The Indy 500 is the most famous race in American motor sport and this year’s event is likely to see a close-fought battle for victory (12:20 ET Sunday). Read on for USAbetting’s Indy 500 preview and 2018 race guide with predictions and picks.
Even without the presence of Formula One star Fernando Alonso, who showed well in a one-off drive for a McLaren-Andretti joint entry last year, the Indy 500 is still a race that captures the attention of not just domestic audiences, but of those around the world.
That is partly because of its history, but also because of the increasingly international flavor of its victors. Last year, Takuma Sato became the first Japanese winner. Over the last 20 years, American drivers have only triumphed on five occasions, while drivers from Britain, Brazil, Colombia, New Zealand and Sweden have joined Sato in winning the race.
Sato is one of six previous winners in this year’s field, although Helio Castroneves is the only multiple winner, with three victories to his name. The Brazilian is one win away from equalling the all-time record, jointly held by A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
Andretti have been the dominant team at Indy in recent years, winning three of the last four races, including Sato’s victory last year. However, they didn’t show good pace in qualifying this time around and may find it hard to emerge triumphant again. Last year, they had four cars in the top eight in qualifying; this year, their best qualifier was Marco Andretti in 12th.
Another of their drivers, Alexander Rossi, the winner in 2016 as a rookie, remains favorite with the United States’ sportsbooks despite the fact that he will start down in 32nd place after struggling in qualifying. No one has ever won the race from lower than 28th on the grid, while the greatest improvement from their starting position anyone has ever managed was 32 places, back in 1932. His task will be even harder this year than it would have been in other recent years.
The new aero kit that debuted this year provides less downforce than the previous one and that should make the cars more of a handful to control. It does, however, also seem to have made overtaking more difficult. That, at least, was the opinion expressed by a number of drivers during the pre-race test sessions. The feeling is that a driver with a good car at the front of the pack will now be more easily able to defend their position.
That is good news for Penske, the most successful team in the history of the 500. Four of their cars qualified in the top eight, and they could potentially control the race from the front if their drivers get off to a good start.
Josef Newgarden leads the IndyCar drivers’ championship coming into Sunday’s race and is certainly a good shout for victory after qualifying fourth. His best previous result was third in 2016. Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, the latter of whom secured victory in the IndyCar Grand Prix on the circuit’s infield course a couple of weeks back, will start in front of him. Power is a consistently quick qualifier at Indy but is yet to taste victory.
Despite qualifying in eighth, though, it is Castroneves who should be the most-fancied of the Penske drivers this weekend. A wily veteran who pushed Sato hard at the end of last year’s race, he was disappointed with his qualifying performance, but he is still close enough to the front to make a strong push for victory on Sunday. He will be there or thereabouts, for sure.
The Penske drivers were beaten to pole position by Ed Carpenter. It will be the third time that Carpenter has started the race at the front of the field, but he is yet to convert that into victory. Indeed, pole position has not been a particularly good predictor of race-day success over the last couple of decades. Castroneves was the last pole sitter to emerge triumphant on race day back in 2009 and is one of just four in the last 20 years.
However, all three of the cars in Carpenter’s eponymous team qualified on the first three rows, showing that his pace was no fluke. Spencer Pigot will start sixth, with Danica Patrick seventh in her first IndyCar race since 2011 and the final race of her career. Patrick is the only woman ever to have led laps at the 500 but is unlikely to secure victory on Sunday.
Tony Kanaan could be a good outside bet. He won the race in 2013 and has finished in the top five on eight occasions. Another former winner, Scott Dixon, is also always competitive at Indy. Sebastian Bourdais has been resurgent this year and qualified very well in fifth.
There are plenty of potential victors, but of them all, Castroneves stands out as the best pick and he is this Indy 500 preview’s recommended betting prediction.