Now that the IZOD IndyCar Series has taken the field of 33 through an east-coast media blitz, it's to refocus on the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, and breaking down just who can come away with the Borg-Warner Trophy. Over the next three days, we'll move through the field, breaking down the chances (or lack thereof) of each driver. Today, we look at the last 11 drivers in the 500.
# 7 Danica Patrick - Middle Row 8
Regardless of what Danica does on Sunday, aside from finishing top 5, this month of May will be remembered for "It's not my fault." Her car hasn't shown much speed over the last two weeks in race setup either. By going off the leaders' pit strategy, she might be able to move up in the field and give herself a chance, but I don't see it happening. Do I Want to Pull Her Name in the Pool? Not this year.
#36 Bertrand Baguette - Outside Row 8
The name sounds out of central casting. And if you'd told me that Conquest Racing would have had both their cars securely in the field before Andretti Autosport, I would have called you nuts. But it happened, and "Bert" was the final Pole Day qualifier, improving on each of his four laps. The kid has impressive credentials to be sure, but Conquest Racing isn't ready to take the leap to the front of this race. Finishing with two cars in tact would be impressive for them. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Maybe in a few years.
#33 Bruno Junqueira - Inside Row 9
The "Junk Man" is one of my sleepers for the race. Consider: his run of 225.662 after two hot laps is the seventh-quickest official qualifying run in the field. He's on a free ride from Alex Tagliani, who owes him for the 2009 500. The FAZZT team has been quick all month. Can Bruno catch a few breaks and have timely pit stops with a backup crew? If he can, a top 10 or top 5 finish isn't out of the question. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Not a bad sleeper pick. Plus you can cheer for the "Junk Man."
#19 Alex Lloyd - Middle Row 9
Dale Coyne never made the race as a driver, but he's done a fairly decent job making the race as an owner. Thankfully, no one from the Venezuelan government has mentioned putting Milka Duno in the race instead of Lloyd (that we're aware of). Driving the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts car, it's natural to pull for Lloyd to do well. Additionally, he's one of a few cars sporting gold rims - you can't go wrong there. Last year, Lloyd stayed the course in the 500, starting 11th and finishing 13th. Replicating that finish would be an achievement. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? No. Unless you were a Boy Scout, I suppose.
#34 Mario Romancini - Outside Row 9
Conquest Racing learned their lesson from last year's Bump Day. Faced with Mario Romancini sitting in 32nd, the team pulled his time, and the young Brazilian delivered, becoming the fastest qualified rookie at 224.641 mph. Now, Conquest pulled a surprise last year, moving from 33rd to 10th with Alex Tagliani. I'm not sure Romancini, who leads the rookies in points, can pull that off, but a top 20 would be a good start. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Unless you're trying to pull an all-Brazilian field, no.
#43 John Andretti - Inside Row 10
Maybe one of the easiest guys to root for in the field. Local kid, went to Ritter High School (even though they are the major rival of Speedway High School). Comes from a racing family. Always seems to have time for fans. Down to earth - I never once saw him on a golf cart speeding down pit road; Andretti was walking, helmet in hand, on an 85-degree day. Supports his teammates - he was damn near sprinting to congratulate Tony Kanaan after TK's run. Making his 11th start, has four top 10's and one top 5. Another top 10, from the 28th starting spot, would be an achievement. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? It's worth the time to support John Andretti, but you probably won't see a return on your $5 pool investment, unfortunately.
#67 Sarah Fisher - Middle Row 10
Who doesn't like Sarah Fisher? Honestly, Row 10 is the Row of Nice. John Andretti-Sarah Fisher-Vitor Meira. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to Sarah Fisher at Indianapolis. A best finish of 17th came last year. For most of this month, the question was "Will Sarah Fisher make the field?" She answered that, but then her teammate, Jay Howard, did not, hurting the budgetary plan for Sarah Fisher Racing. A good finish at the 500 would go a long way towards making up for it, but I don't see it happening. Do I Want to Pull Her Name in the Pool? Again, it's the Row of Nice, so you'll have fun rooting for Sarah Fisher. You just won't win the pool with her name.
#14 Vitor Meira - Outside Row 10
Vitor rounds out the Row of Nice (you can say it fancy, "knee-say"). Cannot be a more pleasant person to be around. I have four signed Foyt Wine bottles chilling as a testament to his kindness. This is A.J. Foyt's 53rd straight Indianapolis 500 as a driver or owner. For some reason, I don't see anyone beating that. However, I don't see Foyt Racing picking up their second Indianapolis 500 win with Vitor this go-around. Vitor's best speed this month ranks 35th overall on the speed charts, and on days when cars worked on race setup, his speeds weren't in the top 10. Working his way through the field to post his sixth top 10 in eight starts would be enough of an accomplishment. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? A.J. Foyt would punch me for saying this (and I feel like I should hit myself for saying it), but Vitor won't win.
#5 Takuma Sato - Inside Row 11
The former Formula 1 driver understands the mystique and heritage of Indianapolis. He turned right in turn 1 three times during the United State Grand Prix, scoring his lone podium finish in the 2006, finishing third. Unfortunately, the most-decorated Japanese racer also turned right in turn 2 this year, costing him a chance to qualify on Pole Day. He eventually found enough speed in his fantastic-looking Lotus to make it to the Last Row Party. I have a sneaky suspicion that Sato will either be Rookie of the Year or finish DFL. And if it's the latter, KV Racing will continue their pursuit of having the most expensive season in IndyCar history. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Cool-looking cars aren't guaranteed wins.
#11 Tony Kanaan - Middle Row 11
Kanaan did his level best to make sure their was drama on Bump Day. He's a fan-favorite. And if Andretti Autosport can tune his 11t machine to where his primary car was, speed-wise, look out. Kanaan had a car capable of running at or near the front. The question is, can he dodge, duck, dip, dive (and dodge) his way up there? And will his newly rebuilt car be capable of this? Coming back from two wrecks and moving from 32nd to the top 5 would be an accomplishment; keep in mind that no one has won the 500 from a starting position worse than 28th (Ray Harroun, 1911; Louis Meyer, 1936). Now, Kanaan has years of bad karma here to shed, and this would the Red Sox-ian way to go about it. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? My heart says yes, but my head says no.
(Note: Tony Kanaan will start 33rd, as Andretti Autosport has switched the now-repaired #11 car. In any case, he'll attempt to become the first winner to start last in the field. I would bet on him at least winning the award for most positions made up during the race.)
#29 Sebastian Saavedra - Outside Row 11
Saavedra is here somehow. He brought out Sunday's final yellow with a late crash, and being the bubble-sitter, one figured his month of May was over, save the Freedom 100. But after two withdrawn speeds, here is Saavedra, making his first 500 start from the final starting position. Maybe it was Saint Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, who protected him and his Bryan Herta Autosport team. Sea-Bass will need him again on Sunday. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? If you're looking for your money back, he may be the guy, unfortunately.