Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Helio looks ready for fourth Indy 500 win

Sacramento, California – Is it me or did it seem like 90 percent of the field for this year’s Indianapolis 500 qualified at 224 miles per hour?

There’s certainly a logjam at that number, something that experts point to as making this 94th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing a wide-open affair.

I’m not sure I see it that way.

When the three Penske cars – pole-sitter Helio Castroneves, No. 2 starter Will Power and No. 4 starter Ryan Briscoe – were running practice laps in fighter jet-style formation last weekend, I had a vision of it being a preview of the final stages of this Sunday’s race. It very well could go that way.

Three Penske cars, expertly prepared, running up front, for the most successful car owner in Indy car history. Pretty hard to bet against that combination.

The Target-Chip Ganassi duo of 2007 Indy winner Dario Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon looks formidable enough. They seemed down on oomph compared with the Penske trio, but who knows whether that was gamesmanship leading up to the race?

Maybe Franchitti and Dixon will do better on race day. They started out strong in last year’s race and then faded, clearing the way for Castroneves to breeze to his third 500 win.

My gut tells me that Castroneves is so dialed in that he will win his record-tying fourth Indy 500 this weekend. He loves the track, he knows it by heart, he has the experience and he appears to have the best car. He’s arguably the biggest favorite since Rick Mears started on the pole in 1982, with a qualifying speed far and away better than his rivals.

Those of you who remember 1982, however, might recall that Mears lost by an eye-blink to Gordon Johncock. It’s racing. Anything can happen.

If it’s not Castroneves (pictured), don’t be surprised if Power takes it. He’s a very talented driver who only recently has gained well-deserved respect. Briscoe likely is still hurting from throwing away last year’s IndyCar Series title. He’s good on the fast ovals. He needs to stay mistake-free, however, and he’s shown a tendency to make the big mistake at the worst possible time.

Dark horse? Dan Wheldon, the 2005 winner. He starts in the middle of the pack, and he has a history of charging from that spot to the front on race day. He’s very good at Indy, and he regards the track as holy ground.

Danica Patrick and the other three women in the race have tough starting positions. They have to have a lot go right during the race, but that’s not a longshot. A lot can happen in 500 miles.

All things being equal, though, I’m guessing Castroneves will be drinking the victor’s bottle of milk on Sunday.

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