No clear-cut favorite to win this year's Indy 500

No clear-cut favorite to win this year's Indy 500

<p>Six drivers in the 33-car field have won the prestigious 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the past -- Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Buddy Lazier, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve.</p>

Six drivers in the 33-car field have won the prestigious 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the past -- Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Buddy Lazier, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve.

In 2000, Montoya became the first driver in 34 years to win the Indy 500 in his first career start, but Montoya has not competed in this event since. Villeneuve has not raced in the Indy 500 since he won it in 1995. Lazier, who took the checkered flag at Indy in 1996, qualified 33rd for this year's race and is a very long shot to win it.

Castroneves, who is Montoya's teammate at Team Penske, is attempting to win his fourth Indy 500, which would place him in a tie with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most victories in this event. Castroneves is the last driver to win it from the pole position in 2009. He will start on the inside of row 2 in this race.

Castroneves knows how competitive the Indy 500 has been lately, especially the last couple of years, with record lead changes in it.

"Obviously, everybody is going for it," Castroneves said. "It's tough going out there every time, running that low downforce the way we are. But that's why it's Indianapolis. It's two kind of races, the Indy 500 and this race."

Castroneves became the first driver to win the Indy 500 consecutively in his first two starts (2001-02).

Dixon, the defending IndyCar Series champion, won the Indy 500 in 2008. He will start on row 4, in between Montoya and Kurt Busch, who is attempting to become the first driver to do the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double in a decade.

One year ago, Kanaan won the Indy 500 for the first time in his 12th attempt. Kanaan, who drove the No. 11 car for KV Racing Technology last season, took the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay following a restart with three laps to go. He pulled ahead of Hunter-Reay just prior to the caution flag being displayed for an accident involving Dario Franchitti in turn 1. The race ended under caution.

Kanaan is now behind the wheel of the No. 10 car for Chip Ganassi Racing. He took over driving duties of that car after Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar champion, announced in November his retirement following a near-fatal crash during an event on October 6 in Houston.

It's quite possible that we might see a different name and face etched into the famed Borg-Warner Trophy this year.

Marco Andretti is usually high on the list of favorites to win the Indy 500, but the 27-year-old son of team owner Michael Andretti and grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti has yet to take the checkered flag for this race. He will start from the outside of row 2.

Will Power, who is the current points leader, has struggled at Indy in the past, finishing no better than 14th in the last three races here. Just two of Power's 22 career victories in IndyCar have come at oval tracks. He won the most recent race held at an oval last October -- the season-finale in Fontana, California. The Team Penske driver qualified on the outside of row 1 for the Indy 500.

"It's definitely a good place to start," Power said. "The further up you are, the better you are. The further inside you are, the better you are. It's a very long race and very interesting style of racing, different to any other racing we have all year with the way the draft works. Just have to make sure we run well in traffic and put ourselves in a position at the end of Sunday to win that thing."

Power will share the front starting row with Ed Carpenter, who won the pole with a four-lap average speed of 231.067 mph, and James Hinchcliffe, who qualified just a tick behind Carpenter at 230.839 mph.

Six drivers are scheduled to make their first Indy 500 starts -- Mikhail Aleshin, Busch, James Davison, Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Huertas and Sage Karam.

This will be Busch's debut in the IndyCar Series as well. He is driving a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport in this race. Busch hopes to complete all 1,100 miles of racing on Sunday -- 500 miles at Indy and then 600 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart, his teammate and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, is the only driver who has accomplished that feat.

"Each day in the Indy car, I'm a student, and I'm learning," Busch said. "The way to approach this is to have fun. I have zero Indy car experience, and I'm trying to elevate my game over there to be competitive. It's difficult. Those [IndyCar Series] guys are good at what they do."

During Monday's practice session for the Indy 500, Busch crashed hard into the wall after he lost control exiting turn 2 while running in a group of cars.

"I'm glad that I experienced it," Busch said of the accident, which occurred roughly 95 minutes into the practice session. "I might sound stupid by saying that I'm glad I wrecked it at 220 mph, but if I didn't put myself in that position, I would have done that on Sunday, possibly 50 laps into the race.

"That's how you have to advance through life is learn from your mistakes. It's a mistake that I wholeheartedly put myself in, and it's because I just started to feel comfortable. I just let my guard down a little bit. And that IndyCar jumped up and bit me."

Busch will drive Marco Andretti's backup car. Repairs to Busch's primary vehicle could not be completed in time for race day. Per IndyCar rules, he will be able to retain his 12th starting position.

Teams will have one last opportunity to practice and fine tune their cars for the Indy 500 in Friday's "Carb Day."

"One more practice to go on Friday then you have what you have for the race," Kanaan said. "I think we've made some pretty good gains this week with the car, and now I'm 100 percent focused on the job we have to do on Sunday."

Series: Verizon IndyCar. Date: Sunday, May 25. Race: Indianapolis 500. Site: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile oval. Start Time: noon ET. Laps: 200. Miles: 500. 2013 Winner: Tony Kanaan. Television: ABC. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.

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