Indy 500: Top driver again without a ride for 2022

Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Several deserving drivers don’t get to compete in the Indy 500 each year. But this will be the fourth straight year without arguably the greatest non-winner of this era.

When a 21-year-old Carlos Munoz made his Indy 500 — and IndyCar — debut in the 97th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2013, there was a common belief throughout the paddock that his driving style would result in him finding the wall at some point throughout the 200-lap event.

Despite qualifying in the middle of the front row in second place, the rookie wasn’t getting much respect. But he remained in contention throughout the race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) oval in Speedway, Indiana, leading 12 laps behind the wheel of his #26 Honda.

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If not for a late wreck which led to a finish under caution, many believe Munoz would have been the race winner. Instead, he had to settle for second place.

In 2014, he never led, but another solid effort resulted in a fourth place finish in what was his first season as a full-time driver. In 2015, Andretti Autosport and Honda were rather uncompetitive, and a late fuel strategy gamble that saw him take the lead didn’t pay off. He finished in 20th.

But in 2016, Munoz bounced back. If not for a late fuel strategy gamble for Alexander Rossi paying off, Munoz would have won. Instead, he had to settle for another runner-up finish — and he didn’t know it at the time, leaving him in tears afterward.

Ironically, after he moved to A.J. Foyt Enterprises for 2017, his replacement, Takuma Sato, won the race. But in a car that had no business being even remotely competitive, Munoz managed to finish in 10th place, up 14 spots from his starting spot.

To this day, the 2017 season is the most recent season in which Munoz competed full-time. But that gave him the opportunity to return to Andretti Autosport for a one-off Indy 500 attempt in 2018.

Much like 2015, the team found themselves behind Chevrolet, specifically Ed Carpenter Racing and Team Penske. But just like he did in 2017, he made up 14 spots, finishing in seventh place.

Unfortunately, his only IndyCar appearances since then came as the replacement for Robert Wickens at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports late in the 2018 season, after Wickens was severely injured in a horrific crash at Pocono Raceway.

But what sticks out about Munoz’s absence since 2018 is what he said after his heartbreaking runner-up finish in 2016.

“One thing is clear, that I will win the 500 one day.”

Unfortunately, the most successful non-Indy 500 winner of this era at the Speedway hasn’t had the chance to do it. Will he ever get another shot?

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The 106th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 29, and it is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET. Qualifying is scheduled to take place this Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22.