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102nd Indianapolis 500: One-Off Drivers to Watch

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Mike Harding/IndyCar (1); Joe Skibinski/IndyCar (2)

For the first time in a number of years, bumping will return to Indianapolis 500 qualifying this year, as 35 different drivers are entered in the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. With 22 teams currently planning to run the entire season, and two more committed to partial schedules, that leaves nearly a dozen one-off entries to help add drama to this weekend’s Pole Day and Bump Day proceedings, as we all wonder who will make the field and which two teams will be sent home unfulfilled.

One of the biggest names on the entry list for this year’s 500 is, of course, Danica Patrick, who will call it a career after returning to this race for the first time since 2011 with Ed Carpenter Racing. Patrick, who became the first woman to lead at Indianapolis and the highest female finisher in the event when she placed fourth as a rookie in 2005, will undoubtedly dominate the headlines until the checkered flag finally falls on Memorial Day weekend. But if you’re looking for other Indy-only entries to watch, keep these five drivers in mind:

The Legend: Helio Castroneves

He may have never earned an IndyCar championship, but 2001, 2002, and 2009 race winner Castroneves is the only active three-time 500 winner. Returning to Team Penske for the month of May after switching full-time to IMSA in 2018, Castroneves immediately recaptured the form that led him to top-five points finishes in nine of the past 10 IndyCar seasons when he finished sixth in the IndyCar Grand Prix last weekend. Could a fourth Indianapolis victory be in the cards for the Brazilian?

Back Home Again (In Indiana): Carlos Munoz

While Alexander Rossi was clutching and coasting in 2016, Munoz was doing everything he could to catch his Andretti Autosport teammate, instead falling just short. His results took a step backward in 2017 when a difficult season with A.J. Foyt Enterprises left him 16th in the championship, and Foyt’s decision to replace him with Tony Kanaan left him rideless for the season. Now, he’ll return to Andretti for another shot at 500 glory; he’ll be backed by Ruoff Mortgage, Takuma Sato’s sponsor in last year’s win.

Something to Prove: Sage Karam

There’s a reason why Karam keeps hanging around the IndyCar paddock, and it’s raw talent. Things haven’t gone his way at Indianapolis since he was a rookie and finished ninth in 2014, and he’s no longer a part of Lexus’ factory sports car team after a difficult 2017 season. But Dreyer & Reinbold Racing continues to put its trust in the Pennsylvania native, and as he looks to return to a full-time seat in any form of auto racing, a strong result would go a long way to put him back on the map with other teams.

Unfinished Business: J.R. Hildebrand

We all know the story: coming off the final corner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Hildebrand smacked the outside wall, yielding the victory to Dan Wheldon. Since then, his career has been a series of ups and downs, punctuated by the fact that he’s never taken an IndyCar victory. Could his career have turned out differently if not for that? Maybe, but that’s all the more motivation to try and win now. Hildebrand will partner with Karam as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing returns to two cars for the first time since 2011.

The Feel-Good Story: Stefan Wilson

Unfortunately, we didn’t see Wilson in last year’s race, as the popular British driver stepped out of his Andretti Autosport seat last year to make room for Fernando Alonso. In exchange, he was promised a seat for this year’s race, and returns to the number 25 that his late brother Justin used for his final IndyCar ride. Now, he’ll look to qualify for his second Indianapolis 500, in hopes of improving on the 28th place result he earned with KVSH Racing in 2016.

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