With just over three days remaining until Jack Nicholson drops the green flag on the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, we continue with part II of our look at the 500 field. Today, we look at the middle of the starting grid. (for part I, click here)
# 2 Raphael Matos - Outside Row 4
Matos had an impressive run last year, that is, until he was caught up with Vitor Meira broke poor Vitor's back. Without the wreck, Matos is your Rookie of the Year last year, and probably scores a top 10 finish. His 2010 campaign has been slow to build momentum, but with his de Ferran Dragon machinery, I fully expect a top 10 finish from the young Brazilian. Plus, it's easy to cheer for a guy who compares women to pole speeds. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? A true dark horse candidate.
#32 Mario Moraes - Inside Row 5
He's been fast all month. He's young, talented and apparently looks like a Jonas Brother. He also has a nasty tendency to find walls and/or other cars (just ask Marco Andretti). In all honesty, if you want a car outside of the Penske/Ganassi group, he's a solid choice. But for some reason, I question if Moraes can focus for the full 200 laps at Indianapolis in this point in his career. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Again, you could do worse. Definitely a car to watch throughout the race.
#21 Davey Hamilton - Middle Row 5
I'll be honest. Even with Hamilton driving a de Ferran/Dragon car, I was surprised to see him in the middle of row 5. And good for him; his story of overcoming a horrific wreck to just walk, much less race in the Indianapolis 500 again is as inspiring as it was three years ago when he returned to IMS. He's a smart driver who has generally finished higher than he has started (2009 and 1996 excepted). A top 10 would be a good result for Hamilton, I think. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Like John Andretti, Sarah Fisher and Vitor Meira, one of the easiest drivers to root for in the entire race.
#24 Mike Conway - Outside Row 5
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk coached Conway throughout the month, helping the young Englishman conquer some of his demons at the track. Last year, Conway took 18th, finishing on the lead lap. I would suspect that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has higher expectations for Conway this year, perhaps anything in the top 15, and a car returned in one piece. I can see that happening. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? You won't win anything if you do.
#26 Marco Andretti - Inside Row 6
I saw Marco on TV last night proclaiming that he feels better about this car than he did about his 2008 car, which was a contender to win at Indy. Do I believe him? Kind of. Andretti Autosport seemed to have their race setups down for Andretti and Kanaan, but then the team whiffed on qualifying. So go figure. Like Kanaan, I expect to see Andretti swashbuckling his way through the field come Sunday. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? Sure. The kid can win here, though this probably isn't the year.
#37 Ryan Hunter-Reay - Middle Row 6
Just have a good run, that's all I ask. Don't find a wall, or give ABC a reason to isolate the IZOD-sponsored machine, unless it is because you've won the race or finished top 5. One of the best stories of the 2010 season, Hunter-Reay enters Sunday's race second in points, and will hopefully be racing past the Texas race in a week. Last year, he had an ill-handling machine and dumped it into the wall quickly on race day; in 2008, he was the Rookie of the Year. I'm counting on him to reprise his run from two years ago. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? IZOD girl says yes, if nothing else, for the sake of the series.
#4 Dan Wheldon - Outside Row 6
I have a feeling that Dan and Marco unite on Sunday to try and work their way through the field. Call it the "Hair Gel" alliance, or something like that. The 2005 winner (it's been five years already?) knows what it takes to win, and his Panther Racing team has finished second each of the last two years. They'll have the full playbook out to try and move up a spot. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? I don't see him winning, but Wheldon could be a factor late in the race.
#8 E.J. Viso - Inside Row 7
Every year I think that E.J. Viso will do something stupid during the race, and each year he's run, his race has ended due to no real fault of his own. So maybe this is the year I'll be right. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? No finishes in the top 20 at Indy in two starts tell me no.
#23 Tomas Scheckter - Middle Row 7
Scheckter should have won the 2002 Indianapolis 500, but forgot the golden rule: turn left. A wreck knocked him out after he led 83 laps, leading to his departure (and ultimate middle finger moment at Michigan) from Red Bull Cheever Racing later that year. Scheckter is always quick at Indianapolis. Always. It's a matter of whether or not the equipment he pushes will hold up. If it does, his third career top-10 finish could beckon. Do I Want to Pull His Name in the Pool? If nothing else to watch him carve his way through the field, especially early.
#25 Ana Beatriz - Outside Row 7
I watched Ana Beatriz run in the Freedom 100 last year and came away extremely impressed. And in her IndyCar debut at Brazil, she was strong, too. Being the highest-placing woman in the field isn't out of the question. Do I Want to Pull Her Name in the Pool? She won't win, but she has the potential to enrage Danica by placing ahead of her.
#78 Simona De Silvestro - Outside Row 8
Should we call her the Duchess? With a name like that, she deserves a royal-sounding nickname. Unfortunately, HVM racing has built cars to last for just 139 laps in each of their last two Indianapolis 500s. Whether or not this continues, I don't know, but I don't think it bodes well for the Duchess' chances of winning in her rookie year. Do I Want to Pull Her Name in the Pool? A true Rookie of the Year candidate.