Thursday, May 26, 2022

Indy 500: The field of 33 in 2022

This is May, and this post is all about the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Gone are the exciting years of "Bump Day" for qualifying, when a few unlucky teams and drivers failed to bump their way into the field of 33. This year, it sounds like it was quite the saga simply to get to that 33-car mark. Tradition is tradition with 33, so I'm grateful to whoever was involved in making sure the field is full. 

Even though weather came in and ruined a chunk of the Saturday qualifying, the Fast 12 and Fast 6 format on Sunday to determine the first few rows and pole position was enough excitement for the weekend. Scott Dixon won the pole for the second consecutive year with a four-lap qualifying average speed of 234.046 mph. It's the fastest in Indy 500 history, topping 233.718 mph set in 1996 by the late Scott Brayton. Arie Luyendyk has the all-time four-lap qualifying record with 236.986 mph in 1996, but that was on the second day of qualifications and not eligible for a pole run. 

This year's entire field is also the fastest in Indy 500 history, with an average speed of 231.023 mph, beating out last year's record average speed of 230.294 mph. 

By the numbers
The 2022 field consists of eight prior Indy 500 winners, including a trio of multi-time winners. If you don't know Helio Castroneves' name, you will. He's the defending champion and will attempt to make his "Drive for Five" to become the only five-time winner of the event. He won previously in 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2021, though I make the case that 2002 should have an asterisk attached. 

Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato are back again in search of their third victories. Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will look to join the two-time-winner club. 

The record for former winners in a field is 10 drivers, back in 1992. Seven rookies are in the field - the most rookies since 2014 when there were also seven rookies. But a couple of these drivers aren't rookies in auto racing. Jimmie Johnson decided to join the Indy 500 fun this year after racing part-time in the IndyCar Series last year following his successful, seven-time-championship NASCAR career. Formula One racer Romain Grosjean makes his first Indy start, along with drivers Devlin DeFrancesco, Callum Ilott, Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas. 

Ten rookies have won the Indy 500, and three are in this year's field: Montoya (2000), Castroneves (2001) and Rossi (2016). 

For the first time since 2008, when Dixon won this race, Chip Ganassi Racing has cars starting 1-2 on the grid. It was Dixon and the late Dan Wheldon starting at the front that year. 

This year, there are no female drivers in the field for the second time in three years. Last year, Simona De Silvestro started from the 33rd and final position, making history driving for an all-female-owned team. She finished 31st. The 2020 race marked the first time since 1999 that there wasn't at least one female driver in the field. There were four in the race only a few years ago, and now we're back to no women taking the green flag. Take that for what it's worth. This is a tough event and tough spot to break into when it comes to sponsorship and money. 

Starting grid stats
As I have in the past, I'll remind readers that the best chance to win the Indy 500 comes when you give your car a good starting position within the first two rows. Of course, that's not always the case, like last year when Castroneves started in the third row in the eighth position. But for the three previous years, the winner started in the front row; it's happened 45 times in 105 races. 

This is also the annual reminder that no driver has ever won the race starting from the last three positions, row 11. Actually, there are six other starting positions where no driver has ever won the Indy 500: The 18th spot on the outside of row six; 23rd and 24th in row 8; 26th in the middle of row 9; and 29th and 30th in row 10. So if Conor Daly, Marco Andretti, DeFrancesco, Scott McLaughlin, Dalton Kellett, Montoya, Lundgaard, Jack Harvey or Stefan Wilson win this Sunday, they'll make history in that regard. 

A lot of people will keep their eye on Castroneves trying to win his fifth Indy 500. But the last driver to win from 27th was Fred Frame in 1932. 

Go back to 1936 and the inaugural winner in 1911 to find a winner in row 10, 1974 was the last winner out of row 9 and, as mentioned, row 8 hasn't been great either (winners in 1927 and 1935 starting from the 22nd position). The polesitter has won the race 21 times, the latest being Pagenaud in 2019. The winner has also come out of row one 45 times in 105 races. Add in the second row (19 victories), and the winner has come out of those first two rows 61% of the time. 

So it's not entirely surprising that a driver is better served starting near the front. 

This year's row 2 is the most experienced row with 41 combined career Indy 500 starts. Ed Carpenter with 18 of them, Marcus Ericsson with three and Kanaan with 20. 

Row 1

Scott Dixon - No. 9 PNC Bank chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 234.046 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2008

Scott Dixon is a six-time IndyCar champion. He'll start from the pole for the fifth time at Indy (2008, 2015, 2017, 2021, 2022), but he still has only the 2008 Indy 500 victory to his name. The poles are great, but I think he might trade a couple if he could get a second Indy 500 win. He finished 17th last year and led only seven laps. 

Still, Dixon has led 570 laps in his Indy 500 career, the most of any driver in the field.

In his career, Dixon has 51 IndyCar victories, ranking third all-time. 

Alex Palou - No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 233.499 mph 

He's the reigning IndyCar Series champion, the first Spaniard to win an IndyCar Series title, and finished as the runner-up in the 2021 Indy 500 when Castroneves passed him headed into turn one on lap 198 (two to go). He ranks second in series points this season with 156.

Rinus VeeKay - No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile car
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 233.385 mph  

He's in his second full season with Ed Carpenter racing and started last year's race at 20 years old and the youngest front-row starter for the race. He won the road-course, Indy Grand Prix in 2021 for his first career victory. VeeKay has also qualified well each time for the Indy 500, starting fourth or better in his three Indy 500 starts (fourth as a rookie in 2020 and third in 2021).

Last year, he became the youngest driver to start from the front row in Indy 500 history, starting third and finishing eighth. 

Row 2

Ed Carpenter - No. 33 Alzamend Neuro car
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 233.080 mph 

Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter is 41 years old and the only owner/driver in the field. He spends the majority of his time as an IndyCar team owner but races Indy where he's always qualified well. He has three Indy 500 poles to his name, though still looking for a victory. He's won three times in his IndyCar career, all on ovals. 

He's starting fourth for a second consecutive Indy 500. He finished fifth last year. 

Marcus Ericsson - No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 232.764 mph

Ericsson improves on his ninth-place start from last year when he finished 11th. The Swedish driver competed in Formula One before joining IndyCar in 2019. He has two career IndyCar victories, both last season, and nine top-5 finishes. 

Tony Kanaan - No. 1 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 232.372 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2013

Tony Kanaan ended his string of bad luck at Indy when he won the 500 in 2013. He's no longer a full-time racer in the series, but Kanaan is back to try for a second Indy 500 victory. He's still a fan favorite and comes into the race with a total of 346 laps led at the speedway. His last win in an IndyCar, of his 17 total, came back in 2014. 

He's the oldest driver in the field at 47 years, 149 days old as of race day. He's starting from the second row for a second year in a row, starting fifth and finishing 10th last year. 

Row 3

Pato O'Ward - No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 232.705 mph

O'Ward was the 2020 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year with a sixth-place finish. Last year, he started 12th and finished fourth. He won this year's race at Barber for his third career win. 

Felix Rosenqvist - No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 232.182 mph 

The 2019 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, his lone IndyCar win came back in the 2020 season, which is also the last time he's finished in the top-5 in a race. This year's Indy 500 will be his 51st career IndyCar race. 

Romain Grosjean - No. 28 DHL car 
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.999 mph  

He's an experienced rookie in the field in his second full season of IndyCar racing. He previously made 180 starts in Formula One before 2021. He recorded three podium finishes in IndyCar last season but is still looking for his first win in the series. He's been the focus of some controversy lately, bumping into drivers' cars on track, most recently bumping Graham Rahal twice around the same stretch at Barber. 

Row 4

Takuma Sato - No. 51 Nurtec ODT car
Team: Dale Coyne Racing with RWR
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.670 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2017, 2020

Sato won the 500 in 2020 under caution when the race was moved to August because of the pandemic. He also came close in 2012 when he and Dario Franchitti touched on the final lap, sending Sato into the wall and Franchitti to his third Indy 500 win. Sato has six IndyCar wins, the last being that 2020 Indy 500. 

