Friday, May 27, 2011

Seven Dark Horse Picks For This Year's Indy 500

This is a difficult year in which to do dark horse picks for the Indy 500. This field is too even, with too much parity, and there remain so many drivers that one feels really have a shot at this: Dan Wheldon, Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, and so many more. But there a few names that haven't quite had the buzz this month that could end up playing spoiler in the Centennial Anniversary 500. Of course, this all goes with the cautionary advice that Indy can end any challenge abruptly on a whim. But in no particular order, here are 7 dark horse picks I'll be keeping an eye on come Sunday:

Bertrand Baguette: If you spend any time at all observing the Breadman, you'll notice he's quiet, perceptive, and seemingly quite confident. Since last year, I always sort of felt a big breakout might be waiting for Baguette; from the way folks talk about him in the garage area, it doesn't sound like many insiders would be completely surprised to see it. RLLR is a solid team here, and he's working from a decent starting position in the middle of Row 5.

Baguette: I'd chosen him as a lock, but then I (Belgian) waffled.
(Image Courtesy of IndyCar Media)
Ed Carpenter: If the hardcore IndyCar fan base could psychically will a driver to victory right now, I think they'd be split 50/50 between Simona de Silvestro and Ed Carpenter. Sarah Fisher's team need to avoid any mistakes in the pits and put together some nice long runs, but in a year where Carpenter's alma mater (Butler) nearly shocked the world again, I'm not giving up on seeing the ultimate Cinderella story come to fruition. Plus, Carpenter's maturation as a driver on the ovals cannot be discounted; he's at home (literally) at Indy.

Jay Howard: When I was a kid playing Nintendo, a lot of times I'd get stuck on a specific world or level of a game for hours on end. Whatever I did, it seemed like something kept me from reaching that next level. Yet when I finally did pass that level, I couldn't be stopped. I'd plow through the next part of the game like it was no challenge at all. A big part of me wonders if Jay Howard will do the same at Indy this year. He's finally in the 500 field in a solid RLLR car, and the field's biggest enigma might just put any critics that might remain to rest.

Tony Kanaan: Honestly, who isn't excited to watch Tony Kanaan on these double-files restarts (aside from the people he'll pass, of course)? TK's odyssey for that elusive 500 continues; he started dead last in 2010 and still fought hard until the very end. He's not starting from his best starting spot ever, but it sure doesn't seem to faze him much.

Tomas Scheckter: Second only to Kanaan with most career laps led at Indy without a victory, Tomas figures to be his normal exciting, aggressive, driving self. Like Kanaan, he could genuinely benefit from the double-file restart format, which plays to his natural strengths.

Marco Andretti: Marco's the furthest back of anyone on this list, but he's got two 3rd-place finishes and a 2nd at Indy; he's got the place figured out. The only warning here is that he seems to have poor runs in off year (2007, 2009), so if you're superstitious or a numerologist of some sort, perhaps 2011 isn't looking so hot. It's been 42 years since an Andretti won here; perhaps the Centennial is ready to impart a little magic to the proceedings.

Vitor Meira: Meira narrowly missed out on being in the first 3 rows of the field. It's true, he holds the active streak in IndyCar for most starts without a win, but there's not an ounce of quit in him. This will be Vitor's 9th Indy 500, and this is the best car he's had since 2008, when he finished 2nd. It's been an under-the-radar month for Vitor, but that could change in a hurry once this thing gets started. AJ Foyt won the 50th Anniversary Indy 500 as a driver; if Vitor gets just a few breaks, Super Tex could be celebrating the Centennial Anniversary 500 as a a winning owner once more.

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