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.

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.