Everyone makes sports predictions -- and I think I do better than most when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. So in this most unpredictable of all sporting events, here are my observations and predictions for the 93rd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Race day it will be Helio Castroneves taking the winner's drink of milk in Victory Lane. He's fast, patient, prepared, and overdue for that third win. And if it comes down to the last few laps, he is more determined than ever, and no one sets up a car at the end of the race better than Team Penske.
Here are a few more observations about what to look for on Race Day.
Preparation: Victory is 90% preparation, and when it comes to preparation the top three names are: Penske, Penske, & Penske
Race Strategy: Andretti Green has shown a great ability to adapt and change strategy to make the best of situation. The down side is that AGR seems to be a bit behind Penske and Ganassi, and not even showing much of a speed advantage over Panther, Newman Hass or even the new KV team.
Early speed: Look for Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe to lead much of the first 200 miles. But the real race won't start until the last 100 miles.
Patience -- Al Unser and Rick Mears were the masters at being patient in the early stages of the race, and getting in position to win during the last 30 laps. The best current driver at doing this -- Helio Castroneves. Another driver who has shown surprising patience in allowing the race to come to her is Danica Patrick. If AGR can give her a good car, she'll be there at the end on Race Day
Bad luck factor: When the Speedway takes a dislike to you, it doesn't "even up the sccore" -- just ask the Andrettis or the Bettenhausens. Unfortunately Tony Kanaan is the current "bad luck" driver at the track. Everyone in racing would be happy to see TK win, and the Speedway owes him one -- but then again the Speedway owes the Andretti family about a dozen.
Best driver in a 10 lap shoot-out: If it gets down to the final laps, who's the best driver in a shootout? With Sam Hornish spinning his wheels in Nascar, it comes down to a very slight edge for Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon -- but not by much over Tony Kanaan.
Best chance outside Big 3 teams: Graham Rahal. Rahal has been steady and quick all month, flying just under the radar of the Big 3 teams. He may need more experience at the Speedway, and Newman Haas suffers from not having an experienced driver on the team to help give feedback. But don't be shocked if the winner of the 500 asks for a Big Mac to go with his bottle of milk.
Dark Horse: Will Power. It's hard to call someone driving for Penske a dark horse, but Power is not on anyone's list of favorites. He's a part-time substitute driver who has shown real talent and speed. If he has the fastest car at the end, Power has the talent to bring it home in first.
Rookie of the Year: Raphael Matos. Fast steady rookie all month. Robert Doorbos is the other likely competitor, but he's been in the wall twice, and I would expect him to be extra cautious in the race. Alex Tagliani may well out-perform the other rookies, but I don't think the award goes to someone who was not able to qualify his way into the race.
Person I'm most looking forward to having a good race: Sarah Fisher. She's proving she belongs at the Speedway -- not only as a driver but as an owner. Driving her own car, I'm sure she will be on the cautious side. But she's been competitive all month. She won't win, or place in the top 5, but last year she had to mortgage her house just to get a race car. If she can run all day and finish in the top 10, it would be a remarkable accomplishment.