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Thursday, April 15, 2021

98th Indy 500 may be most competitive ever

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There were a record-setting 68 lead changes in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, with 19 drivers on the lead lap when the checkered flag was waved. 

Many racing purists will claim those types of numbers will be nearly impossible to eclipse, but if practice and qualification times are any indication, we could easily see another record-setting performance from a field of experienced and talented drivers this Sunday.

While the big name multi-car teams are still atop of the list in terms of probable winners, they have plenty of company in a field where no fewer than 18 drivers have a legitimate shot to drink the traditional bottle of milk reserved for the winner in Victory Lane. 

The list of usual suspects favored in Las Vegas to win include the “Super Teams” of Penske Racing, which fields entries for three-time winner Helio Castroneves, 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, and Will Power. Target Chip Ganassi enters the fray with a stable featuring 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon and defending champion Tony Kanaan, while Andretti Autosport counters with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe.

But the field has strength beyond the aforementioned, and a winner could certainly come from the likes of pole sitter Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Indianapolis Grand Prix winner Simon Pagenaud, Ryan  Briscoe, and 1995 winner and 1997 Formula One Champion, Jacques Villeneuve. Dark horse candidates that could pull off the upset on race day include Carlos Munoz, Oriol Servia, J.R. Hildebrand, and Takuma Sato.

NOTES: Six rookies will make their Indy 500 debut. The prominent name is Kurt Busch, a regular on the NASCAR circuit, who is attempting to win at IMS and then hop into a waiting Learjet and fly to Charlotte, N.C. for the 600-mile Sprint Cup event that night. Busch will have a doctor on board the flight to evaluate him and administer fluids if needed. He wrecked his primary car in practice at IMS and will now start in a backup car.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will be the honorary starter. Cuban is, of course, an I.U. graduate.

The final practice for the field will be on May 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Indy Lights race will follow that session. Last year the Lights race was a spirited event that featured a phenomenal four-car finish. After the Lights race you can take in a concert by legendary rocker Sammy Hagar. The show is free with a paid track admission.

May 24 is Legends Day and the iconic Mario Andretti will be honored. There will be a Q&A with Andretti and he will also sign autographs. Later in the day, country music star Jason Aldean will perform on the IMS grounds.

Tickets for the aforementioned as well as the 98th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing are still available at the IMS box office. For more info, log onto indianapolismotorspeedway.com or call (317) 492-8500.

Danny Bridges, who can think of no better place than IMS to celebrate his 55th birthday May 23, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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