch it (keep in mind, it's that or an NBA playoff game that will be boring)?