Which ‘long shots’ can win the Indianapolis 500?

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INDIANAPOLIS – There are many favorites that can win Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 (11 am ET on NBC). There are the four Team Penske drivers including pole winner Simon Pagenaud, defending Indy 500 winner Will Power, NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Ed Carpenter Racing is stacked with its three drivers starting 2, 3 and 4 including, in order, Ed Carpenter, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones.

Andretti Autosports is always a contender at the Indy 500 and Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, leads that brigade with a ninth-place starting position.

Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing is also a threat as is former winner Takuma Sato and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

No matter where those drivers start in the field of 33, they have to be considered prime contenders to fight it out at the finish of Sunday’s 500-Mile Race.

But who are the “Long Shots?”

There are several prime candidates that fit into that category and one of the best longshots is starting in the middle of the last row.

NBC Sports.com has analyzed the starting lineup and picked these seven drivers as “Long Shots” that could possibly win the 103rdIndianapolis 500.

WISE PICKS

James Hinchcliffe – Despite starting 32ndin the 33-car starting lineup, Hinchcliffe was a solid pick to make the field on Saturday if he had not crashed in the Turn 2 wall with his primary car in the first round of qualifications. It was unlike 2018 when his car was slow on its original run, had a vibration issue on its second run and the clock ran out with Hinchcliffe still in the qualification line to take the track.

INDYCAR PHOTONow that the popular driver from Canada is in the race, the former Indy 500 Pole winner is very capable of driving through the field and making his way into the top five, just as Rossi did in 2018.

Keep an eye on the No. 5 Arrow Honda on Sunday because he’s going to be putting on a show in his charge from the rear of the field.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – The 2014 Indy 500 winner starts 22ndafter struggling to find speed during Saturday’s qualifications. IndyCar’s “Captain America” won the 2014 race starting 19th, so he knows it can be done and he’s just the driver to do it. In the last three Indy 500s, Herta’s DHL Honda has led 81 laps.

Colton Herta – How does a driver starting fifth qualify as a long-shot. Well, he’s only 19 and he is starting his seventh career NTT IndyCar Series race. Herta has a chance to break Troy Ruttman’s record as the youngest Indianapolis 500 winner. Ruttman was just 22 when he won the 1952 Indy 500 after race leader Bill Vukovich crashed with just nine laps to go after leading 150 laps.

Herta is calm, cool and poised, especially for a teenager. A victory by Herta would be huge because he’s already gathering interest from fans in his age group that are the future fans of IndyCar. He already won a race this season when he became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his victory at Circuit of the Americas. His Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda is fast and Herta already drives like a savvy veteran.

DECENT PICKS

Charlie Kimball – He is the only one of the three drivers at Carlin that made the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup. Kimball, an NTT IndyCar Series race winner with Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio in 2013, has been a solid performer in past Indianapolis 500s. He finished third in 2015 behind race winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Power. He finished fifth in the 100thIndianapolis 500, eighth in 2012 and ninth in 2013.

INDYCAR Photo He had an engine issue that dropped him to 25thin 2017, his final year with Ganassi. Last year, driving for the startup Carlin team, he finished 18th.

Kimball’s driving style is perfectly suited for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because he is always calm and in control. Racing in the Indianapolis 500 is like driving through a severe storm with high winds for 3-1/2 hours, so it takes a steadiness and calmness to succeed.

Conor Daly – Another popular driver with the fans, Daly has struggled in the past in the Indianapolis 500. But this year, he landed what he calls the “ride of a lifetime” at Andretti Autosport. It’s the No. 25 United States Air Force Honda and he has made the most of his opportunity this month. Daly starts 11th, right beside teammate Mark Andretti in 10thand in the row behind of the favorites, Alexander Rossi in ninth.

The three drivers can group together early in the race and advance forward.

This is Daly’s best ride at the Indy 500. Now, it’s time for him to deliver.

Graham Rahal – Stuck in 17thstarting position, Rahal is fully capable of racing to the front from mid-pack. This is actually one of Rahal’s better starting positions in recent years at Indy. He started 30thlast year and 26thin 2016 and 2013. If his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team finds the right setup on Race Day, Rahal could be there at the end to fight it out. He is confident the addition of engineer Allen McDonald can make that happen.

BOLD GAMBLES

Felix Rosenqvist – Starting way back in 29thpotions, the rookie driver from Sweden has a lot of miles and passes ahead of him to make it to the front of the Indy 500 field. But he is driving a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and that in itself gives him a fighting chance.

INDYCAR PhotoJR Hildebrand – An adjunct professor at Stanford University, Hildebrand was Indy’s ultimate “Heartbreak Kid” in 2011 when he was leading the race, heading to the checkered flag on the final lap and crashed in the Turn 4 wall. The late Dan Wheldon went on to win after Hildebrand’s “Bill Buckner” moment. He’s a much different driver eight years later and a Hildebrand win for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would be his ultimate redemption.

