INDIANAPOLIS — The 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when 33 drivers will compete at the most iconic auto race in the world for a chance to drench themselves in milk and capture the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Only seven drivers, including Scott Dixon, were racing in IndyCar when the now-six-time Series champ won his one and only Indy 500 back in 2008. Should Dixon win Sunday, his 14 years between wins would be the second-longest in race history, . He certainly is showing no sign of slowing down, grabbing his fifth career (and second consecutive) 500 pole last weekend, but once you’ve reached your 40s (Dixon will be 42 in July), you just don’t know how many more truly great opportunities you’ll have.
Here are 32 other things to know about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:
Can Scott Dixon set the laps led record in the Indy 500?
2. Despite starting on pole a year ago, Dixon was very happy to drift back a spot or two and not lead too many laps — No. 2 qualifier Colton Herta had taken the lead before one lap was complete. But if Dixon storms out to a lead or manages to trade off with his Ganassi teammates around him, he enters Sunday 75 led laps from Al Unser Sr.’s all-time mark (644). Dixon currently sits 3rd (570) and is 42 laps behind 2nd-place Ralph DePalma.
Long overdue win?
3. No driver has won the 500 for the first time after their 12th start — a stat three high-profile drivers would surpass, should they win Sunday (Ed Carpenter, 19th start; Marco Andretti, 17th start; Graham Rahal, 15th start). The mark, shared by Tony Kanaan and Sam Hanks (12 starts), would also be tied if JR Hildebrand won Sunday, too.
Could Sunday produce youngest winner?
4. Though 47 years old, neither Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves wouldn’t be the oldest Indy 500 winner (they can be next year!). Four different drivers, however, could become the youngest winner, breaking Troy Ruttman’s mark of 22 years, 80 days. They are Colton Herta (22 years, 61 days), Rinus VeeKay (21 years, 261 days), Christian Lundgaard (20 years, 281 days) and David Malukas (20 years, 245 days).
Droughts could be broken
5. Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport have long been the class of the field in IndyCar, both in championships and 500 contention, but Sunday will mark 10 years since CGR last won in 2012, with Dario Franchitti. In that time, Penske and Andretti have won three apiece. With four cars starting in the top-6, Ganassi will have his chance to snap that streak.
6. Similar to Dixon (and at the same age even), Ed Carpenter has yet another prime opportunity to break a long, long winless streak at IMS, starting 4th on Sunday. He had the car a year ago but a sloppy starting pitstop mired him in the back, and he had to work nearly all day just to get back to 5th by the end.
7. When asked this question, Carpenter always says he’d be just as happy if one of his team’s other cars were to win the 500, but for a guy who grew up around this place and has had so many close calls, I just have to believe it would eat away at him a little. I imagine Sunday would be filled with a lot of mixed emotions that a party that night (along with the winning’s check) might be able to settle a bit, though.
Mounting speed for Swede
8. I’m not sure what it’ll take for us to talk about Marcus Ericsson even half as much as we do Alex Palou, who’s won only once more in this series than his Swedish teammate though the Spaniard is the reigning IndyCar Series champion. Palou’s results have been a hair better and more consistent, and he’s perhaps had a few less errors, but Ericsson is a blossoming talent. Count him as a dark horse for Sunday, starting 5th.
Teams to beat
9. Only three teams make up the top eight qualifiers for Sunday’s race, and (particularly with Ganassi) I’m very interested to see if we’ll see some trading off of the lead between teammates to try and command the pace, while being able to do a little fuel saving and stay out of harm’s way.
10. In that bunch of teammates near the front, Arrow McLaren SP has two drivers (Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqivst) starting as far up as they ever have for the 500. I’ll be interested to see if AMSP puts both its eggs in one basket on strategy, or splits the drivers in hopes of taking a bit of a gamble to snag the first win for the McLaren family at the 500 since 1976.
What to expect from Romain Grosjean?
11. In his oval debut at WWT Raceway a year ago, we saw Romain Grosjean quickly settle in and make some daring passes, but his car didn’t last long at Texas this March. After some serious wobbles in practice at IMS, an incident with Dalton Kellett on Monday and a general reputation for an abrasive on-track attitude, my eyes will be focused on how Grosjean’s first taste of the 500 goes. Could be a major ‘boom or bust’ type of guy.
