We’re at the time of year where there’s no shortage of speculation on just which drivers and teams are going to round out our Indianapolis 500 field. Every season, it seems, there’s a fair amount of worry that 33 entries will not be achieved for Indy. This is where the old adage “Keep Calm And Carry On” is valuable. There will be 33 entries for Indianapolis, and possibly 34. Will there be 34 for sure? No one is certain, though Honda and Chevy did anticipate 17 engines each. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be used, but at least we know they’re available for prospective entries. Honestly, we're at 30 right now with the Michel Jourdain announcement, and will be at 31 once Coyne announces his ride as expected. 33 is not a stretch, and 34 is at least feasible.
Below is a list of the drivers most commonly considered in the hunt for one of the last few seats for the Indianapolis 500. Please bear in mind that this is simply an aggregation of public statements and what we think we know. Anyone who’s followed the chaos before Indianapolis knows that everything can change on a deal at the drop of a hat. The best advice is until you get an official announcement, or actually see a driver’s butt in the driver’s seat, have a healthy amount of skepticism.
Townsend Bell: Bell has always been considered an oval specialist, and he’s been a regular program addition at Indy since the merger. The last three years have seen him in a Schmidt car, though this year there was some speculation he’d end up with Ed Carpenter’s crew. With Carpenter stating a second car for Indy looking unlikely, that shifts the suspicion back to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as far as a possible destination. Bell is apparently still scrapping to put together what is needed for a ride this year, and Sam Schmidt has said the needed sponsorship is still only 50/50 at this point. We’ll see if the two work this out, and if Bell is indeed their driver for a third SPM car. Sarah Fisher's team has also been brought up a couple of times, despite the hour being very late.
Bryan Clauson: Clauson’s Indy program came together last year with the help of the USAC/Road to Indy scholarship, which helped him land with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. This year, there’s been no public awarding of the scholarship (yet), but Clauson appears to be working hard on a late deal that would get him into a ride for a sophomore attempt at Indy. The 3-time USAC National Drivers Champion’s relationship with Tony Stewart might earmark him for a Chevy, though that remains to be seen. Don’t count him out yet.
Jay Howard: Howard was extremely vocal about having a program for Indy at this point last year, though his partnership with Michael Shank Racing famously did not work out due to the entire engine supply issue. This year, he’s been pretty quiet, only mentioning that he’s still working on it. Frankly, there’s just not a lot of info to go on here. Cavin stated he saw him possibly in a Schmidt ride, but there’s nothing concrete there, either. If we do see him this year, it'll be as a third Schmidt entry, it would seem.
Buddy Lazier: Let’s qualify this one: the only place the Buddy Lazier rumors seem to be coming out of are from some posters at TrackForum, albeit some that are pretty reputable in nature. Still, there’s been no other updates on any sort of Buddy Lazier effort, aside from it allegedly being tied to the chassis from last year’s Fan Force United effort. That’s pretty slim pickings, for now. As Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee said on Trackside last night, we'll have to see if the funding actually comes through.
Jaques Lazier: The other part of the “out of left field” brotherly duo in the 500 rumor mill, Jaques seems the more concrete of the two right now (relatively speaking). We know he was at Long Beach, he’s talked with Chevy, and he apparently has a new chassis he’s bringing to the discussion. If Carpenter doesn’t run another car and Jaques does manage a Chevy deal, that leaves teams like Panther/Panther-DRR as a possibility, or possibly a brand-new effort with support or in conjunction with an existing team. I would have laughed at you three weeks ago if you said Jaques Lazier would be added for an Indy run this year, but not now. That doesn't mean it will happen, but it's at least a possibility.
Pippa Mann: Mann has sent out several optimistic tweets in the last week or so, but nothing specific to her Indy 500 ride. She has been mentioned as a possibility at Dale Coyne, but there’s been no mention from Coyne as to a deal in the third car. Coyne is pretty famously close-mouthed, so aside from knowing there will likely be a third Coyne car, that’s as much as we can officially say at this point. With any luck, we'll hear something official soon on the ride.
Buddy Rice: Rice is always mentioned as a possibility to return for Indy, and of course there’s always talk of him lining up once more at Panther Racing. Yet with a second Panther car looking questionable and given the other individuals with possible funding sniffing around for a ride, it seems fairly unlikely we’ll see him this year. Still, you never know. So long as there are ovals and Buddy Rice is kicking, he will be a part of the rumor mill.
Of course, you'll hearing a couple of other names--John Andretti, Tomas Scheckter, Wade Cunningham (Larry Foyt has said it's very unlikely there will be a third Foyt car)--and you can take those as you will. But given the number of names currently swirling around rides, 33 cars will not be an issue. I don't believe 34 will, either. But either way, sit back, cross your fingers for your favorite drivers, and see how it plays out over the next two weeks.