2011 Indy 500 Preview: The Contenders

With the Month of May now upon us and the Indianapolis 500 looming closer and closer, it’s time to start looking at the field for the 100th Anniversary running of the famed Memorial Day weekend event. Later on we’ll look at a listing of The Rookies and The Darkhorses. But today we will start with The Contenders: those who are heavy favorites to drink the milk at Indy.

No one on this list should be a surprise to the hardcore race fan, as they are the top pilots in the IZOD Indycar Series. Most of them are employed by the best two teams in INDYCAR, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. However, this tally of top drivers should serve as a nice refresher for those who are just brushing up on their racing knowledge before the Qualifying Time Trials start (or have been too busy watching the Lakers collapse to pay close attention yet).


Will Power – #12 Verizon Team Penske
Indy 500: 3 starts, best start 2nd, best finish 5th, 11 career Indycar wins

There is no hotter driver right now then Will Power ‘” on the road courses. Power has been crushing the other Indycar drivers on winding street circuits, yet he has not won on an oval. Still, Power has completed every lap in every Indy 500 he has run, and he’s the hot hand, so no one will be surprised if the Verizon driver wins easily.


Dario Franchitti – #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing

Indy 500: 7 starts, best start 3rd, 2 wins (2007, 2010), 27 career Indycar wins

Mr. Ashley Judd has never crashed at Indy 500. And he’s the defending 500 winner.


Scott Dixon – #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing

Indy 500: 8 starts, 1 pole, 1 win (2008), 25 career Indycar wins

In 2008, Dixie won the Indy 500 & his second series title, but since then has been overshadowed by the stellar performance of his teammate, Dario. Recently, Dixon has gained more fans by fuming about getting punted around by Castroneves in the first few races. A desire to prove he’s still among the series very-elite (and a chance to “stick it” to Helio) should have him hungry at Indy.


Ryan Briscoe – #6 IZOD Team Penske

Indy 500: 6 starts, best start 2nd, best finish 5th, 6 career Indycar wins

Briscoe has driven for both Ganassi and now Penske, and can be flat out fast at Indy. He will certainly qualify at the front for the 500 and has several high-speed oval wins. In fact, he would be THE favorite for Indy if it weren’t for his tendency to occasionally have a brain-fade and thrown away a sure victory.


Marco Andretti – #26 Venom Energy Andretti Autosport

Indy 500: 5 starts, best start 7th, best finish 2nd, 1 career Indycar win

It may surprise some that Marco should find himself on this list (while your humble writer leaves off names like Paul Tracy, Danica Patrick, etc.) But there is no doubt that Marco always finds speed at Indy, and he famously came inches away from victory in his rookie debut in 2006. Even during these years of Penske and Ganassi cars dominating, young Mr. Andretti has always found his way to the front of the pack.


Tony Kanaan – #82 GEICO Lotus KV Racing Technology

Indy 500: 9 starts, 1 pole, best start 2nd, 15 career Indycar wins

TK, a fan favorite with the Indy 500 crowd, had lost his ride ‘” twice ‘”in the last year due to sponsorship issues. But now he finds himself in a fully funded ride car with the Lotus gang at KVRT, a team that always finds speed at Indy but has never had the kind of talent wielded by a former series champion like TK. Add a fast car to a driver who will very, very hungry (and is always good at the Brickyard) and you have yourself one of the top guys to watch at the 500.


Helio Castroneves – #3 Pennzoil Team Penske

Indy 500: 10 starts, 4 poles, 3 wins (2001, 2002, 2009), 25 career Indcar wins

Helio, one of the bigger names in the IZOD Indycar Series, has quickly gone from media darling to Public Enemy #1 by apparently forgetting how his brakes work. His uncharacteristic bashing into other cars has many wondering if the recent dominance of his younger teammate, Will Power, is starting to get to him. Still, if there is any place for Helio to redeem himself, its Indy. Helio is one of the best at Indianapolis in the modern era, crushing the field on Pole Day last year, and he should have a legitimate shot at tying the record of Foyt, Unser, and Mears with win #4 in 2011.

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Sources: Indy 500 stats fromwww.indycar.com;
Career Indycar (IRL, CCWS, CART, USAC) stats fromhttp://www.champcarstats.com/