A look at the Americans in the Indy 500 field

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It’s been six years since an American has claimed victory at the Indianapolis 500. Back in 2006, Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. beat Marco Andretti to the checkered flag by .0635 of a second in the second-closest finish in Indy history.

Since then, two Brits (Dario Franchitti – 2007, 2010, 2012; the late Dan Wheldon – 2011), a New Zealander (Scott Dixon – 2008), and a Brazilian (Helio Castroneves – 2009) have drank the milk at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But in 2013, the Stars and Stripes may be flying high once more. There are 11 American drivers in the field of 33 for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and four of them – including pole sitter and Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter (pictured) – are within the first three rows of the grid.

Let’s take a look at the homegrown talent that will be out for racing immortality this coming weekend at Indy:

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet/Pole Sitter)

One of the best oval racers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Carpenter was third with 20 laps to go in last year’s race before a spin ruined his chances for an upset. Now, with his hometown fans cheering him on, the down-to-Earth Hoosier is aiming for a storybook win.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet/Starting 3rd)

Last year’s “500” ended in frustration for Andretti, who led 59 laps but crashed out late while in the Top 10. But 2013 has been a renaissance season so far for him, and he stands a good chance of carrying over that momentum to the track that has both delighted and bedeviled his family.

2-A.J. Allmendinger (Team Penske/Chevrolet/Starting 5th)

The former Champ Car and NASCAR full-timer has the speed to contend for a win. But it’s still his first Indy 500 and whether you’re with the almighty Team Penske or a low-money operation, it’s a lot to handle. Still, if ‘Dinger stays out of trouble, you never know…

1-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet/Starting 7th)

He’s the series champion and he’s with a great team, so you can’t count out Hunter-Reay. But his track record hasn’t been all that great at Indy. He’s never finished higher than sixth (2008) and in his five career starts, he’s had DNFs in three of them – the most recent of those came in last year’s event.

4-J.R. Hildebrand (Panther Racing/Chevrolet/Starting 10th)

After losing the “500” in dramatic fashion in 2011, Hildebrand was set to contend once more last year before an ill-timed caution following a pit stop ended his hopes. With four runner-up finishes in the last five years at Indy, Panther knows how to get around the Brickyard. Hildebrand can definitely have a say in the outcome.

83-Charlie Kimball (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda/Starting 19th)

The third-year driver may need a break or two to get up to the front, but he does have something to build off of after his Top-10 run at Indy last year. It’s also been clear that Kimball has improved significantly over his time in the series. Results are now expected, not just hoped for, from him.

60-Townsend Bell (Panther Racing/Chevrolet/Starting 22nd)

NBC Sports Network’s very own had a tough time in qualifying this past weekend, but he’s a veteran around the Brickyard and has done well there in the past (Best finish: 4th, 2009). Last year, he claimed a Top-10 finish at IMS and he would appear to be one of those drivers that can sneak up and make an impact.

21-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda/Starting 25th)

The Tennessee native was the fastest second-day qualifier on Sunday, and if his team can give him a good car in traffic, he might be able to break into the lead pack.

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda/Starting 26th)

The son of team owner and 1986 Indy winner Bobby Rahal is setting his sights on joining his Dad as a winner of the biggest race in the world. That would make the Rahals the second father-son combo to pull it off (Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. combined for six Indy wins in their respective careers).

41-Conor Daly (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda/Starting 31st)

Daly has been along the path to Formula One recently, but has appeared to consider an IndyCar career as well. He’s had to overcome a practice crash and other issues to earn a spot on the grid, and you’d have to think that a steady Top 15 finish would be a great result in his first “500.”

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet/Starting 32nd)

In his 17th Indy start, Lazier may be the longest of long-shots. But the diehards know that he won’t give up and he’ll use every bit of knowledge he has about Indy to try and make some noise.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two Ligier JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and British youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”