By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Every year Indianapolis Motor Speedway provides some sort of dramatic flair during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500. With this year’s 100th running likely being no different, here are the heavy hitters expected to contend for pole at the milestone event.
1) Will Power – The Team Penske veteran and last year’s runner-up in the Indy 500, Power electrified the time sheets on Fast Friday with a speed of 232.672 mph. The pace was strong enough to jump to the top of the timesheets and flex the muscle Chevy hasn’t shown much of the week. With so much hype around team owner Roger Penske and the 50th anniversary for his organization, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion might be the best bet to lead the field to the green flag.
2) Marco Andretti – The third-generation star has struggled so far in 2016, but hasn’t shown it in practice during the Month of May. Andretti led the opening day of practice on Monday, becoming a mainstay among the leaders and showing incredible pace throughout the week. Knocking in a speed at 231.824 mph on Fast Friday and having one of the top no-tow speeds overall, the 29-year-old has been eerily calm all week at Indianapolis. A pole would go a long way towards breaking the dreaded ‘Andretti Curse’ and what better timing to do it than the 100th running.
3) James Hinchcliffe – The return of the ‘Mayor of Hinchtown’ to Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been incredible thus far. Putting last year’s near fatal wreck at Indy behind him, Hinchcliffe has shown a tremendous amount of mental grit while pushing his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda towards the top of the pylon. Fast Friday saw Hinchcliffe move to third overall on pace with a speed of 231.972 mph. Seeing the 29-year-old on the pole for the 100th Indianapolis 500 would surely be the feel good story of the month.
4) Josef Newgarden – Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy’s are always fast at Indy, with team owner Ed Carpenter claiming the pole in both 2013 and 2014. Newgarden was exceptionally quick on Fast Friday, timing in at 232.344 mph and was one of only two drivers to break the 232 mark. The 25-year-old has never started better than seventh at Indy, but a pole would go a long way to help one of IndyCar’s rising stars turn the corner.
5) Helio Castroneves – It’s now become one of the truest rules in all of racing when at Indianapolis, never rule out Castroneves. The three-time Indy 500 champion somehow always finds speed when it matters most and with four poles in the famed event, it’s easy to see how the Team Penske driver could be a contender to lead the field to green. The speed his teammate, Will Power, hit on Fast Friday was an entirely different setup than Castroneves. Moreover, if the Brazilian elects to run a similar setup, it could be trouble for the field. The one unknown going into qualifying, everyone is wondering if Penske has really shown their true speed yet.
There a numerous drivers that have shown speed at one time or another during practice, but with the upgraded boost on Fast Friday, we got a chance to see who could be fast on qualifying day.
That said, it has been surprising to see the lack of pace out of the Chip Ganassi Racing bunch thus far. But, if they do have someone charge to the top of the charts, but if someone does emerge from their camp it’s likely going to once again rest on the shoulders of defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. The pace has been shown in flashes, but it’s tough to truly believe in the 35-year-old when he hasn’t put it completely together just yet and didn’t even break into the top 10 on Fast Friday.
Overall, there is no shortage of great stories heading into Indianapolis 500 Pole Day and with 21 wins from the top spot in 99 races, it certainly puts a premium to start at the front.
Image: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR