This Sunday's 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 appears to be the hottest ticket that the event has been since the centennial 100th running back in 2016. According to Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, less than 5,000 reserved seats remained as of Thursday morning for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing". In all, 230,000 seats have been sold, not including infield seating and, of course, the infamous Snake Pit.
As for the race itself, there have been five different winners and four different pole sitters in five different races thus far in the 2023 IndyCar Series season. However, the last race winner, Alex Palou (6/1 favorite at DraftKings), who won the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course, has the pole and will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday.
Before we examine the 33 drivers that comprise this year's field at the Indianapolis 500, we can examine some trends, angles, and storylines.
Indianapolis 500 Trends and Angles
· For the last six years, the Indy 500 winner has come from the top 3 Rows including five of the six from a top 5 starting position at that.
· There have been 35 straight races here where the winner came from no lower than 19th, so it is difficult to come from the back and emerge victorious.
· Combined, Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport have won 14 of the last 18 Indy 500’s and 18 of the last 23 (since 2000).
New blood rising
· We have had a new, first-time winner for the Indy 500 in seven of the last nine years. Also, since 2011, we’ve had a different winner each year with the exception of Takuma Sato (2017, 2020).
Is part-time the right time?
· 2021 was the first time in 10 years since we last saw a part-time driver win the 500. Dan Wheldon did so in thrilling fashion that day in 2011 which came 10 years prior to Helio Castroneves joining the four-win club in 2021.
· Since 1967, just three drivers scored their first career INDYCAR win in the Indy 500. It was Arie Luyendyk (1990), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Alexander Rossi (2016).
· Just 10 total rookies have won the Indy 500 and only three since 1967.
No recency bias
· Among the last six winners, four of the six finished outside the top 10 the year before their victory.
Age is more than a number
· The oldest to win this race is Al Unser at 47 (1987). Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves are both 48. Takuma Sato is 46.
Indianapolis 500 Storylines
Chevrolet vs. Honda
The bowtie brigade (Chevrolet) took eight of the top 12 qualifying positions this year, but Honda took the pole with Palou.
Honda has won the last three Indy 500 races and the last four poles.
Last year, Chevrolet had led nearly 80% of the laps and won all four races entering the Month of May. Honda, however, swept the month including producing six of the top nine finishers in the Indy 500. They also led 166 of the 200 laps too.
Can Scott Dixon finally become a multiple Indy 500 winner?
Although Helio Castroneves has four Indy 500 wins, Scott Dixon (8/1 this year) is clearly the best IndyCar driver of the past quarter-century. Dixon currently rates second all-time for IndyCar race victories with 53 behind A.J. Foyt's 67. Dixon also has six IndyCar season championships, just one behind Foyt. These marks put Dixon ahead of the Andrettis (Mario and Michael), the Unsers (Al Sr, Bobby, and Al Jr), Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Dario Franchitti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, and numerous other open-wheel racing legends.
However, Dixon is arguably the most underappreciated driver in the sport's history with his lone Indy 500 win and his entire career coming in the era where NASCAR has been the number one motorsports series in the United States.
He is the all-time laps led leader in the 106-year history of this great event, second place on the all-time poles list (he has five, Mears has six), and yet he still sits here with just one lone Indy 500 victory (2008) in 20 tries.
Dixon just seems to find a way not to cross the yard of bricks first on Lap 200. He led 73 laps but finished runner-up to his then-Ganassi teammate Franchitti in 2009. He led 73 more laps in a 5th place run in 2011. In 2012, he led 53 laps but was runner-up again to Franchitti. He was on the pole and led 83 laps in 2015 but finished 4th. He won the pole in 2017 but had a frightening crash in Turn 1 that year and would come home 32nd. He led 111 laps in a runner-up effort in 2020, seven laps from the pole in 2021 to where he was caught out by an ill-timed first caution which saw him having to do an emergency pit stop under a closed pit road and then stall as a result. He fell a lap down and would finish 17th.
Last year, he was second in literally all but one practice session, qualified on the pole with a record-setting pole lap, and led 95 laps around this 2.5-mile oval before speeding on pit road for his final pit stop which relegated him to 21st in the end.
Penske Power (or lack thereof)
Roger Penske has owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2019, but he owned the world's greatest racecourse long before that as a competitor with 18 career Indy 500 wins.
The team that still bears his name has not won here either in the 500 or the Grand Prix in the last three-plus years.
Team Penske failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now has led a grand total of 19 (out of a total 600 laps) over the last three years. They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).