Last year, he started 15th and finished 14th for the big race. 

Will Power - No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske 
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 231.534 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2018

Power was the only Team Penske driver to make the Fast 12 in qualifying, which is much improved from his disastrous last-row start last year. He's also this season's points leader in the IndyCar standings with 170 points after he's finished in the top-5 of all five races so far this season. He's won at least one IndyCar race from 2007-21 and looking to make it 16-straight seasons with perhaps a win at Indy for the second time. 

Jimmie Johnson - No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.264 mph

The buzz about Johnson is that this is his rookie start in the Indy 500 at 46 years old. He's in his second season as a full-time IndyCar driver, but he only raced on the road and street circuits in 2021. Of course, he's most famous for being a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and regarded as one of the best drivers in the history of that sport. The only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in their careers are A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Johnson will look to join that short list. 

Row 5

David Malukas - No. 18 HMD car
Team: Dale Coyne Racing with HMD 
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.607 mph 

Malukas is the youngest driver in the field at 20 years old, his birthday came a couple of weeks after 9/11. He's come up through the Indy Lights ranks, winning seven races in the support series in 2021. He's led three laps so far this year in his rookie season. 

Josef Newgarden - No. 2 Shell Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 231.580 mph 

There's no doubt that Josef Newgarden has established a successful IndyCar career. He won the series championships in 2017 and 2019, after all. He's won a lot of races. But unlike most of his Penske teammates from past to present, Newgarden hasn't won the Indy 500 yet. Running a Penske machine always seems to give drivers a leg up in the Indy 500, so that helps. Newgarden started in row 7 last year but finished 12th. 

Newgarden won back-to-back races this year, on the Texas oval and the Long Beach road course. His best finish in the Indy 500 was third in 2016 with Ed Carpenter's team. 

Santino Ferrucci - No. 23 Palermo's Screamin Sicilian DRR car
Team: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 231.508 mph 

He started back in 23rd last year but rebounded well and finished sixth. He's dabbled in the Formula One support series for a few seasons before landing back in IndyCar for the 500. His seventh-place finish at Indy in 2019 earned him Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. 

Row 6

Simon Pagenaud - No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM car
Team: Meyer Shank Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.275 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2019

Pagenaud is with a new team this season after racing for a while with powerhouse Team Penske, and winning the Indy 500 in 2019 when he and Rossi made it an entertaining finish with multiple passes in the closing laps. He won the IndyCar Series in 2016 and is a 15-time race winner. But he didn't find victory lane in 2021. He started his career in the Champ Car days in 2007. 

JR Hildebrand - No. Homes For Our Troops/AJ FOYT RACING car
Team: AJ Goyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 231.112 mph 

Until Hilebrand does anything else worth noting, he will always be known as the driver who crashed in turn four of the final lap in 2011, paving the path for Dan Wheldon to win the race. It's just the way it is. Hildebrand was still the rookie of the year in 2011, and I imagine that race still haunts him. He's not a full-time driver in the series anymore and instead has made the Indy 500 starts the past few years. 

Conor Daly - No. 20 BitNile car
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 230.999 mph

One of the most exciting moments in the 2021 Indy 500, especially for Hoosier State natives, was when Indiana-native Conor Daly led the race. He finished 13th and led a race-high 40 laps. His best finish was 10th in 2019. The son of former racer Derek Daly, he's still looking for his first win in IndyCar. 

Row 7

Callum Ilott - No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing car
Team: Juncos Hollinger Racing
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 230.961 mph 

He has one top-10 finish this IndyCar season, after racing in three events in 2021. 

Alexander Rossi - No. NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation car
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.812 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2016

Rossi's brightest moment was a fuel strategy that paid off and sent him to victory in the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016 - as a rookie. He has seven victories but the last coming in 2019 when he won at Road America and finished third in championship points that season. He wasn't too pleased with how Indy 500 qualifying shook out this year, a combination of weather/track conditions and the "luck of the draw" of the qualifying order. 

Graham Rahal - No. 15 United Rentals car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.766 mph

Rahal didn't finish last year's race due to a crash. He's turning into a series veteran now, racing for his dad's (1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal) team since the 2007 Champ Car days. He's a six-time race winner but last won in 2017 when he swept the doubleheader at Detroit. He's a driver that's always in the mix but never seems to find himself at the top of the podium. 

Row 8

Sage Karam - No. 24 AES Indiana DRR car
Team: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing 
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 230.464 mph 

Karam is probably just happy to be starting somewhere other than the last row this year. From 2019-21, Karam started 31st on the grid. He had his best finish last year, in seventh place. There was a great piece recently about Karam's struggles and journey through racing in the years following the tragic incident that led to driver Justin Wilson's death at Pocono in 2015. It was a piece of Karam's car that struck Wilson on the track. 

Marco Andretti - No. 98 KULR Technology / Curb car
Team: Andretti Herta Autosport w/ Marco & Curb
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.345 mph 

This marks the second year that Marco Andretti isn't racing in IndyCar full time. He stepped away to pursue some other racing interests, but of course, he still wants to enter the biggest race of the year. With his dad, Michael Andretti, still a team owner, it's a logical step. This will always be a sentimental pick to win, as long as Marco enters the Indy 500 field. He famously lost the 2006 race in his rookie season by the slimest of margins to Sam Hornish Jr. He also won the pole position in 2020. 

Marco is always chasing family history behind his grandfather, Mario Andretti, who is the only Andretti to win the race in 1969. Marco's dad Michael is the greatest driver to never win the race (he got close in 1992, for example), though he's won as a team owner multiple times. Marco usually runs well at Indianapolis, even if drinking the milk always ends up out of reach. 

Devlin DeFrancesco - No. 29 PowerTap car
Team: Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.326 mph 

He's a rookie who competed in the Indy Pro 2000 on the way to IndyCar. 

Row 9

Colton Herta - No. 26 Gainbridge car
Team: Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.235 mph 

If you believe in momentum, Herta has already won one race at Indianapolis this month, the grand prix on the speedway's road course. He's still on the young side of IndyCar - and became the youngest IndyCar winner ever - but he's been successful already in his fifth season in the series with seven victories. His dad and former driver Bryan Herta is part team owner for his car.

Colton will start his fourth Indy 500 this year; he finished eighth in 2020. 

Scott McLaughlin - No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske car 
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 230.154 mph

McLaughlin, the 2021 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, won the first race of this season and ranks third in this year's series points. Before IndyCar, the New Zealander was still with Team Penske but as a successful driver in Australian Supercars. 

Helio Castroneves - No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM car
Team: Meyer Shank Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 229.630 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2001, 2002, 2009, 2021

Castroneves joined legends A.J. Foyt, the late Al Unser Sr. (died Dec. 9, 2021) and Rick Mears on the list of four-time Indy 500 winners when he won the race last year driving for Meyer Shank Racing rather than Roger Penske, the team owner he drove for in most of his successful career. At 47, Castroneves is one of the oldest drivers in the field; he would be the third-oldest winner of the race should he win this year behind Al Unser and Bobby Unser. Al Unser was 47 and 360 days old when he won his fourth in 1987; Castroneves turned 47 on May 10. 

He's the most experienced driver in the field with 21 previous Indy 500 starts. Thirty-five starts is the record, set by A.J. Foyt from 1958-92. 

The Indy 500 has seen five back-to-back winners, with the last being Castroneves when he won in 2001 and 2002. Before that, it was Al Unser in 1970 and 1971. As an extra incentive, BorgWarner (of the famous Borg-Warner trophy) put up a $400,000 bonus for Castroneves if he can achieve victory once again. 

Castroneves has won the race starting in rows 3, 4 and 5, never from the pole or the first two rows. 

Row 10

Kyle Kirkwood - No. 14 ROKiT / AJ FOYT RACING car
Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 229.406 mph 

He's the only driver to win championships in all three divisions on the Road to Indy support series in Cooper Tires USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights series before making the jump to IndyCar as a rookie this season. 

Dalton Kellett - No. 4 K-LINE / AJ FOYT RACING car
Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: 228.916 mph 

It's his third year as an IndyCar regular. He struggles to find speed during races. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get lapped early. He crashed out of Indy in 2020 to finish 31st but improved to finish 23rd last year. And as I worked on this piece, Kellett crashed into the wall in practice the Monday following qualifying. He came out of it unscathed. 

Juan Pablo Montoya - No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP 
Engine: Chevrolet 
Qualifying speed: 228.622 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2000, 2015

Another one of the most veteran race drivers in the field at 46 years old. He won the storied race as a rookie in 2000. Montoya dabbled in CART, NASCAR, sports cars and Formula One in his diverse racing portfolio. He's the only driver to win the CART championship (1999), Indy 500 (2000) and Rolex 24 at Daytona (2007) in his first attempts. He has 15 career wins in CART and IndyCar. 

Row 11

Christian Lundgaard - No. 30 PeopleReady car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 227.053 mph 

He's in his first full season in IndyCar this year, with one top-10 in five races so far. 

Jack Harvey - No. 45 Hy-Vee car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 226.851 mph

He finished 18th in last year's Indy 500. He's one of five drivers who have won on both the oval and the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Indy Lights series. He's still looking for his first victory in the top IndyCar series. 

Stefan Wilson - No. 25 DragonSpeed / Cusick Motorsports car 
Team: DragonSpeed / Cusick Motorsports
Engine: Chevrolet
Qualifying speed: No speed; did not run due to engine change/weather

Wilson carries on the racing history in the footsteps of his late brother Justin Wilson. Stefan's best finish was 15th in 2018; he was the leader on lap 195 but had to pit for fuel on lap 196 and surrender the lead. He crashed out in last year's racing, registering a 33rd/last-place finish. He'll make his fourth Indy 500 start this year. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

30 years later: Breaking down the 1992 Indianapolis 500

Gordon Johncock's 1982 Indy 500 winner.
It's 2022 and time for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. This means it's been 30 years and 40 years since a couple of the closest finishes in the history of the greatest spectacle in racing. In 1982, Rick Mears and Gordon Johncock dueled in the final laps to the checkered flag. Mears tried to make a pass on the final straightaway but came up just short. At a 0.16 margin of victory, it was the closest finish in Indy 500 history until that point. 

Then a decade later, the 1992 race essentially said: "hold my beer" and became the closest finish in the history books, a 0.043 margin of victory for Al Unser Jr. over Scott Goodyear that still holds up today.

When thinking back on the history of the Indy 500, there are a couple of races and finishes that will always stand out. And the thing is, as exciting as those finishes were, plenty of memorable things happened earlier in the race as well. In 1992, the polesitter spun before the drop of the green flag. And 1982 is also known for a completely chaotic start with a front-straight crash involving multiple vehicles when Kevin Cogan's car suddenly veered sideways and turned into another car. 

So, let's dig into the 1992 Indy 500, the 76th running of the race. First, we need to set the mood by watching the intro video from the ABC broadcast, narrated by the legendary broadcaster Paul Page and set to music from the Delta Force theme. If these intro videos don't pump you up for watching the Indy 500, I don't know what to tell you. 

"The largest single gathering of people for a sporting event," Page tells us. Yes, it's true. The speedway is massive and full of fans, especially during this era of the early 90s. "There comes a time in a race where money doesn't matter, living doesn't matter, winning is the only thing that matters," says Al Unser Jr. 

Pre-race festivities, setting the scene
Jump to some of the pre-race festivities, and we hear Gomer Pyle, aka Jim Nabors, singing Back Home Again in Indiana. It's about the traditions and people. That song title seems to be used more and more in recent years for Indy 500 marketing and merchandise. Maybe not being from Indiana contributes here, but I don't think it's *that* great of a line that we need to go that hard on the marketing. 

Anyway, next we get the "lady and gentleman, start your engines" call from Mary Fendrich Hulman, the chairman of the board emeritus Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Lyn St. James made her rookie start in the field, necessitating the need for the call change. Then we get a few close-ups of cars getting fired up, the driver faces in their helmets as Page narrates. 

Page mentioned the "crisp, cold day here... the coldest we can remember." My dad attended this race as his first Indy 500 in-person, and he is still disappointed that it was "like a football game" as far as the weather is concerned. It was overcast and a chilly 51 degrees for the race, which seems more like a typical Memorial Day weekend in Minnesota than in Indiana. 

Pit reporter Gary Gerold walks with team owner Chip Ganassi from the grid back to the pits. And then, we have our first of many, many glitches of the race. John Paul Jr.'s No. 93 machine failed to start on the grid, so they hand-start it to get going. 

Cue the on-screen graphics for the Valvoline-sponsored Race Analysis for the 500-mile, 200-lap race. The average speed record was 185.981 mph set in 1990, and the field averaged a qualifying speed of 223.479 mph. Things are a bit faster 30 years later. 

ABC's Jack Arute is in the pits with some new rules for pit lane, one of which is that the pit lane speed limit is 100 mph during cautions. Now, I believe the pit speed is even slower and drivers have the capability to put on their speed limiter to avoid going too fast. Some still get penalties because they must get on that button just a little too late. 

Issues before the green flag drops
Legendary Bobby Unser, a 3-time Indy 500 winner and then-broadcaster (may he rest in peace), is driving the pace car and reports a bit from the vehicle. Page is very concerned about how the cold day is going to affect the cars. As if on cue, this is when polesitter Roberto Guerrero spins out on the backstretch, hitting the inside wall on the second parade lap. Win the pole, and you don't even make it to the green flag after not getting up to race speed. 

They're not done with that incident yet, and then there's a stopped Philippe Gache, a rookie, who spun in the fourth turn of the track. "We're not even to the pace lap of this race," Page says. Three cars have had issues already. Time for a quick commercial break from the early carnage. 

Finally, it's time for the green flag to finally drop, with only the two-car front row of Eddie Cheever and Mario Andretti. Green! Green! Green! Cheever takes the lead, but he is quickly sandwiched/passed by the father/son duo of Mario and Michael Andretti. Commentator Sam Posey later says that he thinks Cheever missed a gear. It's son Michael who quickly jumps to a commanding lead, leaving the rest of the field in his dust. No one is even close to him. 

Arie Luyendyk from Team Chip Ganassi passes Mario for second place. And for as much minor carnage as there was before the race started, the entire field should be commended for making it through the first turn and first lap without any incident. But don't worry, we're less than 10 laps in when rookie Eric Bachelart, the Indy Lights (support series) champion slows and pulls off to the inside of the track, bringing out the first of (spoiler) many cautions we'll see on this day. 

Signs of the 90s times 
Before going to break again, the broadcast catches a shot of Sandy Andretti, Michael's wife, sitting along the pit wall in what must have been a very-stylish-at-the-time puffy white jacket and hat with stars and gold trim. It's always been a theme for the camera crews to catch up with wives and girlfriends in the pits during the race and then usually as the winner crosses the finish line. 

I should mention, too, that 1992 has on-screen graphics to let viewers know the leaderboard. That's been in place for many years, but the graphics only pop up at certain times, usually right before commercial breaks. So keeping track of the leaders is a bit tougher than it is today with the constant on-screen crawl of names. 

Back to the caution period, Mario Andretti comes into the pits in his Havoline/Kmart machine. There's something electrical his crew is working on. We also get a brief interview with Kenny Bernstein, Guerrero's car owner, who can't really shed too much light on the situation about the polesitter's spin. 

St. James, who's 45 years old at the time, is in 22nd place, and we'll keep an eye on her throughout the race. Bobby Unser has also made his way from the pace car to the broadcast booth. 

Back to green, for a moment
We're back to green-flag racing, and Michael Andretti again runs away from the rest. They run a lap or less before 1983 Indy 500 winner Tom Sneva slams into the wall to bring out another caution. He's crashed in five of his last seven starts and hasn't finished the race since he won it, Posey tells us. But hey, he'll still always be an Indy 500 champion. In this case, Senva lost it coming into turn four and slammed into the outside wall. Parts go flying. Sneva is taken off on a stretcher into the ambulance but waves to the crowd as he goes.

Time to check in with polesitter Guerrero. "I keep hoping this is a dream or a nightmare," he says, adding that he was trying to warm up his rear tires in light of the cold weather. He seems in complete disbelief, for sure. 

Another commercial as the caution continues, and then we come back to a pre-done feature from Arute showing us the 1911 winning car, then shows the IndyCar decades later, with the computer screen for drivers behind the steering wheel along with all the other knobs and buttons. Things look much different today, of course, with all the advancements in technology. 

Mario Andretti had a short in the ignition wire, so he's back running. But we're not done checking in with him. At this point, Al Unser Jr. is back in 20th place before the restart after 19 laps. Tuck that away for later. Apparently, the drivers have also radioed their crews that they're pretty cold while turning laps. No, really? It's cold.

Checking in with the field

Scott Brayton is in second place, and then Luyendyk passes his teammate Cheever for third place. Michael Andretti is still dominating out front. He has speed (220 mph) that no one else can seem to match yet. 

Checking in on other parts of the field, Bobby Rahal moves around John Andretti, the nephew of Mario. This race field has four drivers named Andretti, with Mario, Michael, John and Mario's other son, Jeff Andretti. 

We get a little on-board camera action with 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, driving the Miller Genuine Draft-sponsored car before making another pass. Scott Goodyear also jumps into the pits, starting the race from the back row. Then we go back to the track and get a leaderboard update to find out the race is on lap 37. 

Cut to a pre-taped interview with Michael Andretti answering a question about the Indy 500 and how he's not intimidated by it. A lot of it has to do with the family history, he says, adding that if he wins this race it will be a bonus because he's done so many other things in his career. Thinking about it 30 years later, that's a good way for Michael to look at it. 

The 1989 Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi passes Jimmy Vasser, whose name we hear for the first time as the fastest rookie in the race. Vasser went on to a successful career in the car before becoming a team owner. 

Also, much of the field isn't on the lead lap anymore. Michael Andretti just put his dad a lap down, for one thing. Rick Mears is also down a lap and comes into the pits for a routine stop, which are in the 15-16-second neighborhood in 1992. Posey comments that Mears doesn't have the speed today. 

After 51 laps, Michael still leads, with Cheever in second, followed by Brayton, Luyendyk and Fittipaldi. Then we see driver Scott Pruett, in a Budweiser-sponsored car, glides into the pits with a cloud of smoke coming behind him.

Racing history in the booth
Page informs us that Michael led 97 laps in the 1991 race, the most of any driver that year. But it was Mears who came away with his fourth (and final) Indy 500 victory that year. Posey adds that Michael is running away with this race. Will the Andretti curse show up once again this year? The Valvoline Race Summary graphic shows us that after 50 laps, Michael led 39 of them with an average race speed of 158.631 mph and five lead changes (pit stops shuffle things). Thirty cars of the 33 are still running at this point. 

Johncock makes his way onto the inside apron of the track with smoke coming out of his rear, a blown engine. Johncock, you'll remember, is famously the winner of the 1982 race, beating out Mears. Johncock heads into the pits here, but the caution flag comes out anyway after 62 laps. Nothing with Johncock here, but we see a John Andretti crew member getting stretchered the pits after an injury from that last pit stop. Sounds like he came into the pits too hot.

More cautions and updates
Green flag once again with only three cars on the lead lap - three! Michael, Cheever and Fittipaldi. And as restarts breed more cautions, there's another crash. It will end Gache's day this time, a day he'll probably want to forget. His car was hit, sitting in the middle of the track with various debris scattered around while the safety team attends to him. Stan Fox was the other car involved, and he apparently hit Gache in the incident. 

On the replay, we see Gache lose it in a corner, hit the outside wall and then the car drifted down the track as traffic comes by. Fox really didn't have anywhere to go. While Fox walked away, Gache is wheeled to the ambulance on a stretcher, appearing to be moving around and relatively alright though. 

We get a couple more pit-row updates during the caution, talking to Pruett after his engine blew, learning more about a supposed radio problem for Michael Andretti and an update on Luyendyk. Unser Jr. is up to 6th during this caution, and we get another update on St. James, "taking her time" during a pit stop. Cue the pre-taped interview with St. James and her discussing how she got interested in racing. She talks about being friends with some guys as a teenager, and they were all interested in cars. "It was just a lot of fun," she says, of racing. 

She also adds: "I was the girl. But it was ok." She was comfortable in that world, too. So, before Danica Patrick, before Sarah Fisher, there was Lyn St. James. 

Under caution, Arute has another Indy 500 Track Facts feature, about a new safety feature near the entrance of the pits, where there have been some bad crashes in the past. Then we check in with Fox outside the medical center, he's fine. 

This one is shaping up to be a weird one
On the restart, Michael Andretti continues to leave the rest of the field in his wake. I guess they really didn't wave off the restarts because the field wasn't bunched up enough like they do now. Posey comments that this is effectively a one-man race right now. 

And just as quickly as we had a restart, the caution flag comes out again as Fittipaldi, one of the cars who had been running up front, crashes into the wall. It's here that Page remarks what an unusual race this has become, from the polesitter spinning before the race started to all of these crashes during the race. 

On the replay, it looks like it's Mears and Jim Crawford who connect for a crash, too, and then Fittipaldi comes into frame hitting the wall on his own before coming across the first crash or any debris. Mears and Fittipaldi are both Team Penske cars, so Roger Penske is not too pleased at this point, I'm sure. Mears is stretchered off, waving to the crowd. Fittipaldi gets onto his stretcher under his own power but looks to be in some pain. 

When two Penske cars - two Indy 500 champions - go out within seconds of each other in the race, you know it's a bad day at the speedway.

'More like a war zone'
Let's check in with Gache outside the track medical center. He's alright as well. He also indicated that he had an engine problem before the start of the race. And hey, it's a good thing Arute and ABC made a few of these canned feature stories because here's another one during this caution. It goes over the evolution and changes of the cars at Indianapolis since 1911, complete with old footage from past races. 

Let's have some carnage in the pits, too. Dominic Dobson had an issue when he tried to drive away without a left rear tire attached. We also have a crew member for Mario Andretti's team getting his right foot attended to, complete with a close-up of the man's ankle. 

We have another leaderboard update after 70 laps, with Michael leading, Cheever in second and an update needed as it still lists Fittipaldi in third even though he's out of the race. Luyendyk, Rahal, Unser Jr., Brayton, Goodyear and Paul Tracy follow. At this time, 26 cars are still listed as running, with Mario in the last spot. 

Just as I note that, the green flag drops, we see Michael navigate through some lapped cars on the front stretch, and just as quickly we see yet another crash coming out of turn four. It's Mario Andretti, and his car comes to rest on the inside of the track near the pit entrance. His onboard camera shows him throwing his steering wheel aside.

Bobby Unser offers up this line: "Well it's been more like a war zone today than it has been a race." 

Well said. 

On the replay riding with Mario, it looks like the back end just got loose and sent him into the wall. Posey said Mario has failed to finish in 20 of 27 Indy 500 races to this point. Andretti Curse, anyone? Add another piece of evidence to the file. 

Posey, upon seeing this crash replay again, says this race has turned into a demo derby. Also, he mentions the technology of the IndyCars keeping the drivers safe. We get plenty of replays of Mario's onboard camera, seeing his head whip around in the car. 

This marks the sixth caution period of the day. Take a ride around the track with Rahal's onboard camera while another graphic-box with his pretaped interview shows Bobby talking about his love for the sport of IndyCar racing. That's why he keeps racing, because he loves it. 

Pit stops, check-in for more medical updates
Michael and Cheever enter the pits for routine stops under the yellow. The speed limit in the pits under yellow is 100 mph, and Posey notices how slow that looks. He's right. It's amazing how slow the cars look, even when they go around the track under caution speeds. Cheever beats Michael out of the pits amid the lapped traffic. 

The booth fellas talk a little bit more about the cold day and how that affects the tires. Now let's see if this next restart is a clean one for a few laps. Michael has some lapped traffic to jump around here. The speed he's carrying is really fun to watch. 

In another interview outside the medical center, we hear from Rick Mears' dad, Bill Mears, which is different. He assures us all that Rick is OK, including his feet, which is concerning from a past crash Mears had years ago where his feet were badly injured. 

As Rahal and Brayton compete for third place, Brayton's engine lets go with the now-familiar sight of a cloud coming out of the car's rear. Another Buick engine fails a driver on this day, according to Bobby Unser. This is right before the halfway mark of the race, about 93 laps in, as Brayton makes his way down pit line and out of harm's way. 

More and more cars are out of the race
The Goodyear blimp gives viewers a shot of Michael Andretti on the restart from high above. But hold on, because Tracy slows and pulls off into the grass while rookie Vasser slams into the wall and settles into the infield grass while the safety teams attend to him. Bobby Unser has had enough and casually slams the rookies for not knowing about the cold tires etc. It's been a day in the booth, folks. 

Brayton is out of the race, by the way, and also mentions the cold temperatures affecting things in his on-camera interview. I wonder what Michael Andretti is thinking at this point. He obviously has an extremely fast car and is turning laps like nobody else. But the near-constant caution periods have to be annoying, too. 

With all the carnage, we get a word from Dr. Henry Bock, the medical director at the speedway, to update the media on Sneva (good condition, negative X-rays), Crawford, Mears (right knee injuries), Fittipaldi (left knee puncture wound) and Mario Andretti (feet injuries) are going to Methodist Hospital. 

Some more pit interviews here, including Rick Galles, the car owner for Al Unser Jr. He mentions being back on the lead lap and says "you never know." 

Only 19 cars are still running. We get a list of those out of the race: Guerrero, Bachelart, Sneva, Pruett, Johncock, Gache, Fox, Mears, Crawford, Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Brayton, Tracy, Vasser. So yeah, fun times out there on track. Most of those were from crashes, too, rather than mechanical issues. 

Another restart, another crash
We're finally ready for another restart, and we get only a couple of seconds of green-flag racing before rookie Brian Bonner crashes hard into the outside wall in turn four before he reached the green flag. He gets out of the car wearing a white driver suit with an apparent Applebee's sponsorship on the back. 

At about halfway through the race, 51 laps were run under green and 51 laps under yellow. So not only are all the bundled-up spectators having to sit outside in these cool temps, they're not being treated to a ton of green-flag racing. And the staff making up the safety teams and the track medical center certainly earned their money on this race day. Speaking of, let's throw it to another pretaped feature about the track medical center, getting an inside look at the facility and procedures. 

127.982 mph is the average speed of the race up until this point, with eight caution periods. 

It's not just the drivers who've had issues during the race either. Come back from the commercial and we see a member of Luyendyk's crew getting some attention after a mishap where he was refueling, lost his balance and slipped across the back of the car as Luyendyk pulled away. Page comments "thank goodness" that the refuelers in the pit crews are required to wear helmets. What's jarring to watch this 30 years later, however, is that he's the only one wearing a helmet. Now, all pit crew members wear firesuits and helmets for safety. 

Time for a restart once again, if we dare. Seven cars are on the lead lap. Due to some shuffling, Al Unser Jr. had the lead, but it didn't take long for Michael Andretti to charge back to the lead. A few more laps tick off, Rahal makes a pit stop for a flat tire and we get a brief shot of Michael's No. 1 Texaco car along the back straight. 

Then, another crash. Posey simply utters "Jeff Andretti" as we see his car hit the wall and come to a stop in the middle of the track. Gary Bettenhausen is also caught up in the aftermath in his bright Glidden car; he's now failed to finish 15 of his 20 Indy 500 races. Man, that is some bad luck right there. 

On the replay, it looked like Jeff's car lost a right-rear wheel before the corner and his car went flying into the outside wall. "That's a head-on crash. That's a bad angle there for Jeff," Bobby Unser says as we see the gruesome replay of the car indeed slamming into the wall and destroying the front end. 

Halway point
Just past halfway, and Page calls this "a race riddled with accidents" as he throws it to break. Crews are working hard to get Jeff  Andretti out of the car. The way the driver's feet are so close to the front wing of the car, it's pretty obvious there would be some bad potential injuries to his feet. Posey reminds us that two Andrettis are on their way to the hospital, the other being Jeff's dad, Mario. 

With another caution, let's roll an in-depth feature about driver Nelson Piquet, a former Formula One champion who suffered a brutal crash practicing for the 1992 Indy 500. He hit the wall outside of turn four, injuring his feet and legs pretty badly. Seeing the replay, it looks like a similar crash to Jeff Andretti's, who by this time is getting loaded into the ambulance. 

Meanwhile, his brother Michael is still driving around the track, knowing that his family members (and yes, fellow racers) are both headed to the hospital. We're up to 119 laps of the race, with 16 cars still running, 17 out of the race. 

We're so desperate for some content here - before calling it "content" was even a thing - that ABC now throws the segment to pretaped interviews with Formula One drivers, asking them what they think of the Indy 500 and if they're interested in the race. Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese and the legendary Ayrton Senna weigh in. 

As we get back to some shots of crew chiefs and driver wives sitting in the pits, I have to say, it's weird to see everyone sitting out in the open. I'm talking about canopies and timing stands that today are commonplace in the pits. Every team has their own booth area, also with their technology toys like laptops etc. How times have changed. 

Remember Luyendyk's crew member who nearly got run over? Well, we learn that a member of Crawford's crew stepped in to help out with Luyendyk's pit stops in his absence. That certainly doesn't happen much. 

Green, green, green again. Let's see how long it can last. 

"We're at lap 124, and I think we've got a race on our hands," Posey says. 

Focusing in on the leaders
Cheever is assessed a penalty for passing on under the yellow (that's a no-no), so he's fallen back in the field now. But they talk to car owner Chip Ganassi, and he's irate because he has no idea where that penalty came from. He apparently passed Raul Boesel. 

Al Unser Sr. is up to fourth place, and Page floats the idea of Big Al being the first five-time winner. Meanwhile, Michael is flying at 228.6 mph around the track. Unser Jr. went by on a 222.178 mph lap. I don't want to jinx it, but we're also getting a bunch of green-flag laps. Michael has about a nine-second lead, ahead of Luyendyk and Unser Jr. Sixteen cars are still running after 130 laps. 

And... we're back. Second-place Luyendyk connects with the wall to end his day and bring out yet another caution period. That pushes Unser Jr., Unser Sr. and Scott Goodyear into the positions behind Michael. 

The Unsers are now leading under caution as I imagine Michael must have come into the pits. Let's cut to a pre-taped clip of Unser Jr. talking about how emotional he gets during races. Keep that one in the back pocket. 

A day to remember for the Andrettis
Posey says that it's certainly going to be a day for Michael to remember, not only for his domination of the race but because his dad and brother both ended up in the hospital following crashes. He's also working his way up the list of all-time leaders in terms of laps led at Indianapolis. 

As Michael weaves his way through lapped traffic, he comes across Unser Sr., and the elder driver passes Michael right back before Michael gets him again on the inside. He just seems to have speed that isn't matched by any other driver on this day. 

Buddy Lazier slows on the backstretch on lap 149. He's a young driver at this point, but I recall him as a driver that perhaps overstayed his welcome and raced for a long time in the Indy 500. 

With another caution period, let's go back to the doc outside the track medical center for more updates. Dr. Bock tells us that Brian Bonner has gone to Methodist Hospital with a bruised left foot and right shin injury. Vasser has an apparent fractured right thigh bone. Jeff Andretti has a concussion and severe injuries to his feet and ankles. Luyendyk will be released shortly with a bruised right foot. 

