Friday, May 27, 2011

Preliminary Race Picks

With race day fast approaching, it's time to start winnowing the field and picking the one guy who's going to win the race. But that's really hard and not much fun, so I'm going to pick a top 10. It's called "hedging my bets."

Much has been made of the Galactic Empire-like dominance of the Penske and Target Gannassi cars. They have won 8 of the last 11 500s and all but three races in the last two seasons. Popular sentiment, as one might imagine, runs against these 5 cars, and that's been buoyed by a front row containing cars from two other teams. The 500 is a different kind of race: since 2008, only 6 of the 15 available top-5s have gone to Galactic Empire teams. First, the 500 is a long enough race that alternative strategies have time to play out and work-something that doesn't happen in a 300 miler at Chicagoland or a sub 2 hour street circuit race. Second, when bad luck bites at Indy, it tends to bite hard. Recent years have seen a rash of pit road mistakes by the major teams. Only Sam Hornish was able to overcome one of these, in 2006, and then just barely.

So think of this as a "who to watch" list for the race. I'm trying to maintain a positive tone, so I'm not mentioning those teams/drivers that I think will encounter trouble (and I do think some will). I also reserve the right to change my mind up until leaving the Coke lot on Sunday morning, and may make major adjustments after carb day.

Without further ado:

  1. Scott Dixon – Could have been on the pole if not for fuel issue. The most effortless, deadly fast of the Galactic Empire cars.
  2. Dario Franchitti – Ordinarily a number 1 pick, but he didn’t have quite the speed Dixon did in qualifying. His experience and savvy make him likely to be up front at the end. (Now I'm wondering if his slower-than-Dixon pace in qualifying was the result of an optimized race setup insufficiently trimmed out for qualifying, which-combined I think with a great pit selection-may make him more dangerous in the race.)
  3. Oriol Servia – Will probably be a popular pick to win, the better for taking down the Penske/Gannassi onslaught. He just might do it, and nothing would make me happier.
  4. Townsend Bell – Fast in qualifying after two straight strong results as a one-off.
  5. Marco Andretti – Honorary member of the Galactic Empire (his car owner father may be the least popular person in Indianapolis this week). Truth is, he’s always fast at Indy (Three podiums in five starts) and has demonstrated much-improved maturity this year.
  6. Dan Wheldon – Veteran steps into the cockpit and picks up right where he left off. Seems happier and more relaxed with former teammate Herta’s team and after four race “vacation.”
  7. JR Hildebrand – He’s a fast rookie with the 2nd place team from the last three years.
  8. Justin Wilson – Despite popular opinion, one of the top five drivers in the series, on road courses and ovals.
  9. Tony Kanaan – Is he ever not a threat? Especially at Indy? Much better off than last year’s 33rd place starting position. And he ran as high as second then. I'm not concerned about his KV team.
  10. Alex Lloyd – Another driver hoping to follow up a great 2010 finish. Pulled out a great qualifying run when it counted.

Oh-I seem to have left off a Penske car. That might be a problem. I had better hedge my bets and add one more:

  1. Will Power – Strongest Penske driver in the field. Riding momentum and desire.

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