The most famous race in motorsports takes place on Sunday May 25th at the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. And the highly anticipated pole award happens this weekend when IndyCar drivers will be trying to qualify on the front row and maybe nab the most prestigious number one qualifying spot in racing.
Last year’s Indy 500 winner was Tony Kanaan who qualified 12th. The Indy 500 pole position went to Ed Carpenter with rookie Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti rounding out the celebrated front row. However, who are the most likely drivers to earn the coveted top spot heading into this year’s Indy 500? Here are the five most probable (listed alphabetically), plus a couple intriguing longshots.
Marco Andretti – He started on the front row last year and stayed in contention, including leading 31 laps. He usually is good for a Top 10 starting spot at Indianapolis and has four top fives. Marco has looked good in practice and when your name is Andretti, being up front is a given.
Helio Castroneves – He was born to run this race. Helio has three wins, four poles, five front row starts and six top five finishes. Castroneves has completed more laps at the Indy 500 than any other current driver. Need more be said? Watch for Helio to be upfront again.
Scott Dixon – He may not have as many outstanding statistics like Castroneves, but nevertheless, Dixon has been impressive at Indy over the years. He won the race six years ago and has as many top five finishes as Helio. Scott also has led more laps at the Brickyard than any other current driver. He’s looked good recently in practice and no one should count out the Kiwi for the pole position in 2014.
Juan Pablo Montoya – He’s only raced once at the Indy 500 (in the year 2000) but that one time was pretty successful. That season, Montoya started second, led almost the entire race and won easily. He has plenty of experience going around the track during his NASCAR years and grabbed a Sprint Cup pole for the 2010 Brickyard 400. JP also had two other front row starts at Indy during his NASCAR career. He has looked very good in practice – might Montoya go two-for-two?
Simon Pagenaud – Not exactly a circle track phenom, yet the Frenchman was blazingly quick in practice and he’s coming off an impressive win on the road track at Indianapolis. This choice might be a bit of a reach, however Pagenaud did earn a Top 10 at last year’s Indy 500 and his overall performance has been a steady rise to the top tier of the sport – he’s currently third in points. Simon has the look of a champion and topping the practice charts can’t hurt his chances of moving to the top of the grid at Indy.
Munoz nearly grabbed the pole last year as a rookie, so the idea of another rookie producing a great effort and snagging the pole is possible. With that, Kurt Busch of NASCAR fame, who is no rookie as far as the track is concerned, could be a good bet for a surprising number one qualifying position. He has been fast in practice and drives for Andretti Autosport who helped Munoz last year.
The other longshot driver that might surprise is someone who all but won the race three years ago, J.R. Hildebrand. He lost his ride following a last place finish at the Indy 500 in 2013 and except for a couple races near the end of last season, J.R. has not been driving IndyCars. Still, he did start in the Top 10 a year ago and looked very quick in recent practices. It would be a bit of a leap but you can say you saw it here first if Hildebrand is sitting on the front row for the 2014 Indy 500.
Who do you think will win this highly esteemed pole honor this year?
Sources: IndyCar, Racing Reference