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

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”