Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the 104th Indianapolis 500

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The time has come. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is near and while many folks want to commentate about the obvious absence of fans in the stands, there’s still a few things they can look forward to in the 104th renewal of the Indianapolis 500.

For the first time since 1987, an Andretti will lead the field to the green flag as Marco, who’ll be competing in his 15th Indy 500, is hoping to cap off an amazing month at IMS with a Borg-Warner Trophy. Should he win the race, Andretti will snap a 149-race losing streak dating back to Iowa in 2011.

Marco’s consistency and pure speed could lead to an incredible moment for the family and from a driver’s point of view, end the dreaded Andretti Curse, which will be a much warranted feelgood moment the sport has sorely lacked for a few years now.

After winning the pole, Marco joked with his dad Michael, a race he’s never won as a driver but won as owner five times, that Sunday is his third legitimate shot of fighting for a win after a dreadful 500 last year where he finished five laps down in 26th.

“When I lost the 500 in 2006, you saw me mad because I knew that it is possible that 15 years later I’m talking to you guys and I haven’t won one yet. That’s why I was so mad,” Marco said about his confidence level.

“It’s a tough place. Last year I had the worst race of my career. Here we are, we can win it. We’re going to take it one race at a time. The INDYCAR Series is so competitive. Drivers and the teams, everybody is so close. It’s easy to go from last to first if you just find that little bit.”

Marco is not the only story going into Sunday as two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, Team Penske’s struggles and this year’s rookie class are worth noting following a few days of practice and qualifying.

In what will be his final 500 before focusing on F1 for the next two seasons, Alonso will roll off 26th as his No. 66 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet hasn’t quite set the world on fire due to a practice crash last Thursday.

Like many top stars that’ll start deep in the field, Alonso will have his work cut out as passing cars is predicted to be difficult which could lead to strategies being the ideal way to gain spots. Time will tell how the race will develop, but a shot joining Graham Hill as the only drivers to accomplish racing’s Triple Crown looks slim.

The same can be applied for Penske’s four-car stable as none of them are starting within the first four rows for the first time since 2002. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden bested the quartet with a 13th place starting spot with the rest starting outside the top-20.

However, don’t throw the towel just yet because if 28th place starter Helio Castroneves being second fastest in post-qualifying practice last Sunday, was an indication of what to expect on race trim, then we could see a show in our hands from them along with the last two Indy 500 winners Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.

Last, but certainly not least, is the amazing crop of rookies that wasted no time to make a name for themselves at IMS. Most notably, Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou, who have held their own and can be considered dark horse contenders of being the first driver since Alexander Rossi in 2016 to win in their 500 debut.

Let’s not forget Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, who missed last year’s 500. While they haven’t shown instant speed, folks can’t remiss their potential and like what we’ve seen throughout the NTT IndyCar Series campaign. Never count those guys out of having a strong finish, maybe a fair shot of winning.

That in mind, the battle for 2020 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year is far from over that it could come down to the very last lap as well as the race at hand because when the green flag drops, all 33 daredevils hope to put all the pieces together.

When the dust settles in 3.5 hours time, only one will be immortalized as the winner of the 104th Indianapolis 500.

By the Numbers

What: 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 7

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

When: Sunday, August 23

TV/Radio: NBC 1:00 p.m. ET / Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211)

Track Size: 2.5-mile oval

Race Length: 200 laps, 500 miles

Pole Sitter: Marco Andretti – No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport w/ Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian (231.068 mph)

2019 Race Winner: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 116 laps led)

2019 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year: Santino Ferrucci – No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda (finished seventh)

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

Indy 500 Race Record: Tony Kanaan – No. 11 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet (187.433 mph – May 26, 2013)

From the Driver’s Seat

Tony Kanaan (2013 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet

“If you look at the grid, there are really experienced guys in the front and really experienced guys in the back. In the middle kind of like you don’t know the dynamic of the race, how that’s going to go.

“For me, I was like, Man, starting in the back there, usually you have more inexperienced guys, guys that don’t have good cars, you can actually move up a little bit pretty quick in the beginning of the race. That’s not going to be the case. You have Will Power, myself, Pagenaud, Helio. Those cars in race trim are good. We’re probably not going to go anywhere in the beginning of the race.

“You have to mentally prepare yourself for that and don’t get frustrated because you’re thinking, I have a good car, I had a bad qualifying (starting 23rd), but I know I can run in the top 10. 20 or 30 laps into the race you’re still 20th. What’s going on? I think it’s going to be a different dynamic of race.

“As far as passing, it won’t be any different than probably like last year.”

Alexander Rossi (2016 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

“Indy is very independent of every other race for a lot of different reasons. I think some of our struggles this year won’t necessarily show up at Indianapolis. I think this team’s always been incredibly strong here regardless of the circumstances. At least since I’ve joined the team, that’s been a standout feature.

“I think it’s awesome in terms of motivation for all of us. We need to make sure that we use that tomorrow and next weekend, make sure an Andretti car wins the race for sure.”

Last Time in the Indianapolis 500

The 103rd running of the Indy 500 was the start of a new era, but also the end. It was the first 500 telecast for NBC and the last in the Hulman & Company regime, and what a way for those chapters to unfold.

Things really began to unfold on Lap 177 when a multi-car crash in Turn 3 eliminated Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach, but a wild card came into the foray and that was the red flag.

With the field bunched up and halted for a period of time, it felt like a whole new race as the fight for the finish had two amazing acts, who showed no mercy for one another — pole sitter Simon Pagenaud, who had been the dominant car all month, and Alexander Rossi, who was the most determined man of wanting a second taste of Indy glory.

Both guys traded the top spot during the last 14 laps, wowing the fans in the process. Pagenaud set the pace, but with just three laps remaining, it was Rossi’s time to take command as he executed a beautifully crafted pass on the front stretch and began pulling away.

However, Pagenaud wouldn’t be denied as a strong Turn 3 entry cut the gap and by the next lap, the draft became his best friend and took the lead at the end of the backstretch.

Despite Rossi’s valiant effort, Pagenaud held the top spot for good and capped off a dream “Month of May” by winning his maiden Indy 500.

As a result of winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Pagenaud became the first driver to win the Indy GP, the 500 pole and the 500-mile race in the same year that solidified his future in the sport after going winless the year prior.

“It’s been such an intense race. I believe we led most of the race. The car was just on rails. The yellows came out perfectly. The stars are aligned. Man, wow, I’m seeing myself on TV with this. It’s pretty amazing,” Pagenaud said of winning the Indy 500. “It’s a dream come true, a lifetime of trying to achieve this. So I’m just speechless. It’s just incredible. I never expected to be in this position, but I certainly was trying to make it as hard as I could.”

“Being aggressive for us made the difference today, and we attacked the whole race, and we got it. The Menards Chevy was so fast all day, and we did it. The team made no mistakes. Great stops all day. Everything worked out perfect. I’m so proud of my flag and country. Happiness. After the Notre Dame tragedy, the French people needed something like this. And I’m so glad I can do that for them. I’m proud to be French and proud for the support from everyone here in America.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, August 21

  • Carb Day (11:00 a.m to 1:30 p.m. – NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold)

Sunday, August 23

  • NTT IndyCar Series Pre-Race Show (1:00 p.m to 2:30 p.m. – NBC)
  • 104th Indianapolis 500 (2:30 p.m to 6:00 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. 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 ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.