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10 things to know about the Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday with a wide-open field and a pair of drivers trying to join the elite list of four-time winners. Two Americans start on the front row, along with Carlos Munoz, an unknown Indy 500 newcomer who grew up idolizing Juan Pablo Montoya _ a fellow Colombian who won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” as a rookie.
Here’s 10 things to know about Sunday’s race, which starts at 12:12 EDT:
FOUR TIMERS: There are two drivers trying to win their fourth Indianapolis 500 to join an exclusive club that currently only has three members. Rick Mears was the last driver to win a fourth Indy 500, joining A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. in the group in 1991. Now 22 years later, both Franchitti and Helio Castroneves both have a shot Sunday at grabbing win No. 4. Franchitti is the defending race winner, while Castroneves picked up his third victory in 2009.
FAMILY CURSE? Marco Andretti will start on the front row in third, the highest starting spot of his career. No matter how Andretti starts his season, he always goes into the Indy 500 as a contender because of his race craft at the speedway. It just so happens, though, that Andretti is off to the best start of his career this year and is second in the standings. He also feels far more confident about his chances this year than he did last season when he said the race was “mine to lose.” He’ll be trying to break the “Andretti Curse” that has plagued the family and made Mario Andretti’s 1969 victory their only win.
BAR SET HIGH: Last year’s race was considered one of the best in Indy 500 history as Franchitti, Sato and Dixon raced down the stretch for the win. Sato spun and wrecked as he attempted to pass Franchitti on the final lap, and the Scot sailed o his third victory. Dixon finished second and Tony Kanaan wound up third as three of Dan Wheldon’s closest friends swept the podium on a day dedicated to the late driver. It set the bar high for Sunday, but three different winners in the first four races of the season has raised expectations that this year’s race could be another thriller.
AJ’S GOAL: AJ Allmendinger is making his Indy 500 debut seven years after he left open-wheel racing for NASCAR. He had the best job of his career with Roger Penske when he was suspended last July by NASCAR for failing a random drug test. Penske has given Allmendinger a second chance in IndyCar and there are some who believe he’s got a solid chance to win on Sunday. Allmendinger starts fifth, but his Penske Racing teammates believe he’s got the best car of the group and has deftly handled traffic all month. Allmendinger figures if he wins the race, Penske will have to add more races to his schedule. So far, next week’s doubleheader at Detroit is all Allmendinger has planned this season.
GOOD WILL HUNTING: Will Power went into the Indy 500 last year riding the momentum of three straight victories. He’s not won a race since, though, and said this has been the most low-key month of his career because he’s ranked 18th in the IndyCar standings. His races this year have been plagued by problems no fault of his own. The tone was set in the season-opener at St. Pete, where J.R. Hildebrand hit Power’s car while under caution. Although Power has 16 career victories, he’s never won on an oval and has never won an IndyCar championship _ leading him to lament he’s never won anything important. A win Sunday would take care of that.
USA, USA: The field of 33 cars has a red, white and blue feel this year with 11 Americans in the race. Leading the charge is Ed Carpenter, the local guy who starts on the pole for Sunday’s race. An American driver has not won this race since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Four-time winner Foyt has an American in the field with newcomer Conor Daly, and believes an American winner would give the race and the series a boost. “I think what made Indy as great as it was before (was) that 90% of the drivers were American drivers,” Foyt said. “I think that’s where everybody builds a big fan base. Our hero is going to Indianapolis, and we want to follow him.”
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