Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Five Fearless Indy 500 Predictions

Is it almost here? Is it really almost here? Can you tell I'm getting excited?

My weekend starts to get busy soon, so I guess that means I am the first one out of the gate with a few Indy 500 predictions. Here we go!

*Like the last three years, the race will be wide open. Which means, there are probably a dozen drivers who can win. Actually, it might be closer to half the field. Don't believe me? Look at the current IndyCar points standings, there is a lot of talent there with a lot of great past performances at the Speedway.

That said, I'm picking Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 2015 Indianapolis 500. As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I typically don't like to go with the obvious choice, which in this case is Scott Dixon, because I can't recall the last time a "favorite" going into the race actually won. While the guys who have won the last few races could hardly be called darkhorses, I'd say if you look at the last four winners (Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay), you'd find reasons why on race morning they were a little off the radar.

That's where Montoya resides as well, thanks to his awful qualifying effort Sunday that put him 14th on the grid. But don't forget, Hunter-Reay won from the 19th starting position last year, while Franchitti started 16th in 2012 and fell to as low as 28th early in the race. But Montoya had a good shot at winning last year, and has his open wheel chops back, as evidenced by the fact he already has a win and is leading the points this season. Plus, his swagger and confidence is there too, and when he has that going for him he is tough to beat.

*If you are looking for darkhorses, here are two of them. Justin Wilson and JR Hildebrand. Wilson, who has three top-7 finishes in the last five years, has the best car of us career under him. Prior to qualifying sixth on Sunday, he had never before started the race in the first three rows. Hildebrand came one turn from winning in 2011 and had a big redemption moment last year when he ran well and eventually finished 10th.

*Graham Rahal will finish on the podium. He's on the list of my favorites to win, but given his last victory in the series came six years ago, he's not high on that list. It's not the back-to-back, runner-up finished the last two races that have impressed me, it's the way he's gone about them, working his way up the field and then driving at the utmost level of his abilities at the end of both of them. He could change a lot of opinions about him on Sunday, including mine.

*Starting 23rd, Sage Karam will be the race's biggest mover. He showed what he is capable of last year when he dashed from 31st starting position into the Top 5 before coming home ninth, and his qualifying effort aside, he's had a good month where he has finished near the top of the speed charts. While road courses are still a challenge for him, he's shown all the way up the Road to Indy ladder that he loves ovals. In fact, his finish at Indy last year marks the only time in his open wheel career that he didn't finish on the podium. Scary good, isn't he?

*Final prediction(s): 40 lead changes, a race average above 180 mph. OK, so six fearless predictions. Like the last three years, no doubt the lead will switch hands a lot, with most of those changes coming on track. While we won't approach the record of 68 from two years ago, there will be more than the 34 from last year. One trend on ovals over the last few years in the IndyCar series is that there are a lot of long green runs, and we've had green runs of over 130 laps in 2013 and last year's race went clean and green for the first 149 circuits. It should be crazy.

So there you have it. Over the last couple of years I've been about 50/50 with my predictions, but I know I nailed them this time! It should be a good race, and hopefully the finish of the 500 fortnight goes better than the beginning. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@15daysinmay) for race day updates. Just a warning, I have an iPhone 6 now and am not afraid to use it!

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