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2016 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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INDIANAPOLIS – Enough words have been written in the buildup to this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

So naturally, then, here’s more words.

Here’s a final round about the field of 33 who will compete for the Borg-Warner Trophy on Sunday in the “Greatest Spectacle of Racing.”

Included in the field are six past winners and five rookies. Past one-liners are linked here (2013, 2014, 2015).

Row 1

5-Arrow-SS-Indy5-James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: The best story of the month has also had the best overall team performance of the month between the Indy GP and qualifying. Is a dream win in store? If it is, it’d be his first on an oval since Iowa in 2013.

21-PreferredFreezer-SS-Indy21-Josef Newgarden, Preferred Freezer Chevrolet

TDZ: Entering his fifth ’500, Newgarden has his best shot yet from P2 at erasing four past mediocre results in this race. “Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place,” says the driver who needs solid pit work to have a chance to match that remark.

28-DHL-SS-Indy28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: One of only four drivers in the field (Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan) with both an Indy 500 win and a series title on his resume, “RHR” is well-positioned for a second ‘500 win.

Row 2

29-RobertGraham-SS-Indy29-Townsend Bell, California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda

TDZ: Arguably the best one-off entry the ’500 has to offer, Bell has clicked well with the Andretti Autosport team and a crew led by engineer Craig Hampson and crew chief Jeff Grahn. Exciting to watch, but hasn’t banked a result of note here since 2009; has best chance to match or exceed P4 this Sunday.

26-UFD-SS-Indy26-Carlos Munoz, United Fiber & Data Honda

TDZ: The sneaky good Colombian is driving better than you’d realize despite a handful of early season mistakes. Might not be a “sexy” pick, but he and this track go together like peanut butter and jelly.

12-Verizon-SS-Indy12-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Starting P6, Power has had an oddly anonymous month of May. His desire to win here, however, for Roger Penske is unquestioned.

Row 3

7-Doom-SS-Indy7-Mikhail Aleshin, DOOM SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: If there was a pay-per-view option simply to watch Aleshin’s on-board, I’d pay. The “Mad Russian” is fast, fearless and focused. He probably won’t win the thing but a top-10 is realistic if he doesn’t crash out from trying.

22-Menards-SS-Indy22-Simon Pagenaud, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud enters in a fascinating position. He was best of Penske’s four cars last year and started from the front row. The series points leader has a chance to win his record-tying fourth race in row but like the rest of the Penske team, hasn’t been stellar in race trim yet. Still should be a top-five contender.

3-Pennzoil-SS-Indy3-Helio Castroneves, Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: The pick solely by numerology, rather than this month’s form. An Helio win in 2016 would be: his fourth, Roger Penske’s 17th, 25 years after the last four-timer (Rick Mears also for Penske), in the team’s 50th year, in the 100th running. The last time he was seven years removed from a ‘500 win in 2009, he won.

Row 4

77-LucasOil-SS-Indy77-Oriol Servia, Lucas Oil Special Honda

TDZ: Like fellow veteran Bell (a guy he once replaced in CART in 2002), Servia’s become a classic one-off ace at the ‘500, although this was the same car that didn’t even get to start last year’s race after its engine grenaded. Provided he starts, Servia’s a solid top-10 pick with top-five potential thanks to his experience.

98-NAPA-SS-Indy98-Alexander Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda

TDZ: Rossi has seriously impressed me this month in taking to IMS methodically but with purpose and proper buildup, understanding how this place works. With a clean race, has a good shot at rookie-of-the-year honors and the mid-regions of a top-10. Don’t underestimate the strategy from Bryan Herta, who’ll call Rossi’s race five years to the day after Herta pulled the shock win in 2011 with Dan Wheldon.

14-ABCSupply-SS-Indy14-Takuma Sato, ABC Supply Co. A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: The lone bright spot in a nightmare month for Foyt’s team, it’s the exciting yet now relatively calmer Sato who carries A.J.’s best – perhaps only – hopes of a good finish.

Row 5

9-Target-SS-Indy9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Tough month for the defending series champion and race pole winner. Thus far the highlight’s been his crew’s miracle engine change last Sunday to qualify, and they appeared to find some race pace on Monday’s practice. From 13th, he’s hardly out of it but perhaps isn’t the outright favorite.

27-Snapple-SS-Indy27-Marco Andretti, Snapple Honda

TDZ: This year’s ’500 is simple for Marco: Win or bust. Nothing else matters, and nothing else will suffice for the 29-year-old, 10 years after his near miss in 2006.

6-PreferredFreezer-SS-Indy6-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: Back-to-back top-10s as a one-off entry with ECR keeps Carpenter in the “top sleeper” category. A win isn’t impossible but still unlikely; a top-five or a third straight top-10 a more realistic target based on his decent race pace.

Row 6

42-Tresiba-SS-Indy42-Charlie Kimball, Tresiba Chevrolet

TDZ: It’s been a strange week or so for Kimball, who was strong early, then fell off when the boost got turned up, then recovered to a respectable 16th on the grid. Kimball’s very good at Indy and shouldn’t be counted out, but an encore of third seems unlikely at this stage.

