Indy 500: What will Carlos Munoz do for an encore?

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If not for Dario Franchitti crashing just moments after the final restart of last year’s Indianapolis 500, perhaps it would have been Carlos Munoz – a driver competing in his very first IndyCar race – drinking the milk in Victory Lane.

Munoz followed Tony Kanaan past Ryan Hunter-Reay to take second place off the restart and may have been able to draft past the Brazilian veteran had the race stayed green.

But it was not to be for Munoz, who was still impressive and fearless in his Indy debut for Andretti Autosport.

One year later, he has returned to the Brickyard as a full-time member of the Andretti stable and will start seventh in Sunday’s race.

After his stellar performance in 2013, does he think he can follow that up with a victorious one?

“It’s going to be really hard for sure,” he said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I think it’s going to be harder than last year because it’s just more competitive.

“Last year was really competitive, but this year, everyone’s really close to each other…It’s hard to have a plan because things can change so quickly from one lap to another lap.”

So far this season, Munoz has claimed the sole podium finish among the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series rookies with a third-place showing at Long Beach. But the Colombian has also had some rough times, especially in the last two races.

At Barber, he lost control of his car under caution and went into the barriers. Then earlier this month at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he was unable to dodge the stalled car of Sebastian Saavedra on the standing start and slammed into him to begin a crash that also involved another rookie, Mikhail Aleshin.

But Munoz knows that those troubles will be out of sight and out of mind if he wins Sunday. He can certainly do that from seventh on the grid, and with a strong No. 34 Andretti Autosport Honda in traffic.

“This car is really sensitive to weather changes, track changes,” he said. “I think on Monday in our last practice, conditions were really similar to what we’re going to have in the race.”

“No one wants to lead. It’s going to be a pack race like last year, from the first [lap] to the last [lap], it’s going to be really close. I’m looking forward to the race. Last year was awesome for the fans and hopefully, we’ll put on a great show again.”

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