Three wins for three different teams?
12. He left a little to be desired during qualifying, but Takuma Sato was at or near the top of virtually every practice session. He poured praise on his Dale Coyne Racing team and looks supremely comfortable in his car in race trim. A third 500 win for a third different team hangs in the balance.
Jimmie Johnson can absolutely win Indy 500
13. He’ll have to have an absolutely spotless, lucky day, but Jimmie Johnson has a legitimate shot to win the Indy 500, and boy wouldn’t that’ve been a head-scratcher to hear two years ago. He was in the zone at the end of Texas but just started too far back. Over 500 miles, he can certainly make moves from 12th with the chance to become the third driver ever to win the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 on the line.
MORE INDIANAPOLIS 500:
Can Team Penske rebound?
14. Other than Simon Pagenaud’s magical leap up the field last year from 26th to 3rd, the IMS oval hasn’t been kind to Team Penske since Pagenaud won in 2019. Will Power (11th) and Josef Newgarden (14th) can do work from the top-half of the field, but there’s a lot of really strong cars and talent ahead. If nothing else, Team Penske needs a couple of cars in the top-10 (or better) to quiet the noise that they’ve lost a half-step here.
15. Sage Karam and Santino Ferrucci have a penchant for making big leaps through the field, making up a combined 41 spots a year ago. Ferrucci has a career-best starting spot (15th), nearly matched by Karam (22nd with a personal-best of 21st), and if ever there were to be someone completely out of the mainstream picture to factor into the end of this race, I’d put my money on either of them.
16. Pagenaud, now driving for Meyer Shank Racing, certainly doesn’t want to be starting 16th, but with his race craft, he can work with that. With a couple of good restarts and clean pitstops, Pagenaud could be right in the mix to try to replicate the magic his new teammate Helio Castroneves showed a year ago.
Can Foyt cars and/or Conor Daly find some magic?
17. Since the start of the 2002 season, A.J. Foyt Racing has registered just three top-10s in the 500. JR Hildebrand starting from 17th represents a very solid chance to get that fourth. He has a history of being a quiet mover in this race, and already starting in the mid-pack means the that seven or eight-car leap through the field could be that much more impactful Sunday.
18. Conor Daly got to a very good place with his race car by the end of last May and he’s said over the past two weeks that his ECR No. 20 team rolled out a very similar car right off the trucks. Though he didn’t show the qualifying prowess of his teammates, Daly’s shown he can race here in recent years, and he might’ve been looking at a magical day a year ago had a tire not “fallen out of the sky.”
Aggressive pair to watch
19. During media day Thursday, Alexander Rossi said that without having spoken to Graham Rahal, whom he starts next to on Row 7, he believed the fellow series veteran would know how aggressive the Andretti driver will try to be at the start. He has a penchant for swift drives through the field at times, and Rahal said he’d be just fine hitching a ride. Watch this pair through the opening few laps.
Keep your eyes on Row 9!
20. If you’re looking for some potential magic really far back in the pack, a Row 9 of Colton Herta (a 2022 race-winner), Scott McLaughlin (another 2022 race-winner) and Helio Castroneves (the defending 500 champ) packs plenty of a punch. I’m not sure any of the three have enough to win, but they have the cars and the skills to pull off a Pagenaud-like 2021 leap.
Who will win Indy 500 rookie of the year?
21. With seven rookies spaced fairly evenly from front to back, this year’s Indy 500 Rookie of the Year battle will be fascinating to watch. David Malukas had a strong car for much of the month, but crashed Friday, while Johnson and Grosjean (the rookies with the best starting positions) have major boom-or-bust potential.
Can Castroneves make history again?
22. With a four-time winner who won a year ago at 46 in his first start with a team that had never won in IndyCar before, you’d have to say anything is possible. But for Helio Castroneves to win his record fifth 500 on Sunday, he’ll have to do so from starting 27th, a spot only three drivers have managed to win as far (or farther) back as.
23. That being said, put me down for Castroneves being the biggest mover of the day and making up at least 20 spots for a solid top-10 finish where he might have the hair on 300,000 fans’ skin standing tall with 50 laps to go and history on the line.