2-Verizon-SS-Indy2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: The defending race champion won from 15th last year. His most notable moment this month was hitting an errant trash bag during qualifying. He’ll be in contention to win as he seemingly always is in 500-mile races.

10-NTTData-SS-Indy10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The depth of field is such that you can’t count out TK – even from 18th, and even following a largely anonymous month. Problem is, he’s crashed out of his last two ’500s. He needs a finish, but he’ll give it all he’s got, like always.

Row 7

11-Hydroxycut-SS-Indy11-Sebastien Bourdais, Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: For all his star turns in open-wheel racing, Bourdais has never fully felt comfortable at IMS, and as such, isn’t likely to reach much beyond the lower regions of the top-10 at best this race.

20-Fuzzys-SS-Indy20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: The two-time past polesitter has been largely anonymous all month. The crowd favorite needs a finish more than anything after a handful of late race accidents the last few years, but is another in the “feels better in race trim” category.

19-Scouting19-Gabby Chaves, Boy Scouts of America Honda

TDZ: A sneaky good driver who’s immediately clicked with Dale Coyne Racing, Chaves could definitely exceed his 16th-place finish here as a rookie last year. Somewhere in the perhaps 10th-to-15th ballpark seems a good guess, with a sneaky top-five possible on strategy.

Row 8

8-Gallagher-SS-Indy8-Max Chilton, Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Chilton entered the “well, now I have crashed” club on qualifying weekend and bounced back nicely on Sunday. For the Englishman who usually doesn’t make mistakes, guided by engineer Brandon Fry with coaching from Dario Franchitti, a low top-10 to about 13th or 14th place result is the likely best case landing spot.

24-GasMonkey-SS-Indy24-Sage Karam, Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet

TDZ: Talented and no doubt keen to impress in his first IndyCar start since Pocono last year, Karam won’t be “monkeying around” in the DRR-Kingdom Racing entry. Another driver who could well advance into the top-10, and has a very good pit crew for a one-off entry.

18-ShirtsForAmerica-SS-Indy18-Conor Daly, Shirts for America/Lilly Honda

TDZ: Provided he starts, Daly will have already achieved a result better than last year. This will be a fan favorite entry, with Colts punter Pat McAfee’s just-formed shirt company adorning the “Freedom Wagon” – another where a top-15 or better would be a pretty good, realistic target of a result.

Row 9

63-SusanGKomen-SS-Indy63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: Mann’s presence in the ’500 owes much to her relentless work ethic to put deals together and raise awareness and funds for a good cause, and then when the helmet goes on she has a dogged determination to succeed. Has been a tough month with two crashes – one of her doing, one not – but she’s a fighter and will look to bank a solid top-20 or better result.

15-SteakNShake-SS-Indy15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: No other driver or team has made more milkshakes out of limited ingredients on hand than Graham and RLL in the last year and a half, and the Steak ‘n Shake team will need to pull it off again on Sunday. Yet I’ve never felt better about anyone starting P26, and he’s going to be a contender on Sunday.

61-Pirtek-SS-Indy61-Matthew Brabham, PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet

TDZ: The delightfully goofy Australian American driver, the third third generation driver to race at Indy, makes his ’500 debut for the Brett “Crusher” Murray-led team, which has a KVRT technical alliance. A finish is the first goal, a result of any note a bonus.

Row 10

88-JonathanByrds-SS-Indy88-Bryan Clauson, Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda

TDZ: A genuine, down-to-earth dude has immediately felt more comfortable this year at Coyne, but whether the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing-supported driver can actually finish his first ’500 in three attempts remains the big question mark.

16-Manitowoc-SS-Indy16-Spencer Pigot, RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowoc Honda

TDZ: The Mazda Road to Indy poster boy makes his ’500 debut from a lower grid spot than I would have pegged going into the month. That said, he has absolutely nothing to lose, and I could see a classic RLL strategy play put Pigot into late-race contention. A top-10 would be great, with 11th to 16th a more likely target.

25-Drive2SaveLives-SS-Indy25-Stefan Wilson, Driven2SaveLives-KVRT Chevrolet

TDZ: One of the race’s emotional stories, “Stef” makes a great comeback of his own for his ’500 debut. But with an ill-handling racecar in a one-off effort, a finish must be the first realistic target before any result of note can come.

Row 11

41-ABCSupply-SS-Indy41-Jack Hawksworth, ABC Supply Co. A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: Not sure what Hawksworth did to piss off the racing gods at IMSor this season in total – but for a second straight year has had a nightmare month of May with persistent engine issues, culminating with a car-b-que on Monday.

4-Blank-SS-Indy4-Buddy Lazier, Quizno’s Lazier/Burns Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The longest shot in the field of 33 remains one of the race’s best stories in a family-run, small-budget effort 20 years on from his popular 1996 win.

35-AlfeHeat-SS-Indy35-Alex Tagliani, Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda

TDZ: The month hasn’t gone near to plan for one of the best-looking cars in the field and the past polesitter. That being said, Tagliani has snuck late race laps led each of the last two years and if his backup chassis stays on the lead lap, he could steal a top-half finish.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”