This year, Team Penske had all three of its cars make the Top 12 on Fast Friday, but it did not show up last Saturday for qualifying. They once again only got one car through to the Fast 12 Shootout, and that was Power taking the 12th and final spot. Scott McLaughlin (232.677 mph) starts in the Middle of Row 5 (14th), and Josef Newgarden (232.402 mph) will roll off in the Middle of Row 6 (17th).
Although the team has two victories (McLaughlin at Barber; Newgarden on the oval at Texas Motor Speedway), the three drivers currently sit fifth (McLaughlin), sixth (Newgarden), and eighth (Power) in the IndyCar Series Championship standings.
The team is not getting the usual respect it does in the betting market as they are priced at 14/1 (Newgarden), 15/1 (McLaughlin), and 16/1 (Power) respectively. That makes Team Penske's drivers the 10th, 11th, and 12th choices on the odds board, which is unheard of for the all-time greatest team in the sport.
The Indianapolis 500 Field
Alex Palou (6/1)
The Spaniard started seventh here as a rookie in 2020 and was runner-up a year later after qualifying sixth. He started on the front row last year, led 47 laps and finished ninth. He was third in Texas last month and starts on the pole this Sunday. Palou also won the GMR Grand Prix two weeks ago here and is hopeful of the Month of May sweep. However, the pole sitter has won this race just once in the last 13 years and only twice in the last 21 IndyCar Series races. Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing seemingly have put the contract dispute that nearly ended up in court behind them, and Palou did break his teammate Dixon's all-time pole speed record from last year with a 234.217 mph speed last Saturday.
Pato O'Ward (+750)
Mexico's O'Ward won a race on the oval at Texas in 2021, nearly won this past April and has finished sixth, fourth and second respectively in his three Indy 500 starts. He starts in the exact same spot as last year’s winner, Marcus Ericsson (fifth). O’Ward has made 16 oval starts in his career with two wins (2022 at Iowa), five runner-up finishes and 12 top 4 results including 11 top 4’s in his last 12 tries. You know he certainly has the bravery and the moxie if you have watched the 100 Days to Indy series that has been running on the CW and Vice TV as he tangled with Dixon last month at Long Beach and did not cower from one of the all-time greats.
Scott Dixon (8/1)
Speaking of Dixon, he has won two of the last three poles but starts sixth on Sunday. Dixon led 111 of 200 laps in 2020. He led 95 laps last year. If not for an early race caution in 2021 and speeding on pit road late last year, he was the likely winner instead of his teammate Ericsson. However, as noted above, the Kiwi has not won here at Indy in 15 years (2008). He does almost everything right by staying out of accidents, being the best fuel-saver in the sport's history, and having the most engineering and technical knowledge of anyone in the series, but he does not get home as the Indy 500 winner as much as he should.
Alexander Rossi (10/1)
Former F1 driver Rossi won here in 2016 not as being the fastest car but playing the fuel consumption strategy perfectly. He lost the 2019 race to Simon Pagenaud by 0.2 seconds and has four top 5 finishes in seven career starts here. Things had gotten stale with Rossi and his former Andretti Autosport team, so now he is with Arrow McLaren and has been solid all month. He picked up his first podium with his new team a couple of weeks ago in the Grand Prix.
Rinus VeeKay (10/1)
The Dutchman starts on the front row for the third consecutive year. His best finish was 8th in 2021. His Indy-based Ed Carpenter Racing team always has fast cars here, but he has yet to break through with an Indy 500 victory, although VeeKay earned his lone IndyCar victory at IMS for the Grand Prix in 2021.
Marcus Ericsson (11/1)
The defending 500 champion from Sweden, Ericsson was second, fourth, seventh and fifth respectively in the four practice sessions last year, qualified in Row 2 and won in the end. He also finished third last year at Texas as well. Helio Castroneves was the last back-to-back winner (2001, 2002) here at the 500, but Ericsson, who won the IndyCar Series season opener at St. Pete, has the team with Chip Ganassi Racing and talent to do it again. He was seventh, first and fourth in practice this week and starts 10th.
Takuma Sato (12/1)
Sato has three top 3’s in his last six Indy starts and has won the Indy 500 with two different teams (Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), so why not with Ganassi? Sato was quickest in all three practice sessions on opening week last year, fourth on the Monday practice and qualified 10th. He was first in two of the three qualifying week practices, seventh in the other and starts eighth. At age 46, this looks like the best chance Taku will have to become a three-time Indy 500 winner. His 500 wins also come in three-year increments. 2017, 2020…2023?
