Five things to watch for in the Indy 500


The biggest day of auto racing is nearly upon us and it’s highlighted by the 103rd running of the Indy 500, which will be seen on NBC for the first time in its history. The day starts with Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix and will end under the lights at Charlotte for the Coke 600, but neither of those races has more pageantry and tradition than the 500.

The 2012 season was a watershed for the race. Since then, the list of drivers who have won and led races reads like never before and this year promises to be just as wild as the past seven years.

When Dario Franchitti won the 2012 Indy 500 after taking the lead for the seventh time that afternoon to lead the last two laps, little did he know that the personality of this race would change. Here are some of the ways it has become different and what to watch for this Sunday.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedule

  1. From 1996 (when IRL/IndyCar took over the sanction) through 2011, the average lead changes in the 500 was 16.5. Only four times in those 16 races were there more than 20. In the past seven Indy 500s there have been an average of 41.7 lead changes, never fewer than 30 and a record 68 in 2013. The last two 500s featured 35 in 2017 and 30 last year, so expect something in that range.
  2. Since the 2012 season, no one has earned more than one Indy 500 victory. In fact, you have to go back to Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 to find a repeat winner. The last time a driver won back-to-back 500s was 2001/2002 when Helio Castroneves completed the feat
  3. Six races prior to 2012 were won from the first two rows and three from the pole. The next five races were all won from outside the top 10. In 2018 the trend reversed with Takuma Sato winning from the fourth position and Will Power taking the checkers from third last year.
  4. The first five races this year have featured five different winners. From their ranks, only Sato (2017) and Alexander Rossi (2016) have a previous Indy 500 wins. Don’t be surprised to see another unique winner for the season. The driver with the most momentum this year, but no victory is Scott Dixon with three runner-up finishes and a third in five races this year.
  5. If Dixon can win this week, he will keep the recent streak of unique Indy 500 winners alive and stretch that to nine consecutive races in addition to keeping the 2019 streak intact. To win, Dixon will have to climb from 18th. Since 1988 only one driver has started further back before winning. That was Ryan Hunter-Reay from 19th in 2014.

Watch the Indy 500 on May 26 on NBC

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”