20 May 2009

Moving Throught the Field: The Middle

Last night, we posted the back end of the 2009 Indianapolis 500 field. So, in our effort to provide a guess as to who will be up front come lap 200, we move to the middle of the field. The final 11 drivers should go up tomorrow, and then I'll attempt to make an educated guess at who will win the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 Friday or Saturday.

Thus, here is the middle of field, in terms of chances to win:

22. Sarah Fisher (Car #67; Outside Row 7) – The fan favorite finally has good funding behind her, thanks to sponsorship from Dollar General. She’s been consistent throughout the month of May, but whether or not lady luck is on her side on Sunday remains to be seen. In eight career starts, Fisher has not finished better than 18th in her career at IMS.

21. Robert Doornbos (Car #06t; Middle Row 8) – “Doorknobs” crashed twice in a 24-hour period earlier this month, preventing him from qualifying until the second weekend. Had he looked better on the first weekend of qualifying, perhaps I’d move him up the list. The Dutchman was quick early in the month, and he has a quality team behind him at Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. With Arie Lyuendyk serving as his driver coach, I think Doornbos has a shot to be the Rookie of the Year; however, he’ll need to avoid collecting any cars as he attempts to navigate his way towards the front.

20. Tomas Scheckter (Car #19; Middle Row 9) – The young South African has always been fast at Indianapolis, leading 148 laps in his career at IMS. However, he has been prone to not finishing, failing to finish four of his seven starts at Indy. Having been in his Dale Coyne Racing machine for about nine days come race day, look for Scheckter to be exciting early, but flip a coin when it comes to whether or not he will finish the race.

19. Townsend Bell (Car #8; Outside Row 8) – Bell confuses me. He seems to drive well wherever he runs, but he can’t find a full-time ride. With KV Racing, he has been consistently quick over the last two weeks, and the KV team appears to be right behind Newman-Haas-Lanigan in terms of the former Champ Car teams that unified with ICS. With a 10th-place finish last year, Bell could take another step towards a full-time ride if he can replicate the effort at Indy once again.

18. Justin Wilson (Car #18; Outside Row 5) – For a brief moment on Pole Day, Wilson was on the provisional pole. Then his car was disqualified for being underweight, and that seems to be the last we heard of the Englishman. When Wilson was a surprising third at St. Pete, he commented that hopefully the team would make up ground on the ovals as well as they did on road/street courses. With little to no testing on ovals thus far, however, Dale Coyne Racing still needs to make up ground before Wilson’s true racing talents shine on all courses.

17. Raphael Matos (Car #2; Outside Row 4) – Matos, based on speed alone is the odds-on-favorite for Rookie of the Year. After crashing out at St. Petersburg, the rookie has done well for Luzco Dragon Racing, finishing both the Long Beach and Kansas races. With Jay Penske’s pedigree, the team has been fast at Indy – his qualifying time of 223.429 is actually the seventh-quickest in the field. Still, Matos will need some significant breaks to get to Victory Lane, though a top 10 performance is not out of the question.

16. Hideki Mutoh (Car #27; Inside Row 6) – The second-year driver from Japan was the weakest of the four Andretti-Green cars in qualifying, needing to go into the first Sunday of qualifying to make the field. While he posted a top-10 finish at last year’s 500, it was fairly non-descript, as he finished on the lead lap but did not lead a lap. Japan will need to wait another year to have a chance at their first Indianapolis 500 winner.

15. Ed Carpenter (Car #20; Middle Row 6) – If not for a couple pit mishaps last year, Ed Carpenter may have been in a better position to win the 2008 500. As it was, Carpenter finished a surprising fifth in the bright yellow Menards machine. The car colors remain the same in 2009, but Carpenter hasn’t appeared as quick as a year prior, qualifying 17th on the grid. Carpenter will need to use some quality pit stops and race strategy to come anywhere near his finish in 2008.

14. Paul Tracy (Car #15; Inside Row 5) – The runner-up in the 2002 race, Tracy has not had good luck in any of his other five starts to the 500. From 1992-95, Tracy finished 20th, 30th, 23rd and 24th, respectively, failing to go more than 136 laps in any start. Just as Team Green was in 2002, Tracy is with a solid team in 2009; but again, Tracy was with Penske and Newman/Haas Racing in his prior starts. So which roll of the dice will Tracy pick up in 2009? His ‘bat out of hell’ mentality can get him to the front, but will it wear down his KV Racing machine? I think it will get him eventually, somewhere around lap 170.

13. Alex Lloyd (Car #99; Middle Row 4) – Lloyd has been the talk of Gasoline Alley for most of the month due to two things: his surprising run into the top 11 of qualifying on Pole Day and his pink car, with HER energy drink sponsorship. Contracted to Chip Ganassi, Lloyd has the equipment to contend up front, but also will be working in partnership with relative 500 newcomer Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Schmidt, who is a touching story in his own right, dominates the Firestone Indy Lights Series, but can his team step it up in the 500? I think a solid top 10 finish would qualify as a step up and hopefully bring Sam Schmidt’s team into the IndyCar Series in 2010.

12. Vitor Meira (Car #14; Middle Row 5) – Fun Vitor Meira fact: he has never finished worse than 12th in any of his six previous 500 starts. That 12th-place result came in 2003; since then, Meira has placed 6th, 2nd, 10th, 10th and 2nd. Not too shabby. Obviously, Meira knows his way around the track and has benefitted from strong cars and strategy. Last year, ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing helped Darren Manning to a surprising run, and with Meira on board, more of the same should be expected from the Brazilian.

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