Scott Dixon is the pre-race favorite ahead of this year’s Indianapolis 500 at the Motor Speedway (Race: 2:30 PM ET Sunday, live on NBC).
The global COVID-19 pandemic has seen the world-famous race shifted from its habitual May date around Memorial Day weekend to a late-summer slot. It will also be held without spectators in the stands for the first time in its history. That won’t stop USAbetting from taking a close look at the line-up in this preview before settling on our Indy 500 predictions and betting picks.
This typically American event has actually been dominated by international drivers over the last couple of decades. In that time, only four Americans have made their way into the winners’ circle. Foreign competitors have triumphed in each of the last three years and the odds are fairly good another will this year given they make up 18 of the 33 entrants.
New Zealander Dixon is one of them and he heads the sports betting websites’ rankings coming into race weekend. He has finished first, third and fifth at the three oval circuit races to date this year, has been a top-three runner in all of the pre-race practice sessions at Indy and will start on the front row after placing his Chip Ganassi Racing car second on the grid.
That is an important advantage. All the winners of this race between 2012 and 2016 started from 11th or lower on the grid, but changes to the universal chassis and its aerodynamic packages over the last couple of years have started to make passing at Indy relatively difficult. Each of the last two winners have started from the front row. There seems to be a consensus among the drivers that track position will be key.
Dixon won at Indy in 2008 and has finished on the podium a further three times since first appearing there in 2003. The IndyCar Series leader is a worthy favorite to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings with a victory at the big one on Sunday.
Four other international competitors will get underway from the first three rows of the grid. Japanese driver Takuma Sato, alongside Dixon one of the eight previous winners in this year’s field, starts third. Dutch rookie Rinus VeeKay qualified in a superb fourth place for Ed Carpenter Racing with Canadian James Hinchcliffe in sixth. Another rookie, the Spaniard Alex Palou, starts seventh.
The last two winners, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud and Australian Will Power are down in 25th and 22nd respectively for Penske. They suffered along with majority of the Chevrolet-engined cars in qualifying, where 11 of the first 12 positions were filled by Honda teams. The post-qualifying tests suggested the Chevy runners will be swifter in race trim, but that is a lot of ground to make up. Their American teammate Josef Newgarden is better placed in 13th.
There are a couple of high-profile international names behind even them. Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso starts 26th, while three-time winner Helio Castroneves will struggle to grab a record-matching fourth from 28th. Unless there are strange circumstances or cautions fall kindly, charges from the back are unlikely.
Among those prominently flying the flag for the United States will be Marco Andretti, who beat Dixon to claim his first pole position at Indy in his 15th attempt. That dramatically shortened his betting odds for victory. He will be hoping to do what his father, Michael, never could, and break the supposed Andretti curse by adding to grandfather Mario Andretti’s sole victory in 1969.
The Andretti team have four cars on the first three rows and two previous winners in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay (5th) and Alexander Rossi (9th). They are both as good as bets as any to give Dixon a run for this money on Sunday.
Ed Carpenter Racing usually have an excellent package at Indy. In fact, they qualified second, third and fourth at last year’s event. Conor Daly and team owner Ed Carpenter were unable to match rookie VeeKay’s excellent qualifying performance, ending up 18th and 16th respectively. Their race pace will likely be better but they will need to make aggressive starts to get into the top-three mix. Surges into the top six should not be discounted.
If you are looking for an outside bet to claim a top-three finish, then perhaps Palou could be your man. Yes, he’s a rookie, and yes, he hasn’t exactly shone on the three oval circuits raced to date this year. Positives are that he starts on the third row of the grid, has had top-10 pace in practice throughout the build up to the race and actually set the best 30-lap average pace on a good stint length in the post-qualifying session. Stranger things have happened.
So USAbetting’s Indy 500 predictions and betting tips verdict for this preview are: