Contenders Fill Up Indy 500 Field

Ed Carpenter is one of several favorites who could win Sunday's Indianapolis 500. (Dave Heithaus Photo)
Ed Carpenter is one of several favorites who could win Sunday's Indianapolis 500. (Dave Heithaus Photo)
Ed Carpenter is one of several favorites who could win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. (Dave Heithaus Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – In a year where there is no clear-cut favorite in the 98th Indianapolis 500, throw about 15 names into a hat and pick one.

That may be the best way to predict a winner for this year’s race.

It’s the closest field by time in the history of the race and the fastest field in Indianapolis 500 history. The first three rows in the field of 33 drivers are stacked with strong contenders but the winner of the race could come from anywhere in the field.

Look no further than defending winner Tony Kanaan, who starts 16th – inside row six – in Sunday’s auto racing classic in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’m starting with no pressure, which is kind of the way I like it,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse. We had a poor qualifying day. I like my chances. I think the field this year is even tougher than last year. Last year you had nine guys in the field that could win. This year I think it’s double.

“My biggest motivation is that I’m driving a car that won this race a few times. Three of my best friends have driven this car – (Alex) Zanardi, Dan (Wheldon) and Dario (Franchitti). Chip (Ganassi) gave me an opportunity this late in my career that doesn’t come around very often. That’s all the motivation I need.”

Teammate Scott Dixon won this race in 2008. The three-time IndyCar Series champion starts inside row four – sandwiched between 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch.

“It’s about track position, for sure,” Dixon predicted. “You can’t just lay back. You need to work hard to make sure you maintain in order to be in the top six or eight. But then it gets down to strategy and figuring out what you need to do fuel-wise, who your strongest competitors are and what your car needs – whether you need to trim out or whether you need more downforce. If you leave that stuff too late, you’re going to get waxed at the end.”

Ryan Briscoe is another Ganassi driver but he starts way back in 30th position after a poor qualification performance. But the driver realizes he can still race his way to the front because the Dallara DW12 chassis is an outstanding race car that allows tremendous drafting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“In all the years I’ve done this race and then someone else wins it and you see them drinking the milk I’ve never been so jealous,” Briscoe said. “You know in that moment right when you are watching that guy drinking the milk you are just like ‘God I wish that was me.’ I just want it so bad.

“Hopefully one day, hopefully this year, hopefully this Sunday, but hopefully I have a few more shots at it too.

“We have ourselves in a bit of a sticky situation starting at the back of the grid for the race. On the flip side of that we did work a ton with our race set-up. It’s the best car I’ve ever felt around this place.”