Photo: Brian Spurlock/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 106th Indianapolis 500 Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

When it comes to the Indianapolis 500, the pageantry, the drama and intensity is unrivaled. The field of 33 brave men will look to escape the madness and be the one who’ll earn the glory that comes with winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Close to a full crowd for the first time since 2019, there’s a lot of anticipation and storylines that’ll take lengthy conversations to fully grasp what Indy means to the drivers, teams, personnel, media and fans alike.

Among those are the blistering qualifying pace last weekend which saw Scott Dixon break Scott Brayton’s four-lap average pole run set in 1996. The 2008 Indy 500 champion became only the second driver to reach the 234 mph average barrier (joining Arie Lyuendyk’s 1996 four-lap average track record) at Indianapolis as he’ll lead the field to green for a fifth time.

Since The Month of May on the oval kicked into high gear, it’s been Chip Ganassi Racing’s yard. Managing Director Mike Hull has been pleased with the entire organization with all five cars poised to be contenders in the 200-lap see-saw madness.

“It’s been fantastic. You know, if you look at the 12 hours of track time that we had, maybe less than that, 10 hours of track time that we had available to us to this point, we probably achieved on track maybe 25 percent of that,” said Hull.

“So if you kind of look at the ratio, I think that’s where everybody is at, but we’ve had — we’ve got great race cars for the race. The wind is up today. The boost is going up. So we’ll find out what qualifying is all about.

“I like — Chip made a statement to somebody at a high level when we were racing kind of a big race called Le Mans a few years ago, and they said, oh, this is really great. We’re going to try to win the race.

“And he said, ‘yeah’. But you have to realize that a thousand things can go wrong and only one thing can go right. That’s exactly what Indianapolis is all about. It’s getting everything right. That’s what these guys do well.”

Outside of Ganassi, other major headlines include the much anticipated Indy 500 debuts of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series campion Jimmie Johnson and ex-Formula One racer Romain Grosjean.

Both have shown solid pace, but they’ll have their works cut out for with the likes of David Malukas consistently trying to play spoiler in the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year battle.

Malukas’ teammate Takuma Sato, who’ll be looking for his third Indy 500 win in six years, and Rinus VeeKay have also been fast and gone toe-to-toe with Ganassi’s powerhouse. No question if CGR have threats, they got one with those fierce racers.

Championship leader Will Power has had a quiet month, looking to keep his top-four streak alive and extend his championship lead with a second Indy 500 win.

Finally, among the many historic feats that may come into play Sunday includes the “Drive for Five.” Helio Castroneves begins his bid of becoming the only man to win the 500 five times after winning his record-equal fourth last May.

At the end of the day, like every Indy 500, plenty of stories will unfold and be talked about for years to come. As the saying goes, Indy hits different.

By the Numbers

What: 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 6 of 17

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Speedway, Indiana (Opened: 1909, first INDYCAR event was 1911)

When: Sunday, May 29

TV/Radio: NBC 11:00 a.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 160)

Track Size: 2.5-mile oval

Race Length: 200 laps, 500 miles

Pole Sitter: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (234.046 mph)

2021 Race Winner: Helio Castroneves – No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda (Started eighth, 20 laps led)

2021 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year: Scott McLaughlin – No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet (finished 20th)

Track Qualifying Record: Arie Luyendyk – No. 5 Byrd/Treadway Racing Ford (236.986 mph – May 12, 1996)

Indy 500 Race Record: Helio Castroneves – No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda (190.690 mph – May 30, 2021)

From the Driver’s Seat

Will Power (2018 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet

“We came off probably our worst year in a decade last year, especially at this place. So the whole team and everyone, we worked really, really hard in the off-season, and it just feels like we’re clicking on all cylinders right now. Everything is good. We’ve got the quickest cars on pit lane with the pit stops, and I think we’ve got a good car every weekend. Definitely have one of us contending for the win each weekend.

“It just became easier actually. I just noticed in practice, last year we were trying to crack the top 10, but now we’re always top 10, top 5 in every session. It’s just become a little easier, which you can step back a little bit as far as how hard you’re trying, and I think that just results in consistency.

“I’m going to say today is really the moment of truth for us to see where we stack up. We’ve done a lot of work and development, so it looked good yesterday, but that was the case last year, as well.

“We’ll be kind of very interested at the end of the day to see where we stack up. I feel like we will be in the mix. We’ve really — all really worked hard.”

Scott Dixon (2008 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

“It’s all about the win, man. It’s all about the win. Again, it’s a privilege to be on the pole. This is damn hard to do for many reasons and for everybody on the team. Trust me, everybody feels very good about this situation, but not as good as I felt when I won in 2008, so I want that feeling again.

“All 33 drivers want that feeling, and some have had it before, and the unfortunate part of that is it makes you want it that much more again.”

Last Time in the Indianapolis 500

After holding the race in August without the roaring crowd, the 105th Indianapolis 500 symbolized a healing point. The largest sports gathering witnessed history once Scott Dixon led the 33-car field to green.

Dixon would have troubles that kept him from being in the mix as guys like Conor Daly, who led a race-high 40 laps, stepped up to the plate and was a contender. That all changed when a loose wheel from Graham Rahal brought out the second and final caution on Lap 118. Daly sustained front wing damage after running into Rahal’s wheel. The Indiana native finished 13th.

As the race was drawing to a close, the battle came down to Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou, who traded the lead multiple times. With two laps to go, Castroneves got a run on the top side and cleared Palou for good.

Castroneves had joined the four-time winners club, 20 years after winning his first 500 as a rookie. The crowd roared as he and the entire No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing squad climbed the fence, knowing they’ve accomplished their greatest win.

While Castroneves did the talking behind the wheel, it was all about the efforts made from MSR who’ve finally captured that elusive win in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“They made it happen. So great moment for everyone. Especially after (2020), being so difficult with the pandemic, everybody comes back, even though it’s not full percent everyone here, but very, very nice for everyone to celebrate,” said Castroneves after his fourth 500 winn.

“I couldn’t be more happier. I couldn’t be more happier for Mike (Shank), for Jim (Meyer). They did everything they told me, which is they promised to give me a good car. I said, All right. If that’s happen we have a great chance. Just give me a chance to fight, opportunity to be up there, then I will fight. And they did.

“Great moment. I mean, amazing to follow in this group with Al Unser, Sr., A.J. Foyt, and my hero Rick Mears. Super honored to be in this group. But more important is I love to be surrounded by great people.

“It was great to be with Penske, and now my new friends, I really am having a great time. New opportunity with this amazing team. Look what they’re showing.

“They’re showing already with Jack (Harvey), several races here. They had a little issue in the GP or they would have won the race. It was the right strategy. Now we’re able to execute. It’s a matter of time. This is a great group of people. That’s why I love it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Sunday, May 29

  • NTT IndyCar Series Pre-Race Show (11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – NBC)
  • 106th Indianapolis 500 (12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – NBC)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.