Memorial Day Weekend is huge in the motorsports world. We’ve already taken a look at the Coca-Cola 600, but let’s switch gears from stock cars to open wheels and take a look at the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is the granddaddy of them all as far as IndyCar events go and all of the sport’s best will be looking to position themselves for that iconic victory.
Odds are on the right for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers as we examine this year’s race that will be held on Sunday May 26 at 12 p.m. ET.
Pomp and Circumstance
More than two weeks of events lead up to the Indy 500. The Indianapolis Grand Prix was run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 11 and won by Simon Pagenaud, who also has the pole position for the 500. Practices began on May 14 and qualifying was done over the weekend. “Carb Day” is on Friday, with the last day of practice and the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race.
There is a lot that goes into this race to say the least and it is the crown jewel of the IndyCar Series season.
That’s good because there have been some changes to the 2.5-mile oval. A new aerodynamics package is in place and so is a new fuel provider. A binding agent was applied to the oval track and we’ll have to see how that plays out. The main straightaway was part of the Grand Prix race, but the turns were not. Drivers have gotten some practice and qualifying reps, but we’ll have to see how they run with everybody on the track.
What’s Happened So Far?
We haven’t covered the IndyCar Series season to date, but this is the sixth race of the race. We’ve had five different winners. Josef Newgarden opened with a win in St. Petersburg. Colton Herta won in Austin. Takuma Sato won in Birmingham, Alabama. Alexander Rossi won at Long Beach. Simon Pagenaud won the Indy Grand Prix.
Newgarden is the points leader with 184. He finished 15th in the Indy Grand Prix to give up some of his lead to Dixon, who is second with 176 points. He hasn’t won yet, but has finished second three times in the five races. Rossi and Pagenaud are tied for third with 147 points. Sato rounds out the top five.
Indy 500 co-favorite Will Power is sixth and hasn’t finished higher than third this season. Sebastien Bourdais is seventh, with Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and James Hinchcliffe rounding out the top 10.
The Indy 500 is unique in that it is the first oval track race of the season. The next one will be at Texas on June 8.
The Big Board
As mentioned, Will Power is one of the favorites this week. Pole sitter Simon Pagenaud is the other early in the week with odds of +750. It seems like IndyCar has an enhanced probability of mechanical failures and wrecks relative to NASCAR, so the favorites are higher priced and the middle guys are priced accordingly.
After Power and Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter, who was the second-fastest in qualifying, is listed at +840. So is Alexander Rossi. Points leader Josef Newgarden is fifth at +850. This will be Carpenter’s first race of the season. Rookie Colton Herta is +1100, with Spencer Pigot at +1300 and Scott Dixon at the same price. Helio Castroneves is +1500. Everybody else is +2000 on down.
Road vs. Oval
One of the things that makes the Indy 500 so interesting is that a lot of open-wheel racers excel on road courses and struggle on oval courses. As exceptional as Scott Dixon has been in his career, his only win in this race came back in 2008. Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon are the only multiple winners in this race dating back to 2004. Helio Castroneves won in 2009 and also won in 2001 and 2002. He is the only active three-time winner of the Indy 500. AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears all won four times.
Newgarden has 11 career wins, but only three have come on ovals. He won at Iowa, Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, and Phoenix with one win per season from 2016-18. Dixon has one win, two seconds, and a third in the Indy 500. He did win at Texas last year for the second time in his career and he has various oval wins at Phoenix, Kentucky, and Homestead-Miami, but he’s also been a lot more proficient on road courses.
Pagenaud hasn’t finished better than sixth in the Indy 500. He did win on the oval at Phoenix in 2017, but that is his only oval win. He was second at Texas last year and third two years ago. Rossi won his first Indy 500 in 2016 and that is his only traditional oval win. He does have a win on the Tricky Triangle at Pocono. He starts from ninth, but he’s not a bad bet this week.
Illinois native Carpenter qualified second for the race, but he’s had the pole position three times in the past with finishes of 10th, 27th, and second. It’s hard to like his chances, even with the good pole spot. Herta, a 19-year-old rookie, won the Indy Lights race last year prior to the 500 and actually finished second in points last season. He had a win at Daytona earlier this year in the SportsCar Championship. He might be one of the better oval racers here, but he’s young and that has shown the last three races with finishes of 24th, 23rd, and 23rd.
So who do we take this week? Will Power is having a rough season, but he has two career wins at Pocono and has two wins, a second, and a few pole positions at Texas. He likes this track, with three Indy Grand Prix wins and last year’s Indy 500 win. He’s a co-favorite at +750, but that’s just fine with me.
Tony Kanaan’s best days are behind him, but he’s got a balloon price at +2650. Kanaan, who even ran in the Xfinity Series a bit, won this race back in 2013. He had top-five finishes in 2016 and 2017. He hasn’t had much success the last few years, but he’s run well on the oval at Texas and also won in 2014 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on the oval. He’s a decent long shot pick and a good matchups bet.