Jack Harvey – He finished third in the most recent NTT IndyCar Series race two weeks ago in the INDYCAR Grand Prix. His career is on an upward trajectory. Last year, his team made a huge gamble on fuel strategy that could have paid off if there had been one more caution. Harvey was in second place, but running low on fuel, when he had to pit six laps from the finish.

There are many drivers capable of winning the 103rd Indianapolis as this is the closest field from the pole speed to 33rd position in history. This is also a race where that has a few surprises end up in the top 10 and even top five, some of them may not be on this list.

And that’s what makes them “Long Shots.”

Ryan: Stressful second title is a soup good for Josef Newgarden’s soul

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MONTEREY, Calif. – At her family’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, Tina Newgarden always keeps an extra stash of corn chowder in the freezer.

She never knows when her son, Josef, unexpectedly might drop by in desperate need of his go-to comfort food.

“It’s just in case I’m not at home, and he just goes in and grabs it himself if he’s coming home from out of town,” Tina said with a knowing smile. “And then you’ll catch him down there eating his favorite soup and watching a movie.”

When he gets done this week with the whirlwind of media obligations required after becoming an NTT IndyCar Series champion for the second time, you probably will find Newgarden curled up on the couch with a warm bowl of old-fashioned goodness in his lap and an inspirational flick on the TV (perhaps a screening of “Return of the Jedi” for a Star Wars fan).

He was crowned Sunday as the best driver on a highly competitive circuit after a season of excellence (average start of 5.5, average finish of 5.6), but Josef Newgarden really has had a tough couple of months.

That was evident in the tears that flowed immediately after he exited his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and seemed ready to collapse in a pool of relief from the mental exhaustion and high anxiety that had followed his quest to become a two-time champion.

“I don’t ever cry,” Newgarden, 28, said Sunday after gritting out an eighth-place finish that clinched the championship in the season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway. “Actually, it infuriates my fiancée because I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of her. It disturbed her in some ways. She’s like, ‘You never cry! I don’t know why you don’t do that. You should cry at some point.”

If there’s anyone who knew how the 2019 points battle weighed on him, it was Ashley Welch and the rest of Newgarden’s family – the outlet that was emotionally invested and supportive of his career but also provides a release from the tension.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with his father, Joey (left), his grandmother Karen Rasmussen (front), his fiancee, Ashley (second from right), and mother Tina (right) after his second championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

They were all on hand Sunday (including his father, Joey, and his “Mormor” Karen Rasmussen, the 80-year-old maternal grandmother who came from Denmark to attend her second IndyCar race) and shared in the culmination of what’s been a very emotional and eventful year (which still has wedding bells ahead).

Josef Newgarden with his grandmother (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Was it stressful?

“To say the least,” a beaming Welch said as she watched her fiancé hoist the Astor Cup on the championship stage. “The level of competitiveness in this sport is unreal. Any different guy can come in and win any different race.

“For him to be leading all of those different guys who had just as much potential, if not more sometimes. It means so much. We had a friend tell him after the first one, anyone can win one championship, but they remember you if you win two. So I think he feels like ‘Oh, it’s not just luck. I’m meant to be here.’ And that is …”

Welch paused and her voice briefly quavered as she watched Newgarden, whom she has been together with for seven years (they were engaged last October), hoist the Astor Cup above his head.

“Beautiful,” she smiled. “So I think you see all his emotion coming from it. I know him, and he’s thinking about how many people put their neck on the line to get him to where he is today. He talks about when he was little and starting to watch IndyCar racing, Penske was his pinnacle. Getting to drive for them but being able to perform and make an impact on their history, he feels it so much.

“You saw all the outpouring of “My dreams have come true! I’ve worked so hard, and they’re here!”

It certainly was a different feeling than two years ago when Newgarden won the pole position at Sonoma, led 41 laps and won punctuated his inaugural championship with a runner-up finish in the season finale.

Sunday’s drive was indicative of the weight – and wait — that Newgarden had endured while leading the championship standings for virtually six consecutive months since winning the season opener at St. Petersburg (he was out of the points only once – after a fourth in the Indianapolis 500 that now is the only void in his career).

“The first (championship), it was shocking and overwhelming,” Tina Newgarden said. “The second time it’s almost like he had this mark on his back because he’s been leading the points the whole season. So it would be really sad, devastating if he didn’t get it at the end of the season. But I’m so proud of him. He’s very disciplined. He just loves it so much.”

“If he’s down and has a bad day, then we’re down having a bad day as well. It’s terrible, but that’s just how it is. This is a good year, so now we can all breathe. The last two months has really been a little stressful. So yeah. We’ve been trying to keep the mood up, but God, I’m so happy!”