Unser Jr. is the leader of the 14 running cars on the 12th caution period, two fewer than the record number of caution. The booth also confirms that Michael came in to fill his fuel tank, which took him out of the lead. Ted Prappas' car is pushed down pit lane, leaving St. James as the lone rookie still running, in 11th place. Thirteen cars remain in the race with 150 of 200 laps complete. 

Lap 154, and it's back to the green flag. Unser Jr. still holds the lead, and under-the-radar Goodyear is in second place. He started in last place. No driver has ever won from last place. But after 165 laps, Michael has regained the lead, turning laps at 229 mph. This is definitely his race. 

Now, the chatter in the booth has started to really turn toward discussing Michael's dominance of the race and the potential that he'll go all the way and win it. It would be the second win for the successful Andretti family at Indianapolis. Posey brings up this point in the race in 1987 when Mario was in about the same position as Michael is now, and Mario's engine decided to let go at that point. Interesting. 

Michael is into the pits now, giving up the lead if only for now. A clean stop for Michael, getting him new tires and fuel. Goodyear comes in for his final stop, too. This puts Big Al and Little Al into the top spots, but they still need to stop here, and they do. It's 628 Indy 500 laps led for Big Al before he heads into the pits. One of the best to ever run at the speedway. 

Lap 178 and Michael is back in the lead after that round of pit stops. Stops here are 14-17 seconds or so, and yes, they're much faster today. Under 10 seconds. With so many cars out, here's a reminder that four-time winner Foyt and 1986 winner Rahal are still running, too. They come in for routine pit stops. 

We're at 18 laps to go now, and how can Michael not win this race, right? 

Closing in on the finish, and it's dramatic
Posey comments on the battle for second place "should anything go wrong with Michael" being one of the best they've seen in a long time, between Unser Jr. and Goodyear. Posey is so good in the booth, by the way. I enjoy going back to old races and hearing his voice alongside Page. 

Lap 188 is complete, and Little Al passes Goodyear for second place. 

Eleven laps to go, Page says, followed up by this with a shot of Michael's car: "And Michael is slowing. Michael is slowing. The rest of the field is coming past. Michael Andretti is slowing down. Al Unser Jr. will take the lead as Michael Andretti slows down at Indianapolis. An unbelievable turn of events. The man who has dominated this race, on the 189th lap, suddenly the car slows and Michael appears to be done."

Then we get Bobby Unser: "Paul, that is another Andretti thing. It's sad for Michael. I have never seen a race driver in my life that deserves this race more than Michael Andretti. And he isn't even going to make it back to the pits." 

"We've got a whale of a race on the racetrack," Page says, as the focus now turns to the tight battle between leader Unser Jr. and Goodyear. The yellow flag does come out here, because of Michael's car on the track. Arute tells us about Michael's radio communication to the team: "I can't believe it, the engine quit," Michael reportedly told his team. 

There are 10 laps to go. What a heartbreaking day for Michael and the Andretti family. Michael led 163 laps. Total domination. And his engine failed him. 

We go back to green with less than 10 to go as Goodyear tries to chase down Unser Jr. Forget all the caution periods, the cold day, all the cars that are out of the race. There are seven laps to go, and these two are going to give the fans a shootout of a finish. Goodyear is definitely within striking distance to try and make a pass. For now, just enjoy watching these two race around the oval. 

Goodyear is closing the gap, there's no doubt. Three to go, and he's right there. Right behind him. Two laps to go, and Page reminds us that this was the time in 1989 when Fittipaldi and Unser Jr. touched wheels, sending Unser Jr. into the wall and Fittipaldi on to victory. 

The white flag is out, Page reminds us of the close finish a decade ago in 1982 between Johncock and Mears. The final corner, the final stretch before the yard of bricks. Goodyear closes in and tries to come around Little Al on the inside. And I've gotta say, that's some not-so-great camera direction from ABC going on as the cars cross the finish line. Right at that happens, we get a shot of the flag stand waving the checkered and one holding up a sign completely blocking the shot. Is that really necessary? Kind of ruined the moment a bit. 

Al Unser Jr.'s 1992 Indy 500 winner.

But anyway... Little Al holds him off and wins his first Indianapolis 500! 

Posey is right there with this: "I believe that's the closest finish in Indy history. Closer than the race 10 years ago when Gordon Johncock beat Rick Mears!" Bobby Unser, Little Al's uncle, says it's the most fabulous finish he's ever seen. 

We see the Unser Jr. pit crew celebrating, then get an interview with car owner Rick Galles who says "this feels good." 

The broadcast does show us a slow-motion view of the finish, with Goodyear's pass attempt and Little Al winning by less than a car length. The margin of victory: 0.043. It still holds up prior to the 2022 race as the closest finish in Indy 500 history. So for all that, one of the most unusual, crash-filled, injury-riddled days at the Speedway, fans were treated to the closest finish ever. 

An emotional celebration for Unser Jr.
Page then tells a story about Unser Jr. telling him on a plane recently that he was worried he may never win this race. 

Now it's time to see Unser Jr. in his car with the Borg-Warner trophy behind him. Arute is there for the comments and celebration. Unser Jr. says he almost took it too easy off turn four, then gets a hug from his car owner as the traditional jug of milk is handed to him. 

Arute asks Unser Jr. about his dream of winning the Indy 500. Unser Jr. said he didn't think he had a chance to win this race, mentioning Michael Andretti. Arute jumps in with an "it sounds like there's some tears in your voice right now." 

Then Little Al offers this line that is one of the most memorable from Indy 500 celebrations: 

"You just don't know what Indy means."

Go listen to the clip to hear the emotion in his voice as he gets more hugs. 

Page has this fact for us, too. Bobby Unser won on May 24, 1981. Al Unser Sr. won on May 24, 1987. Al Unser Jr. wins the Indy 500 on May 24, 1992. By the way, Big Al took third place in this one, not that anything really matters other than first place here. 

So, we've reached the end of the minute-by-minute, lap-by-lap journey through the 1992 Indianapolis 500. A race that is most notable for the polesitter's spin before the green flag, the high volume of car carnage and the closest finish of all time. Thanks for coming along on the ride with me. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Indy 500: The field of 33 in 2021

The world is healing. That's a phrase I've heard and used many times recently, especially when it comes to the sports world. Things are much different than they were a year ago, when everything was pretty much shut down because of a worldwide pandemic. While the COVID-19 virus is still around, vaccines have been shot into arms and restrictions have eased. 

Now, it's time for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 this weekend. 

Last year, the Indy 500 was delayed and run in August without fans in attendance. While the series was fortunate to run the event, not having hundreds of thousands of fans there to witness it just wasn't quite the same. This time around, the brickyard will welcome back about 40% - or about 135,000 fans - to the storied oval. 

This year's field of 33 IndyCar drivers represents the fastest field in the history of the race, averaging 230.294 mph. It eclipses the 2014 grid at 229.382 mph. The cars will be led by Scott Dixon after he won his fourth career pole at Indianapolis, tied with Rex Mays, A.J. Foyt and Helio Castroneves for second-most all-time; Rick Mears has six Indy 500 poles. 

Part of the story in IndyCar the past couple of seasons has focused on age and a bit of the changing of the guard. This year's Indy 500 field contains nine drivers who are at least 40 years old. One of those is polesitter Dixon. Four-time winners A.J. Foyt and Al Unser were both 47 years old when they won their final Indy 500. Unser won his last 500 in 1987. 

According to Indy Star, Troy Ruttman was only 22 years and 80 days old when he won the Indy 500 in 1952. This year, Rinus VeeKay (20), Colton Herta (21) and Pato O'Ward (22) will try to beat that mark and become the youngest winner of the race. 

Castroneves is still trying to become a member of the elite four-time-winner club. He turned 46 years old earlier this month. But he's not quite the oldest driver in the field. Tony Kanaan hit 46 last December. Two-time winners Juan Pablo Montoya (45) and Takuma Sato (44) will try for win No. 3. Champ Car champion Sebastian Bourdais is 42. Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay are all 40 years old; Carpenter is the only one of those four to be without an Indy 500 win, though he's won pole multiple times. 

On the flip side, the other two drivers on the front row are 21 and 20 years old. The field also has a pair of 22-year-olds in Pato O'Ward and Santino Ferrucci and a pair of 24-year-olds in Alex Palou and rookie Pietro Fittipaldi. 

This year's race field also features a record nine former Indy 500 Rookies of the Year. Eight ROY winners started the race back in 1990. 

Starting grid
Traditionally, it's usually best to start in the first two rows if you want to win the race. That makes sense, of course. But 104 races is quite the sample size, too. The winner has come from the first three starting spots (row 1) 45 times, including each of the past three years. Sixty-four of 104 race winners have started in the first two rows.

Here's a look at the field of 33, the details and some other tidbits about the drivers.

Row 1

Scott Dixon - No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.685 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2008 

Dixon is fresh off his sixth IndyCar championship in 2020. He won his fourth IndyCar pole position, and also his first overall IndyCar pole position since 2017. He started from the Indy 500 pole in 2015 and 2017. When he won his only Indy 500 race in 2008, he also started from the pole. The polesitter has won the Indy 500 21 times, most recently in 2019 with Simon Pagenaud's first 500 victory. 

Dixon has a race win under his belt this season in Texas. Last year at Indy he started and finished second. For all of his overall success in IndyCar, Dixon still only has one Indy 500 victory to his name. Should he finish his career without another trip to victory lane for the storied race, he'll be tied on my list with Mario Andretti as the best drivers to not reach two-time winner status. 

Though Dixon only has one race win, he's led 563 laps in the Indy 500, more than any other driver in the field. 

Colton Herta - No. 26 Gainbridge car
Team: Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.655 mph

Herta has already shown in his young career that he might be better than his dad, team owner Bryan Herta. He's already matched dad's four-win total in his fourth season. Colton is the first IndyCar driver born in the 2000s and also became the youngest race winner in IndyCar history with his 2019 win at Circuit of The Americas in Texas. He was 18. 

This year, Herta was on the provisional pole for Indy before Dixon knocked him off at the end. Herta won at St. Petersburg this season. This is his third Indy 500; he finished eighth last year. 

Rinus VeeKay - No. 21 Bitcoin car

Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying speed: 231.511 mph

At 20 years old, Rinus has the honor of being the youngest front-row starter ever for the Indy 500. He started fourth and finished 20th last year. This is his first full season competing in IndyCar. Rinus already has a win at Indy this season, on the IMS road course earlier this month. 

Row 2

Ed Carpenter - No. 20 SONAX car
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying speed: 231.504 

Ed is a hometown favorite who's won the pole at Indy three times but is still looking for a win at the speedway. He splits his time between being a team owner and driving the ovals. He has three career victories, the last coming in 2014. 

Tony Kanaan - No. 48 The American Legion car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 231.032 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2013

He's led a total of 346 laps at Indy and had his share of bad luck before finally reaching for the milk bottle in 2013. The 2004 series champ is always a fan favorite though he no longer races full-time in the series. His last career win came back in 2014; he has 17 victories overall. 

Alex Palou - No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.616 mph

Palou finds himself in a good starting spot in his second Indy 500 and second IndyCar season. He earned his first IndyCar victory on the Barber Motorsports Park road course in April, fending off the likes of Will Power and Scott Dixon. 

Two winners in the past 10 years have come out of row two: Dan Wheldon (2011) and Takuma Sato (2017)

Row 3

Ryan Hunter-Reay - No. 28 DHL car
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.499 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2014

Hunter-Reay is a 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy 500 winner along with being the 2008 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. He's run into some overall bad luck, especially so far this season, but will look to join the two-timer club at Indy. 

Helio Castroneves - No. 6 AutoNation/SiriusXM car
Team: Meyer Shank Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.355 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2001, 2002, 2009 

The big story for Castroneves, as it has been since 2010, is his quest to win four 500s. He came close in a shootout with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014. Should Castroneves win this year, it would mark a 20-year gap from his first Indy 500 victory to his last. That would set some additional history; Al Unser Sr. went 17 years between his first and fourth Indy 500 victories (1970-1987). 

Marcus Ericsson - No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing car
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying speed: 230.318 mph

The Swede is in his second season with his current team and third in IndyCar in search of his first win. His first two Indy 500s have been forgettable, finishing 23rd and 32nd. He spun coming into pit lane and hit the wall in 2019, and he crashed only 25 laps in last year. 

Kenny Brack was the last row-3 Indy 500 winner, back in 1999 during the dreadful IRL/CART split years. Eight winners have come from these three starting spots. 

Row 4

Alexander Rossi - No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation car
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 231.046 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2016

Rossi made a name for himself as a rookie who won the Indy 500 with a great strategy in the race's 100th running in 2016. He came close to victory No. 2 in 2019 in a shootout with eventual winner Pagenaud the last few laps. Rossi had the lead but Pagenaud passed him headed into turn 3 on lap 198. 

The last winner out of row 4? Rossi in 2016. Four winners in the past 20 years have come out of row 4. 

Ed Jones - No. 18 SealMaster car
Team: Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 231.044 mph 

After not having a full-time ride in 2020 due to the pandemic, Ed Jones is back in 2021 for his fourth Indy 500 start. Ed also started from the 11th spot at Indy in 2017, when he finished third as a rookie. Ed also earned IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors for his 2017 season. He is searching for his first IndyCar victory and has three top-five finishes to his credit. 

Pato O'Ward - No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 230.864 mph

Pato is last year's Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. He's one of the three youngsters that has a chance to break Ruttman's 69-year-old record as the youngest winner of the Indy 500. Racing in his second 500, O'Ward finished sixth last year after starting 15th. This season, he earned his first victory in the second Texas race and also started from the pole at Barber. 

Row 5

Pietro Fittipaldi - No. 51 Military Salutes NURTEC ODT car
Team: Dale Coyne Racing with RWR
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 230.846 mph 

Pietro may be one of two rookies in this year's Indy 500 field, but he's another driver who has a family history in the sport. His grandpa Emerson Fittipaldi is a former Formula 1 champion and two-time winner of the Indy 500, most famously getting his first win in 1989 when Emo's car touched wheels with Al Unser Jr. near the end of the race, sending Little Al into the wall and Emo to victory lane. Emo ranks sixth on the all-time laps led list with 505 in his 11 Indy 500 starts. 

Pietro has some solid racing experience for being only 24 years old. He raced in IndyCar in 2018 and was supposed to make his Indy 500 debut that year. But he broke his legs in a qualifying crash in the WEC.  

Felix Rosenqvist - No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP 
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 230.744 mph

The Swede won his first IndyCar race last season at the four-mile road course, Road America, driving for Chip Ganassi. He's a 2015 FIA Formula 3 European champion. He finished 12th in last year's Indy 500. 

Takuma Sato - No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleRady car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 230.708 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2017, 2020

Sato, a two-time Indy 500 champion, will attempt to be the fifth driver to win the race in back-to-back years. It's a feat that's been accomplished only five times in race history, the last being Helio Castroneves in 2001-02. A win Sunday would also make him the first driver to win three Indy 500s in his 40s. He's also noted as the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race.

Nine Indy 500 winners started in row 5, the last being Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015. 

Row 6

James Hinchcliffe - No. 29 Genesys car
Team: Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 230.563 mph 

Hinchcliffe has quite the past at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He nearly died from injuries he sustained during a practice crash at Indy in 2015. He was back a year later and won the pole position; he finished seventh. He started in the middle of the pack in 2017 and finished 22nd. Then in 2018, he was bumped from the Indy 500 starting grid. He made the last row in 2019 before starting sixth and finishing seventh for the 2020 race. 

He has six career IndyCar wins, the last coming during the 2018 season. 

Scott McLaughlin - No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 230.557 mph 

McLaughlin may be a rookie when it comes to IndyCar, but he's no stranger to racing. He's also the highest-qualifying Penske car in the field, as the team struggled to find speed during qualifying. 

