2015 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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INDIANAPOLIS – MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno (yours truly) takes a look through the field of 33 for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

What was meant to be a one or two-sentence description per driver morphed into a two or three-sentence description per each. Whoops.

Still, here’s the field of 33 (2014, 2013 archives). All car drawings are done by Ryan Long, via the INDYCAR Spotters’ Guide.

Row 1

source:  9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Dixon’s been strong most of the week in race trim. Provided fuel mileage doesn’t bite him – and it shouldn’t, considering this is Dixon we’re talking about – should bounce back nicely after his accident here last year.

source:  1-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Power’s as motivated as ever to win this race, driving better than he has at any point coming into the ‘500, and keen to complete a month of May race sweep.

source:  22-Simon Pagenaud, Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud feels very confident about his car in race trim, and is much more comfortable going into his fourth Indianapolis 500. Believe the hype, even in both driver and team’s first 500-mile race voyage together.

Row 2

source:  10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Like Dixon, Kanaan should feel confident about his car in race trim. Paired with ace engineer Todd Malloy, they should nail the setup to be in contention throughout for “TK’s” second ‘500 win in his 300th career start.

source:  3-Helio Castroneves, Shell V-Power Nitro+ Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Last year I wrote of Castroneves, “I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close.” Well, 0.06 of a second away from Ryan Hunter-Reay was “pretty dang close” indeed. It’s hard to vary the prediction too much this year as Helio goes for four – again – and is clearly not shaken despite the first major accident of this month.

source:  25-Justin Wilson, The Rolling Stones Honda

TDZ: Wilson’s in a weird spot where he has nothing to lose and everything to gain in his last confirmed drive, for the moment, for Andretti Autosport. As such, the team may opt to experiment with strategy for him if the situation arises; Wilson is a better oval driver than people realize and is as good of a second row “sleeper” as you’ll find.

Row 3

source:  11-Sebastien Bourdais, Hydroxycut-HAUS Vaporizer KVSH Chevrolet 

TDZ: Like former Champ Car sparring partner Wilson, Bourdais isn’t the first guy you’d pick to win the Indianapolis 500 – Bourdais himself even played down his chances on Thursday – but his pace and consistency this month means you can’t count him out. A top-three finish is possible for sure.

source:  27-Marco Andretti, Snapple Honda

TDZ: The other son of a famous father, Andretti has flown under the radar this month. He’ll be hard to overlook on Sunday.

source:  21-Josef Newgarden, Century 21 CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Newgarden’s race record here is abysmal: he’s finished 25th, 28th and 30th in three starts. Anyone in the paddock will attest his skill level is far better than his luck and results here, and his first Indianapolis 500 top-10 should be the target.

Row 4

source:  6-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The overlooked, talented young American has been just that this month… quietly consistent, clean and near the front of the field in a month-only program. One of Indy’s most famous runner-ups likely won’t end that high up, but another top-10 would be a good result.

source:  26-Carlos Munoz, AndrettiTV.com Cinsay Honda

TDZ: Munoz has matched teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti in banking two top-fives here in the last two years. Much like Oriol Servia, Munoz seems to wear an invisibility cloak on track and you don’t realize he’s there until you look at the final results. Odds-wise a third straight top-five is unlikely, but a top-10 is possible.

source:  20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Ed the driver had a scary-looking accident Sunday morning of qualifying. Ed the owner has had his crew repair two cars last week. Ed the driver wants to repay Ed the owner and Ed the overseer of his crew with a win.

Row 5

source:  32-Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

TDZ: One of three under-the-radar drivers to watch that I will pinpoint (will get to the other two further down the order). Servia’s starting higher than he usually does; RLL is typically brilliant on strategy and he’s driving a car with a tribute livery to Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp. A top-five would not shock me in the least.

source:  83-Charlie Kimball, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Until last year when his incident brought the first yellow of the day after 149 laps, Kimball had a pretty good record at Indy with finishes of 13th, eighth and ninth. Barring issues, he’s a lower top-10 contender once more in 2015.

source:  2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Montoya hasn’t been as strong as I thought he would be this month in practice or qualifying, but I’d expect that to change on race day.