Newgarden, who qualified fourth and never had winning pace all weekend, said he felt “more nervous because I felt like this one was more ours to lose, and I thought we deserved (the championship). I didn’t want to make a mistake. I got a bit nervous in the middle of the race because I thought we were going down a rabbit hole we didn’t want to be down.”

But the very un-Newgarden-esque eighth – only the fourth time in 17 races he finished outside the top 10 this season – was the outcome of a sound pit strategy that delivered the title by 25 points over Simon Pagenaud, who proclaimed his Penske teammate “the most deserving guy” to win the title.

“It didn’t really start weighing on me until we got (to Laguna Seca),” Newgarden said. “I knew it would hit me here because it was double points. You know it’s going to be a very difficult situation. It’s just that intensity and that unknown, where if you make a small mistake, it can turn into a very big mistake. At another event, it wouldn’t be that way.”

Team owner Roger Penske noticed Newgarden had butterflies on the race morning before he would join Sam Hornish Jr. as the only American to win multiple IndyCar championships in the past two decades. “I think there’s so much emotion inside for someone like that because you’ve got to be perfect,” Penske said. “And I think the fact that he was able to execute the way he did, it was just a time to let it all out.”

Newgarden now is among lofty company on a list of multi-time champions at Team Penske that includes Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Al Unser and Gil de Ferran. And his four-win season helped him take a critical step toward putting his name with true IndyCar legends such as A.J. Foyt (seven championships), Scott Dixon (five) and Mario Andretti (four).

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s harder to win a second championship than a first,” he said. “And I think in a lot of ways, that’s true. It’s very difficult to win a championship. But then to follow it up and make it happen again, it seems like a bigger mountain almost.

“I don’t know what causes that. But I just had it in my mind that if we could get this done, it’d be the achievement of the year.”

It’s especially impressive considering everything Newgarden is trying to accomplish in 2019. Besides winning a championship, he also:

–Will be getting married Oct. 26 to Welch in Nashville;

Moved from Davidson, North Carolina, (near Team Penske headquarters) to his hometown;

–Began building a house with Welch, who also brought home a rescue pup named Zoomer (or affectionately known as “Zoom” around home). “They say a year, but it’s going to be a year and a half” to finish, Welch said with a laugh. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment. I told him I don’t want to have kids in a one-bedroom apartment.”

–Underwent several oral surgeries to correct some improper dental work from childhood.

“We could have taken a couple things off the plate,” Newgarden said. “But you know what? Everything needed to be done. We wanted everything to get done, and we’re doing it all. I don’t know how the year worked out, because (racing) is the priority. You do all those things and decide, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make the plate this full.’ But something still has to take the cake at the end of the day, and the racing is what does that. And everyone knows that’s the program, and this is the most important part of the year, because you don’t get that back.

“If you have an opportunity to race and compete for a championship, when it’s there, you’ve got to take it. So I tried to keep that at the forefront of my mind all year, and I made it the priority, but it was just a little more difficult with all the other things going on.”

Josef Newgarden kisses his fiancee, Ashley Welch, after winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Welch, who knew nothing about racing while working as a princess cast member at Disney World when Newgarden “swept me off my feet,” provides a release valve. Though she is comfortable with being a knowledgeable member of the paddock (“I know what push to pass means. That was a big thing for me”), Welch also can help distract him from the pressure of IndyCar.

“I think it’s better to know less, because then he is able to escape at home and make home be home, and then work be work,” she said. “Because when you’re in a professional sport, you can’t really escape the work. It comes home with you whether in interviews or social media, or just obligations in general, or practice, or research. You’re always living in it, so I think it’s really smart to just have your home be home.”

In that sense, staying busy in his personal life has been good for the extremely affable Newgarden, a self-described introvert who gradually has withdrawn from social media in his late 20s.

Though he is as articulate and eloquent as any driver in auto racing, he also is happy to defer to his teammates on promotional opportunities because “I go home and am happy to be away from all of it. … I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just my introverted-ness that’s getting worse. I really try to do the best I can for the series and team and partners. It is so important to represent in the right way, but at the same time, it’s gotten harder” to be on social media in a professional setting.

“It’s all the racing,” Tina Newgarden said when asked about the source of her son’s stress. “Him building a house and all that, that’s nothing. That’s easy. (Winning a championship) is not easy. Anything else is easy.

“He got it, so I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the very lucky ones that made it here, because for every one, I’m sure there are 500 (drivers) looking in, wanting to have that. But he worked hard, and I just told him one time, ‘Don’t be so moody about it when it doesn’t go well.’ He’s still moody about it if it doesn’t go well! He’s still the same.”

That’s why the bowl of corn chowder still is waiting in her freezer.

A hearty meal for two-time champion who finally can relax.