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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

‘Big two’ take mystery out of Indy 500 pole run

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I know racing has always been (and always will be) about those who have the bankroll, and I truly salute the teams that do whatever it takes to get the competitive edge, one that translates into victories, both on and off the track. But is it really too much to ask for just a few more teams that can challenge Team Penske and Team Ganassi Saturday when the green flag drops for what is arguably the most nerve racking four laps in racing?

Traditionalists like yours truly realize that there is little chance of that happening, even though there are more than enough drivers capable of doing just that if they had the vast resources of the “Big Two.”

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti is my pick to start first on race day, but he will find competition from three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who will be seeking his third consecutive pole start for Penske Racing.

Factor in Franchitti’s teammate Scott Dixon as a serious candidate for the pole as well, as the 2008 Indy 500 winner will be near the front when the gun sounds to end qualifying attempts. Penske Racing will also be well oiled with Ryan Briscoe and Will Power doing everything they can to keep their teammate Castroneves honest.

But who really has a shot to sit in the front row right beside one of these heavyweights? Look for possible surprises such as 2006 winner Dan Wheldon and maybe even 2004 winner Buddy Rice, who is back at IMS after a self-imposed hiatus that occurred when he could not find a ride that matched his driving skills the past two years.

Veteran Tony Kannan, now driving for KV Racing, could also be heard from as well as Paul Tracy and Oriol Servia. Regardless of their ability to claim a spot in the front row, it is improbable (make that down right impossible) for anyone to capture the pole who isn’t driving for Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi. Despite that, look for a great day of qualifying at the Brickyard.

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NOTES: Another name to mention for the second and third starting spots is Mike Conway, who is driving for Andretti Autosports.

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The iconic Willy T. Ribbs is back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year with a Firestone Indy Lights team. Ribbs is partnering with Chris Miles of Starting Grid Inc. to give Chase Austin an opportunity some 20 years to the day that Ribbs distinguished himself as the first African-American to compete at Indianapolis in the 500. You can meet Ribbs on May 22 at IMS, where he will conduct a question and answer session with the fans and then sign autographs. The event will take place at the Coca Cola stage at 10:30 a.m. and the autograph session will occur at Pagoda Plaza at 12:30 p.m.

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Tickets for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, which will be held on May 29, can be obtained at the IMS box office or by calling (317) 492-6700.

Danny Bridges, who is certain Willy T. Ribbs would have been super competitive at Indy if he had driven for a top flight team, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.


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