Row 6

source:  28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: Like most of his teammates, RHR has flown under the radar this month, and surprisingly in his case. Still, he won from 19th last year and from 16th, cannot be ruled out.

source:  15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: Rahal enters the ‘500 with the most momentum and “buzz” he’s ever had in his career. But like Eminem once said, “If you had, one shot, or one opportunity/To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment/Would you capture it, or just let it slip?” That’s where Graham is this race. He’s either gonna star, or have the momentum come to a crushing halt. There’s no in-between.

source:  29-Simona de Silvestro, TE Connectivity Honda

TDZ: Here we were hoping that de Silvestro’s scary-looking fuel leak-induced fire on Tuesday would be the worst looking bit of practice week. The fan favorite is back for 2015 after a year’s hiatus, and a realistic goal should be a top-12 to top-15 finish.

Row 7

source:  7-James Jakes, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Jakes has had a typical Jakesy month thus far: clean and under-the-radar. A top-15 finish should be the goal.

source:  48-Alex Tagliani, Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda

TDZ: I’m tempted to included Tagliani as a top sleeper on Sunday but I can’t fully due to the fact A.J. Foyt Enterprises is running a third car for the first time since 2005. If he mirrors or exceeds his 13th place of a year ago with a one-off crew, that’s the job done and dusted.

source:  8-Sage Karam, Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Chevrolet

TDZ: My top sleeper in the field, and not just because he’s sponsored by a pillow company in Comfort Revolution (which Karam was actually handing out on media day). Karam has been dynamic in race trim all month, has the confidence of a successful ‘500 debut under his belt and should be a quick mover from P21. He may not win it, but I think a top-five is possible.

Row 8

source:  43-Conor Daly, FUELED by BACON Special Honda

TDZ: One of America’s brightest young hopes makes his second ‘500 start in a car that screams red, white and blue. And has the one of best hashtags known to mankind in #FueledByBacon. Conor won’t win it but he’ll be damn fun to watch.

source:  24-Townsend Bell, The Robert Graham Special Chevrolet

TDZ: Along with Karam and Servia, Bell is another driver I have high expectations for (check his month of May blogs here). Prior to his qualifying run he was among the top-five in race trim. The DRR crew is stellar on pit stops and I could see Bell in the top-five or seven in the final laps.

source:  14-Takuma Sato, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: For having a relative lack of results in this race, Sato’s been impressive more often than not. He was in top-five position last year before a late pit stop shuffled him back. I could realistically see him in the top-10 or 12 if all goes to plan.

Row 9

source:  63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: As last year, if the balance is right she could end top-15. She remains a fan favorite and is racing for a great cause, having just gone over the $50,000 threshold in raising money for breast cancer awareness via her #GetInvolved campaign.

source:  98-Gabby Chaves, Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda

TDZ: With no disrespect to Stefano Coletti, I’ll be surprised if Chaves isn’t your rookie-of-the-year. Great maturity, level-headed, decent race pace and enters the race having won last year’s Freedom 100. People don’t know how good he is … yet.

source:  17-Sebastian Saavedra, AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: In a Ganassi car, Saavedra has been decent this month. If he can match or exceed his 32nd to 15th run of 2014 he’ll be in good shape.

Row 10

source:  41-Jack Hawksworth, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: It’s been a tough month for Hawksworth, and like several others in the field the goal is simply getting through 200 laps scot-free.

source:  4-Stefano Coletti, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

TDZ: Coletti has adapted decently well to the Speedway in his maiden oval voyage, but I can’t see him doing much better than a top-20 at best. Has struggled for pace all month.

source:  88-Bryan Clauson, KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s/Cancer Centers of America Chevrolet

TDZ: Clauson has had a more stressful month than likely he or the team anticipated. It’s good to have both the Byrd family and Clauson back in the race, but realistically a top-20 would be a good result.

Row 11

source:  5-Ryan Briscoe, Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda

TDZ: A tough spot for Briscoe in replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe, but the consummate professional should do his job admirably. Hell, he’s already got Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 wins under his belt this year.

source:  18-Tristan Vautier, Dale Coyne Racing Honda

TDZ: What an odyssey it’s been for Vautier. From no ride to two rides in the span of two weeks, Vautier is the first driver in the modern era to have qualified one car and then raced another one. Expectations are low for a finish but like Davison in the No. 19 car, a top-15 finish would not surprise.

source:  19-James Davison, Always Evolving/Dale Coyne Racing Honda

TDZ: There’s something perfect about Always Evolving and Dale Coyne Racing coming together given the fluid nature of the No. 19 car’s driver situation. And the ‘500 is a case in point, with Vautier qualifying and Davison racing due to conflicts. In his limited laps, Davison’s been damn impressive, and paired with engineer Michael Cannon don’t be surprised if this car evolves into a top-15 finisher.