Paths cross in the 99th Indy 500

The sun begins to rise at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and with it are 33 drivers preparing for a day that could alter everything that defines their career.

Drivers that have never won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” have a chance to change their path.

While the ones who have tasted milk in Victory Lane and kissed the bricks have a chance to cement an even greater career in their quest to become one of the all-time greats.

Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, came within a foot of winning his fourth last year and tying the likes of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears. The Brazilian fell short at the hands of American Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Castroneves hasn’t had a DNF (did not finish) since the 2006 Indy 500. A remarkable accomplishment considering the miles and durability the Team Penske driver has endured.

Considered the forgotten man heading into this season after finishing runner-up in the championship last season to teammate Will Power and the addition of talented Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, Castroneves has picked up where he left off last season. The 40-year-old currently sits third in the standings and qualified in the middle of row two for today’s 500.

As it stands, Castroneves might be the greatest driver in IndyCar history to never have won a championship, but when the money is on the line and lights come on at Indy there are few better.

Then there is Power.

The Aussie finally broke through and won the championship last season after falling short in consecutive years prior and heading into this year he has made it clear that he intends to add the Borg-Warner Trophy to his resume.

The defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion was fastest on Carb Day and will start from second.

In 2008 Scott Dixon won the pole for the Indy 500 and went on to win the race. Typically, when the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver grabs pole it can make for a long and dull race for the fans.

Dixon starts on pole for today’s race.

The benefit could be that Power starts alongside the New Zealand native. Though the pair have raced in the series for multiple seasons, rarely have we seen the pair come to blows in an epic battle at the finish.
Perhaps today is that day.

As if it were the start of a joke – an Aussie and a Kiwi walk into a bar, there could be no greater battle for racing fans than if these two superstars duel for the win the in closing stages.

Dixon – the calm, cool, calculated, emotionless New Zealander and former champion.

Power – the fearless, aggressive, audacious Aussie and current champion.

Make no mistake, this is the battle many fans have yearned for. It could be the battle that creates one of the greatest races in the tracks illustrious history.

Maybe, just maybe, there is that pinnacle that we have all been waiting for on a historically great racing name breaking through.

Graham Rahal. Marco Andretti.

Rahal’s father is a previous winner of the Indy 500 in 1986, exactly 30 years ago. The second-generation racer is coming off two second place finishes at Barber Motorsports Park and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield road course.

Then there is Andretti.

His legendary grandfather Mario won the 1969 Indianapolis 500, while father Michael came up short on multiple occasions.

Marco came within two feet of winning at the Brickyard as a rookie in 2006, but was passed by Sam Hornish Jr. on the frontstretch and lost by literally a nose.

Since then, the third-generation driver has been a consistent runner towards the front of the field, with a collection of five top 5’s in nine starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rahal will start from the middle of row six while Andretti is in the middle of row 3.

The most compelling story heading in the 500 is that of Ryan Briscoe.

The Aussie had no intention of racing at Indy, but an unfortunate crash that led to an injury for Canadian James Hinchcliffe left an open seat at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Briscoe, a Chevrolet factory driver in sports car racing, was given permission by the manufacturer to race for the Honda backed team.

Briscoe won the GTLM class in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours at Sebring. Next month he will be running with that same team and seeking victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

To get victory in one of those races in a season is spectacular, but combine that with the possibility of tasting milk today and it is a season reaches heights that only racing legend A.J. Foyt can claim.

Briscoe starts 31st, back row of the grid.

No one has ever won from the back row.

The day is someone’s to seize and when the green flag waves at 12:21 PM ET.

Will someone change their path or cement a legacy?

In 500 miles we will find out.

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Joey Barnes is the Founder of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.

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