SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Christmas Day of auto racing is finally upon us. As I prepare to report on site for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday (May 28), it’s time to pen a special edition of 4 Burning Questions that covers both INDYCAR and the Brickyard’s biggest day of the year.
1. How has the polesitter fared in the Indianapolis 500?
Alex Palou – with a record pole speed of 234.217 mph – will lead the field to green for the 107th running of this 500-mile event.
Starting on pole is a good place to be, and for good reason: of the 106 Indy 500s in the record books, 21 of them were won by the driver starting first. Simon Pagenaud in 2019 was the most recent driver to accomplish the feat; since 1996, the 500 has been won from the pole six times.
Even when they haven’t won, the polesitter has generally gone on to be one of the best-performing cars during the race. Check out their results from just the last five seasons:
|2018||Ed Carpenter||2nd, led most laps|
|2019||Simon Pagenaud||1st, led most laps|
|2022||Scott Dixon||21st, led most laps (sped on final pit stop)|
Ganassi looked stout once again last season, as winner Marcus Ericsson, Palou and Dixon combined to lead 155 of the 200 laps.
So, expect more of the same in 2023 from one of the strongest teams in the NTT IndyCar Series. Palou has led 82 laps combined in his last two starts at Indianapolis, and it appears that he’ll lead many more on Sunday.
2. How will Graham Rahal perform in his sub role for Stefan Wilson?
Last weekend, the month of May was set to be a time to forget for Graham Rahal. 34 cars were the entered in the race, and he was the odd one out on Sunday’s (May 21) Bump Day. Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Jack Harvey knocked him out at the last minute with a four-lap qualifying speed that was .007 mph faster.
But during a practice session a day later on Monday, May 22, Rahal got a second chance, albeit under tough circumstances. Stefan Wilson was hospitalized after he suffered a fracture of the 12th thoracic vertebrae in a practice crash. Rahal was named his replacement a day later, driving the No. 24 that’s a dual effort between Cusick Motorsports and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. It leaves Rahal starting shotgun on the field, 33rd, for his 16th consecutive Indy 500 appearance.
Prior to the accident, Wilson had qualified 25th. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Cusick Motorsports teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay slotted in 18th and is preparing for his first IndyCar start since 2021.
In a bizarre twist, Rahal might have a better performance than if he had qualified in RLL Racing’s No. 15 car. The multi-car organization has been mysteriously lacking speed all month, causing the three cars they qualified to all start outside the top 28. Part-timer Katherine Legge will lead RLL’s trio in 29th, with Christian Lundgaard starting 30th and Harvey 32nd.
Both Hunter-Reay and Wilson appeared to have decent showings in time trials, and with an experienced driver like Rahal behind the wheel, a top-20 finish or better would be a solid showing for the No. 24 team.
3. Who will win Indy 500 Rookie of the Year?
The Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award is one of the most prestigious honors to receive at Indianapolis behind winning the race itself. For the 107th edition, there are four drivers making their Indy 500 debut: Benjamin Pedersen, Agustin Canapino, RC Enerson and Sting Ray Robb.
Among the quartet, the one that has impressed the most in the month of May is Pedersen. AJ Foyt Racing has clearly found speed, as Pedersen will start the race from 11th; teammate Santino Ferrucci will start from the second row in fourth.
The others struggled in qualifying, with Canapino 26th, Enerson 28th and Robb 31st. That’s only qualifying, however, and it’s 200 laps and 500 miles on Sunday. Running up front is paramount, but surviving to the finish still plays an important role in the award.
Given the results of time trials, Pedersen looks to be the most likely pre-race pick. He’s also got a sentimental boost with Foyt, at age 88, in position for his best Indy 500 since earning the win with Kenny Brack back in 1999.
4. Scott Dixon has led more laps in the 500 than any other driver. Is this the year he finally returns to victory lane?
Dixon achieved immortality early on at Indianapolis in his career, as he scored a dominant 2008 win en route to his second IndyCar championship.
He’s led more laps in the Indy 500 than any other driver (665), including the most laps six times (2008, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2020 and 2022). However, 2008 remains the only win to his name in the 15 years since. If Dixon were to score a second Borg-Warner trophy, he would tie Juan Pablo Montoya’s record for the longest gap in between Indy 500 victories (Montoya won his pair in 2000 and 2015).
It’s a question that’s been asked for a while, but will 2023 finally be the year Dixon gets over the hump again at Indianapolis? As always, it’s anyone’s race. But qualifying last week showed his Chip Ganassi Racing program has brought fast cars to Indy once again.
Dixon will start in sixth, while teammates Palou and defending winner Ericsson will start first and 10th, respectively. As noted above, they led the most laps during the race in 2022, including a race-high 95 from Dixon before a pit road speeding penalty cost him too much track position to overcome.
Come 2023, Dixon looks to be one of the pre-race favorites again and, at age 42, he only has so many more chances to cash in. Will Sunday be his time?
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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