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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.