It’s finally (almost) here: the most important race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, the Indianapolis 500, goes green early Sunday afternoon. This year’s edition of the event has seen no shortage of compelling storylines, from Helio Castroneves’ return to Danica Patrick’s farewell to James Hinchcliffe’s DNQ, and Sunday’s race itself should give us plenty more to talk about going into one of the busiest stretches of the 2018 season.
With 33 drivers on the grid, including six past winners, it’s hard to pick just five to focus on. From polesitter Ed Carpenter to Last Row Party honorees Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, and Conor Daly, everyone’s got an interesting story to tell. But keep these drivers in mind as we crown a new Indy 500 champion this weekend:
Last Race’s Winner: Will Power
After an uneven and unlucky start to his 2018 campaign, Power finally firmly planted himself back in championship contention with his second straight IndyCar Grand Prix victory two weeks ago. Qualifying third, he will start within the first three rows for the 10th consecutive year. Power’s best finish in the 500 came three years ago when he ran second; he’ll look to make up for a 23rd-place DNF last season.
Last Year’s Winner: Takuma Sato
Some say you have to lose an Indianapolis 500 to learn how to win one, and the fearless Sato fits that bill: after losing the 2012 edition on an ill-fated last-lap pass attempt on Dario Franchitti, the Japanese ex-Formula 1 star gave Andretti Autosport its third race win in four years. Returning to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, his team from that 2012 loss, he’ll roll off 16th on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Consistent Contender: Helio Castroneves
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves has an average finish of 7.0 in 17 tries at this race, including top-10 finishes in five of the last six races and a runner-up result last year. Returning to IndyCar after moving full-time to Team Penske’s sports car program this year, he’ll look to equal legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears with a fourth win—the first for a part-timer since Dan Wheldon in 2011.
On a Hot Streak: Robert Wickens
By far the top IndyCar rookie in 2018, Wickens should be a lot higher than eighth in the championship right now. In addition to finishing second in Phoenix, fourth in Alabama, and third in the IndyCar Grand Prix, the Canadian dominated in St. Petersburg, only to take a DNF after a late-race collision cost him what may have been a win in his first career start. Could he surprise the field from the middle of the grid?
On the Hot Seat?: Graham Rahal
Qualifying 30th is not the result that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s top championship contender wanted last weekend. After finishing in the top 10 in every race this season, Rahal simply didn’t have the speed to qualify comfortably on either day, but he still made the show. The silver lining? He scored his best-ever 500 finish in 2011, placing third for Chip Ganassi Racing after starting—you guessed it—30th.