Ten rookies have won the Indy 500, including Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Helio Castroneves in 2001 and Alexander Rossi in 2016. McLaughlin will look to be No. 11. 

Graham Rahal - No. 15 United Rentals car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 230.521 mph 

Graham has become quite a veteran of the sport over the years, racing for his dad, 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal. Graham is seeking to become another father-son combo to win the race. Graham has six career victories since he started in Champ Car in 2007, the last coming in 2017.

Only four drivers found themselves drinking the milk after starting in row 6. Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 from there in 2012, and Dan Wheldon won his first in 2005. 

Row 7

Conor Daly - No. 47 U.S. Air Force car
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 230.427 mph 

He'll be the driver sporting a mullet if you spot him outside of his race suit and helmet. Conor makes his eighth Indy 500 start looking to improve on his best finish of 10th place in 2019. He's another second-generation driver. His dad Derek Daly drove in Formula 1 and IndyCar. 

Jack Harvey - No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM car
Team: Meyer Shank Racing 
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 230.191 mph 

Harvey has already had success at Indianapolis. He won the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race in 2015 and won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He's one of five drivers to have won on both the oval and road courses at Indy. 

Josef Newgarden - No. 2 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 230.071 mph 

Josef, a two-time IndyCar champion in 2017 and 2019, has plenty of race wins to his name. He's still looking to put his name on the Borg Warner trophy, however. He's won 18 races in his career, including four each in 2018 and 2019. Racing for Team Penske always puts drivers in a good spot to have success at Indy, but Newgarden has watched his teammates like Castroneves, Pagenaud and Will Power celebrate Indy 500 victories the past few years. 

He'll have his work cut out for him. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the most recent winner to start out of row 7, back in 2014. 

Row 8

JR Hildebrand - No. 1 ABC Supply Foyt Stewart Racing car
Team: A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 229.980 mph 

Hildebrand's famous moment at the Indy 500 is one he'd probably like to forget. Until he wins the race, he'll always be known as the driver who hit the wall coming out of turn four in 2011 on the race's 100th anniversary. He perhaps got a little greedy trying to go around a lapped car and ended up hitting the outside wall. Dan Wheldon went on to victory lane, his last victory before he was killed in a crash at the end of the season. Hildebrand did earn Rookie of the Year honors for that 2011 race though. 

Santino Ferrucci - No. 45 Hy-Vee car
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 229.949 mph 

The youngster finished fourth last year in his second Indy 500. He'll rebound Sunday after a practice crash at Indy. Santino finished seventh as a rookie in 2019 when he also started from the 23rd spot. 

Juan Pablo Montoya - No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP car
Team: Arrow McLaren SP
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 229.891 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2000, 2015

Montoya is a veteran driver returning to Indy with hopes of joining the three-timers club. He's done it all, racing in CART, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula 1. He won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000 and then again in 2015 in his third running of the race. He returned to open-wheel racing in 2014 after six years in F1 and NASCAR. Sunday marks his sixth start in the Indy 500. He crashed out in 2016 to finish last, but other than that he's never finished lower than sixth place.

Getting further back into the field makes it harder for drivers to get up front and win the race. A car starting in row 8 hasn't won the 500 since 1935. Only two drivers have won out of this row.

Row 9

Marco Andretti - No. 98 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana/Curb car
Team: Andretti Herta-Haupert w/Marco & Curb-Agajanian
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 229.872 mph 

For the first time in his career, Marco isn't a full-time IndyCar driver. The 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year stepped away this season to try his hand at some other forms of racing. But, of course, he's back at Indy on a course where he usually runs very well, despite the family history that's largely disappointed. 

His famous Indy 500 moment came down to one of the closest finishes in the race's history. He looked like he was going to erase the Andretti Curse in 2006 and win the race, until Sam Hornish Jr. passed him on the front stretch to take the checkereds. That second-place finish is still Marco's best, though he's always raced among the leaders. He won the pole position last year but finished 13th. 

Marco has often lived in the shadow of the successful careers of his grandfather Mario (1969 Indy 500 winner) and father, now-team owner Michael, who's considered the greatest driver to never win the Indy 500. Thirty years ago, Michael dominated the race before Rick Mears ended up crossing the line first for his fourth Indy 500 win. 

A driver named Andretti has raced in the Indy 500 every year since 1965.

Simon Pagenaud - No. 22 Menards Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 229.744 mph 
Indy 500 wins: 2019

Pagenaud battled it out with Alexander Rossi in the 2019 Indy 500. Pagenaud made a pass going into turn three to seal his first victory at the yard of bricks. He's a 2016 series champion with 15 career IndyCar victories. He's also won the Indianapolis road course three times since the inaugural run in 2014. In 2019, Pagenaud swept the month of May with a win on the Indy road course, winning pole for the Indy 500 and then winning the race.

Sebastien Bourdais - No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing car
Team: A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevy 
Qualifying time: 229.744 mph 

Bourdais' greatest success came in the 2000s when he dominated Champ Car during the last years of the IRL split, winning four straight championships from 2004-07. He might already have an Indy 500 victory or two under his belt if not for that ridiculous split. He's made 213 career starts in Champ Cap and IndyCar, winning 37 races.

While there's a lot of experience coming out of this year's row 9, it will take strategy and some luck to get a win. The last winner coming out of row 9 was Johnny Rutherford in 1974. A win this year would be No. 3 for a row-9 starter. 

Row 10

Stefan Wilson - No. 25 LOHLA SPORT/Cusick Motorsports car
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Qualifying time: 229.714 mph 

He's the younger brother of the late Justin Wilson. Stefan doesn't have a full-time ride in IndyCar, but he'll make his third Indy 500 start this year. His best finish is 15th in 2018.

Max Chilton - No. 59 Carlin car
Team: Carlin
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 229.417 mph

Max has raced in IndyCar since 2016 with only one top-five and eight top-10 finishes in his career. This is his fifth start in the Indy 500 (he failed to make the field in 2019). His only top-10 finish was fourth in 2017.  

Dalton Kellett - No. 4 K-Line Insulators/AJ Foyt Racing car
Team: A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 228.323 mph

In Dalton's second year in the series, if he leads a lap at Indy, it will be his first in an IndyCar. He crashed out of last year's race, good for 31st place.

Only two winners have come out of row 10 in more than 100 years. The first was Ray Harroun, the inaugural winner in 1911. The last was in 1936. 

Row 11

Sage Karam - No. 24 DRR-AES INDIANA car
Team: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 229.156 mph 

Sage Karam is another driver who doesn't have a full-time ride in IndyCar anymore. But he's found himself starting in the 31st position for the third year in a row. 

Will Power - No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske car
Team: Team Penske
Engine: Chevy
Qualifying time: 228.876 mph
Indy 500 wins: 2018

Power, lucky to make the field which is new territory for Team Penske, will start from the back row as the second-ever Team Penske car to do so. Mario Andretti started 33rd in 1978 because of a driver switch after qualifying; Mario raced the Belgian Grand Prix in Formula One during Indy 500 qualifying. 

Power is an IndyCar champion and won the 500 in 2018. He struggled to find speed all qualifying weekend and managed to qualify at the top of the last-row shootout. 

Simona De Silvestro - No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO/Paretta Autosport car
Team: Paretta Autosport
Engine: Chevy 
Qualifying time: 228.353 mph 

Simona is making history with her team, an all-female-owned squad with women on the pit crew as well. She raced in open-wheel previously. Her last start at this race came in 2015. She'll suit up for her 69th career IndyCar start this Sunday. 

Last year's race was the first time the field of 33 did not include at least one female driver since 1999. This year, de Silvestro is back with a history-making race team. 

Once again, here's my annual reminder to readers that no driver has ever won the Indy 500 starting from the last row. For these drivers, it's usually a victory in itself simply to make The Show. That's especially true this year for Team Penske-affiliated entries Will Power and Simona de Silvestro. 

And now, drivers, start your engines!