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.”

Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”