Santino Ferrucci (12/1)
He finished seventh in 2019, fourth in 2020, sixth in 2021 and 10th a year ago in his four Indy appearances. The high-energy Ferrucci is in a full-time IndyCar seat for the first time in three years with A.J. Foyt Enterprises. The Foyt cars typically run towards the back end of the field most IndyCar weekends, though they had some fast cars at Indianapolis. Pit-stop mistakes will be a concern, but Ferrucci is fast and aggressive.
Felix Rosenqvist (12/1)
The Swede finished fourth last year, but two of his previous three Indy finishes were 27th and 28th. He has a fast car and a good team with Arrow McLaren, and he is also under some pressure as he could be out next year with the team as Alex Palou is joining the team next season.
Josef Newgarden (14/1)
Nashville's Newgarden has won two IndyCar Series season titles (2017, 2019) and 26 career IndyCar races (including at the last oval in Texas earlier this season) in 12 years. He has done everything one can do in this sport except win the Indy 500. He has scored just three top 5 finishes in 11 tries here. The Penske cars have lacked speed over the last three years, and he starts midpack in 17th.
Scott McLaughlin (15/1)
New Zealand's McLaughlin is a three-time Supercars champion in Australia, and he has four IndyCar Series victories in his last season and a half including at Barber earlier this season. However, the Team Penske driver has just two Indy 500 finishes and they are 20th and 29th respectively. Like his teammate Newgarden, he will start in the middle of the pack.
Will Power (16/1)
The two-time IndyCar Series champion (2014, 2022) won the Indy 500 on his 11th try back in 2018. The Australian is off to a slow start this season although he picked up a podium (Top 3) finish at Barber. His last three finishes here have been 14th, 30th and 15th respectively with five of his last seven results being 10th or worse.
Tony Kanaan (18/1)
The 2023 Indianapolis 500 is being dubbed as "TK's Last Lap" as Kanaan is retiring from open wheel racing this weekend at Indy. The 2013 Indy 500 winner is now 48 and has raced an ovals-only or Indy-only schedule since 2020. TK has five top 10s in his last seven Indy tries including a third-place finish last year and is with Arrow McLaren, who qualified all four team cars in the top 9 positions on the grid. He is in a strong car and can go "all or nothing" here not racing in championship points fight.
Colton Herta (20/1)
The son of former Indy Car driver Bryan Herta, Colton has seven IndyCar Series victories in four full seasons including a win at Indy in the Grand Prix last year. However, his best finish in four tries here is eighth despite three top 10 starts. He was 30th last May and rolls off a disappointing 21st on Sunday. Herta has not earned a podium in IndyCar since last summer at Toronto largely due to Andretti Autosport's struggles and lack of team chemistry. Nearly missing out on a F1 ride for both the 2022 and current 2023 seasons may have taken its toll emotionally as well.
Kyle Kirkwood (25/1)
In his first season with Andretti Autosport, Kirkwood has the team's lone victory this season at Long Beach. He finished 17th last year in his lone 500 appearance riding for A.J. Foyt. The Andretti cars have been quiet this month, but Kirkwood has been solid in taking over for the departed Alexander Rossi.
Romain Grosjean (30/1)
Grosjean raced for over a decade in F1 predominantly with Lotus and Haas. Last year was his first full season in IndyCar, and it was a tumultuous season to say the least with numerous on-track incidents, especially with teammates (mainly Alexander Rossi). However, the Frenchman has gotten off to a better start in 2023 with a pair of runner-up finishes at Long Beach and Barber. Nevertheless, he crashed out of his first Indy 500 last year and has not shown a ton of speed this month.
Graham Rahal (40/1)
For those that watched qualifying last Sunday, you saw Rahal's pain when he was bumped from the Indy 500 field by his Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Jack Harvey. However, Rahal gets into this race replacing Stefan Wilson, who was injured in a Monday practice crash with Katherine Legge. Rahal will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Cusick Motorsports and not for his father for the first time since 2012. The six-time IndyCar Series race winner is used to starting in the back because he has never been a strong qualifier but is a better racer on race day.
Simon Pagenaud (40/1)
Pagenaud finished third and eighth in his last two Indy 500 starts. The Frenchman, the 2016 IndyCar Series champion, also has three top 6’s in his last five Indy starts including a win in 2019. Twelve of his 15 career IndyCar Series victories came with Team Penske. He is now running for Meyer Shank Racing, who has not been competitive this season but did pull the upset in the Indy 500 two years ago with Pagenaud's current teammate Helio Castroneves.
Helio Castroneves (40/1)
Speaking of Castroneves, he joined the "4-time club" with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears as the only four-time Indy 500 winners back in 2021. He had a top 10 finish (seventh) here at Indy a year ago and also ran top 10 at Texas, the only oval race thus far this season. Nevertheless, that 2021 Indy 500 victory was his last podium of any sort in the series. Meyer Shank has not shown any competitiveness this season, but Helio will get betting interest for sure in his "Drive for Five."
Ed Carpenter (40/1)
Carpenter, who owns Ed Carpenter Racing and runs himself, Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly, has only run the oval races in the IndyCar Series since 2014. He is a three-time pole sitter here at Indy, and his cars have always been fast but have not always made it to the end. The Butler University graduate and local Indy resident has three top 6 finishes in his last five starts including a runner-up to Will Power in 2018.
The Rest of the Field
Conor Daly (40/1)
The son of former IndyCar and F1 driver Derek Daly, Conor, born and raised in nearby Noblesville, IN, led the most laps in 2021 and if not for a tire falling out of the sky, he would have been in contention for a win in the end. Daly led seven more laps last year in a sixth-placed effort. He is running for Ed Carpenter Racing, who always have quick cars at IMS.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (50/1)
Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar Series champion, did not compete at Indianapolis last year as he went into semi-retirement leaving Andretti Autosport in 2021. He is back this year in a one-off with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, a team owned by local car dealer Dennis Reinbold, who runs Indy only.
David Malukas (50/1)
Malukas, along with Christian Lundgaard and rookie Sting Ray Robb, is the youngest driver in the IndyCar Series at just 21. He probably deserved better than his finish of 16th at Indy last year. While with a smaller-budget team, Malukas has taken a liking to ovals including a top 5 in his last two starts on them.
Marco Andretti (60/1)
Marco, the son of Michael and grandson of Mario, stepped away from full-time IndyCar racing in 2021 and has run an Indy-only program for the last three years. He won the championship in Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham's SRX (Superstar Racing Experience) series last year. Andretti, the 2020 pole sitter with five career Top 4 finishes at Indy (none since 2014), was involved in a street crash on Thursday night but tweeted that he was fine.
Benjamin Pedersen (60/1)
Danish-American Pedersen, who lives in Seattle, came up through the Road to Indy feeder system and is in his rookie season driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. He was a nice surprise in qualifying reaching the Fast 12 and will start 11th. His best IndyCar finish was 15th on the oval at Texas.
Christian Lundgaard (100/1)
The man from Denmark is still getting used to high-speed ovals. He started 31st and finished 18th a year ago. He is one of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars which qualified 31st and 33rd and Rahal's car did not even make the show, so this team has been the slowest all month.
Jack Harvey (150/1)
Lundgaard's teammate had the slowest qualifying speed to make the race. The Englishman has finished 16th or worse in five of his six Indy 500 races.
Devlin DeFrancesco (150/1)
DeFrancesco finished 20th after starting 24th in his rookie start here last year. The Canadian has been a consistent back marker in the IndyCar Series since he went full-time in 2022.
Callum Ilott (150/1)
Ilott started this IndyCar season with a fifth at St. Pete and a ninth at Texas. However, his month of May has been poor. The car has been off all month. He crashed out in his rookie start last year.
Sting Ray Robb (200/1)
Rookie Robb finished second in Indy Lights last year and won the Indy Pro 2000 Championship in 2020, so he has come up through the Road To Indy developmental series. He probably could have used another season in the former Indy Lights series, now known as Indy NXT, but had the financial backing to jump up to IndyCar.
Agustin Canapino (200/1)
The 33-year-old rookie won numerous championships in his native Argentina and races for fellow Argentine Ricardo Juncos. He improved from 19th to 12th in his lone oval appearance at Texas this past March.
Katherine Legge (300/1)
England's Katherine Legge makes her first Indy 500 start since 2013. She was the fastest of all the Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars, but that was not saying all that much this month.
RC Enerson (300/1)
Enerson failed to qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. He is back for his first Indy 500 start with Abel Motorsports, who run a two-car team in the IndyNXT Series.
Best Bets for the Indianapolis 500
Scott Dixon 8/1
Although he is one of the shorter prices, as he usually is, Dixon is currently just seventh in IndyCar Series points and might be actually under the radar this month. This might be the year where he finally gets that elusive second Indy 500 victory.
Alexander Rossi 10/1
Last year was a difficult year for Rossi as he and Andretti Autosport had a somewhat contentious breakup. Now he is with Arrow McLaren, and he just earned his first podium for his new team two weeks ago on the IMS road course. Momentum can be a real thing at Indy.
Takuma Sato 12/1
In 2020, Sato won his second Indy 500 in a year when now Chip Ganassi teammate Dixon led 111 of the 200 laps and dominated the race only to finish second. Sato is only on a part-time oval schedule this season, but not by choice. Even at 46, he still feels he has something left and has something to prove.
Scott McLaughlin 15/1
Both his teammates, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, are former IndyCar Series Champions, but this might be the time for the "new guy" at Team Penske to shine. He had three podiums last year on ovals, and if Team Penske can find the speed that they have not had over the last three years, then he is a legit dark horse to win that is going under the radar this month.
Conor Daly 40/1
Daly posted his best Indy finish with a sixth last year after leading the most laps in the 2021 Indy 500.
Indianapolis 500 Starting Lineup
(Inside) Alex Palou | #10 | Honda | Chip Ganassi Racing | Speed – 234.317
(Middle) Rinus VeeKay | #21 | Chevrolet | Ed Carpenter Racing | Speed – 234.211
(Outside) Felix Rosenqvist | #6 | Chevrolet | Arrow McLaren | Speed – 234.114
(Inside) Santino Ferrucci | #14 | Chevrolet | A.J. Foyt Enterprises | Speed – 233.661
(Middle) Pato O’Ward | #5 | Chevrolet | Arrow McLaren | Speed – 233.158
(Outside) Scott Dixon (W) | #9 | Honda | Chip Ganassi Racing | Speed – 233.151
(Inside) Alexander Rossi (W) | #7 | Chevrolet | Arrow McLaren | Speed – 233.11
(Middle) Takuma Sato (W) | #11 | Honda | Chip Ganassi Racing | Speed – 233.098
(Outside) Tony Kanaan (W) | #66 | Chevrolet | Arrow McLaren | Speed – 233.076
(Inside) Marcus Ericsson (W) | #8 | Honda | Chip Ganassi Racing | Speed – 232.889
(Middle) Benjamin Pedersen (R) | #55 | Chevrolet | A.J. Foyt Enterprises | Speed – 232.671
(Outside) Will Power (W) | #12 | Chevrolet | Team Penske | Speed – 232.635
(Inside) Ed Carpenter | #33 | Chevrolet | Team Penske | Speed – 232.689
(Middle) Scott McLaughlin | #3 | Chevrolet | Team Penske | Speed – 232.677
(Outside) Kyle Kirkwood | #27 | Honda | Andretti Autosport | Speed – 232.662
(Inside) Conor Daly | #20 | Chevrolet | Ed Carpenter Racing | Speed – 232.433
(Middle) Josef Newgarden | #2 | Chevrolet | Team Penske | Speed – 232.402
(Outside) Ryan Hunter-Reay (W) | #23 | Chevrolet | Dreyer & Reinbold Racing | Speed – 232.133
(Inside) Romain Grosjean | #28 | Honda | Andretti Autosport | Speed – 231.997
(Middle) Helio Castroneves (W) | #06 | Honda | Meyer Shank Racing | Speed – 231.954
(Outside) Colton Herta | #26 | Honda | Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian | Speed – 231.951
(Inside) Simon Pagenaud (W) | #60 | Honda | Meyer Shank Racing | Speed – 231.878
(Middle) David Malukas | #18 | Honda | Dale Coyne Racing with HMD | Speed – 231.769
(Outside) Marco Andretti | #98 | Honda | Andretti Herta Autosport With Marco & Curb Agajanian | Speed – 231.682
(Inside) Devlin Defrancesco | #29 | Honda | Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport | Speed – 231.353
(Middle) Agustin Canapino (R) | #78 | Chevrolet | Juncos Hollinger Racing | Speed – 231.32
(Outside) Callum Ilott | #77 | Chevrolet | Juncos Hollinger Racing | Speed – 231.182
(Inside) RC Enerson (R) | #50 | Chevrolet | Abel Motorsports | Speed – 231.129
(Middle) Katherine Legge | #44 | Honda | Letterman Lanigan Racing | Speed – 231.07
(Outside) Christian Lundgaard | #45 | Honda | Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing | Speed – 229.649
(Inside) Sting Ray Robb (R) | #51 | Honda | Dale Coyne Racing with RWR | Speed – 229.549
(Middle) Jack Harvey | #30 | Honda | Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing | Speed 229.166
(Outside) Graham Rahal | #24 | Chevrolet | Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports | Speed 231.648*
W - denotes former Indy 500 Winner
R - denotes Indy 500 Rookie
*-Stefan Wilson qualified the #24 car in the 25th position but was injured in a crash during Monday practice. Graham Rahal, whose #15 car was bumped from the field, will drive the #24 car but moves to the 33rd position on the grid due to the driver change.