Indy 500 facing major problem as concerns grow

Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by JEFF DEAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by JEFF DEAN/AFP via Getty Images) /

Could May’s Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway end up being the first Indy 500 not to feature a 33-car field in nearly eight decades?

Before last month’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, J.R. Hildebrand was confirmed as the driver of the #11 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Enterprises for the five oval races on the 17-race 2022 IndyCar schedule.

Naturally, this five-race schedule for the 34-year-old Sausalito, California native also includes the 106th running of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend.

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Hildebrand’s confirmation made him the 32nd driver confirmed on the entry list for this 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval in Speedway, Indiana.

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But because the #11 Chevrolet had already been slated to enter the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, however, the confirmation of the 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year didn’t affect the car count.

Could this ultimately and unfortunately lead to the first Indy 500 without 33 cars since 1947?

Things haven’t necessarily been looking ideal in terms of landing a 33rd entry within the next few weeks weeks to continue the tradition of 11 rows of three taking the green flag across the yard of bricks.

The last time the Indy 500 saw anything other than a 33-car field was in 1997, when the field was expanded to 35 cars for just the second time and the first time since 1979. From 1934 to 2021, the race was contested 84 times, and 81 of those races featured exactly 33-car fields.

But the last time the race didn’t see a full field of 33 was all the way back in 1947, when 30 cars took part in what was then referred to as the “31st International 500-Mile Sweepstake”.

Three of the last four Indy 500s have seen bumping just to set the 33-car field, with the exception understandably being the 2020 race, which was postponed by roughly three months and run outside of the month of May for the first time ever due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

What makes this year’s development particularly intriguing though is the fact that IndyCar’s full-time field consists of 26 cars, the highest in decades.

The six part-time entries confirmed for this year’s Indy 500 include one from full-time teams Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, Chip Ganassi Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, as well as two from part-time team Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

There are several other candidates to add a seventh (or possibly beyond), but there are significant obstacles facing each.

The clock is ticking, though there has also been a recent sense of optimism that there is still enough time left. The drive to keep the tradition alive could well prevail.

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The 106th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 29, with qualifying scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22. Practice is set to take place the week leading up to qualifying, meaning that we are only about a month away from the start of the event.