Series championship implications
24. By virtue of starting nine places ahead of Will Power from the Fast 12, Alex Palou sits just five points back of the Team Penske driver in the title race entering Sunday, with Power’s teammates Scott McLaughlin (3rd, 20 points back) and Josef Newgarden (5th, 32 points back), as well as Scott Dixon (4th, 27 points back) within reach. With a win, any one of the five would all but certainly take over the lead heading into Detroit.
Is chaos on the horizon?
25. The last two-ish hours of practice over Monday and Friday may foreshadow a chaotic, caution-filled race. Two of the three ended with just one car sustaining damage but involved a second one making at-best a questionable on-track move (Romain Grosjean on Dalton Kellett Monday and Santino Ferrucci on David Malukas Friday). After a 2021 race where the only cautions came from a spin on pit lane and a wheel coming off from a messy stop, we may be due for several sparks that shake up the field and eliminate a few contenders.
26. After seeing how Rahal carved his way through the field a year ago by saving fuel and stretching stints, it sounded on media day like several contenders had taken notice and would be more than willing to sit back, be patient and wait for their moment to pounce. I’d be surprised if any of the serious contenders are willing to lead large chunks of laps early-on, unless it leads to a relatively slow pace for the lead pack as we saw in 2021.
Setting up for a winning position
27. Pretty consistently, drivers said running third or so in a pack was still a reasonable place to try to make a move, but anything farther back is next to impossible to get a serious run without someone ahead bobbling. And with far warmer temperatures than we saw last year, much of the field is expecting to see far fewer passes than 2021.
28. With just a couple of days to take a car that competed in the GMR Grand Prix and transform it into an oval machine, Stefan Wilson, DragonSpeed and Cusick Motorsports were always going to be on the backfoot these two weeks. It was only made worse when the team set the gears up wrong for qualifying Saturday and was forced to make a precautionary engine change that cost Wilson a chance to attempt a qualifying run. Still, if he can keep the car clean, there’s no reason he can’t hope to move into the top-25, or even top-20, by the checkered flag.
29. It seems as if he’s been around forever, but we’ve had only six previous Indy 500s with Juan Pablo Montoya, and with AMSP moving to a third full-time car in 2023, 2022 might be his last. While running in so many different eras of the sport over so few starts, his five top-10s in the 500, including four top-6 runs, speak wonders to his knowledge base. What’s more is he’s far happier with his car this year than last. It likely won’t be a win, but there very well may be some magic left in the tank for the Colombian two-time 500 winner.
The Captain and owner ready for special day
30. Sunday marks the first time Roger Penske has hosted more than 135,000 fans to the IMS that he has crafted in his image. A year ago while giving ‘The Command,’ there was a hint of raw emotion in The Captain’s voice. Standing on the victory podium and hearing the roar of a crowd thankful to be back, when combined with all the pageantry, could lead to one of the most special moments in Penske’s racing life.
Loophole for locals
31. In case you missed it Friday, local fans can watch Sunday’s racewith a subscription to Peacock Premium, which costs $4.99 per month. And if IMS has its way, it will be the last time they’ll allow any sort of hole in the local blackout, barring a future sellout. Enjoy it while you can.
What will the Indy 500 purse be?
32. With IMS still dealing with ticket credits for fans at this year’s 500 related to the pandemic, I’m genuinely interested to see where Sunday’s race purse falls. Penske had promised a $15 million one for his first 500 before COVID-19 struck, when it had been just a hair over $13 million in 2019. Last year’s was more than $8.8 million after roughly $7.5 million in 2020. Without any insider knowledge, I think we’ll be comfortably over $10 million.
Ratings on the rise?
33. Keep an eye on the TV rating next week. With high-profile rookies Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean and the chance for history with Helio Castroneves’ first run at a fifth 500, you would hope IndyCar can continue to build upon the leap it took a year ago with the most-watched 500 since 2016, averaging nearly 5.6 million viewers. Not having the Indianapolis market watching live on linear TV will hurt a bit, but if IndyCar is on the momentum swing it purports itself to be, the storylines should overcome that.
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.