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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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