Former Indy winner Rice declines ride with Schmidt

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Citing the need to run the Indianapolis 500 properly, former “500” winner Buddy Rice has opted not to run Sam Schmidt’s third car for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” according to SPEED.com’s Marshall Pruett. Rice had been slated to team up with the Schmidt camp, but was never confirmed on entry lists for the race.

“When we agreed I would drive, it was a program that would start on Wednesday or Thursday and the sponsors we had were cool with that,” Rice told Pruett. “But then it turned into a Bump Day, Carb Day, Race Day-only deal and the sponsors didn’t want to run the short program.

“I appreciated Sam’s effort and Honda was willing to take the risk if they needed 33 cars, but I don’t want to do a Bump Day program just to fill the field.”

Schmidt’s open seat, the No. 99 Honda, does remain in play and drivers such as Katherine Legge, Jay Howard and Bryan Clauson are still supposedly looking for their chance to try and make the show this weekend. However, Schmidt himself has told Pruett that should the No. 99 hit the track, it would likely be “a Sunday deal” — referencing Bump Day, the final session that creates the field for the May 26 race.

Rice won the 2004 Indy 500 with Rahal Letterman Racing and has made six career starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway overall. His last “500” came in 2011 with Panther Racing, in which he qualified seventh and finished 18th.

As of now, Schmidt has two programs this month for full-time drivers Simon Pagenaud and rookie Tristan Vautier.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski