In an Indianapolis 500 field that's as closely matched as any we've seen in recent memory, it seems like there's a different outlook and story for each driver. Before the green flag waves on Sunday, check out Part 1 of our Indy 500 field rundown to see what's going on with each of the 33 competitors:
33) Ryan Hunter-Reay
Moved to the back of the field after replacing Bruno Junqueira, Hunter-Reay has never had great luck at Indy. Starting P33 is probably not going to remedy that, especially jumping into a new car with extremely limited time to acclimate himself.
32) Ana Beatriz
Now in her second 500, Bia will look to finish cleanly after a shaky start to her IZOD IndyCar Series season. Finishing well here would be a big confidence-booster as she attempts to get back into the series’ Rookie of the Year battle.
31) Pippa Mann
In an interview with Pippa the other day, she mentioned her strategy was to turn laps, have clean pit stops, and stay out of trouble. That’s a smart rookie, right there. This 36 car probably has a bit more speed than it showed qualifying weekend, but I would expect a cautious race out of Pippa, taking what opportunities may come along.
30) Alex Lloyd
Lloyd finished P4 (nearly P3) at Indy in 2010, and he’ll probably run much better than the car showed in qualifying. Starting this far back is not a recipe for success, but Alex really seems to enjoy creeping up on the restarts. A few of those go as planned, and he could climb rapidly.
29) Graham Rahal
Graham’s qualified well at Indy before, but has had spotty luck in the race itself at best. Perhaps things will flip now that he’s qualified lower in the field, but he’s going to have some work to do. As a legacy, of course, Rahal would definitely be a popular win at Indy.
28) Charlie Kimball
Another IZOD IndyCar Series and Indy 500 rookie, Kimball is similar to teammate Rahal in that his car is likely to be better in the race than it was in qualifying. Ganassi will give Kimball a good car; it’ll be up to the rookie to see what he can do with it.
27) Marco Andretti
The last car to qualify on Bump Day, Marco’s probably grateful he’s starting as high as he is. As rough of a month as it’s been, don’t count him out. He has shown he can run up front here, but don’t expect a banzai charge off the bat.
26) Ryan Briscoe
No one expected a Penske car would be starting 26th. Yet that's exactly where Briscoe is after crashing his primary car early on Pole Day. It's going to be a tough climb for Briscoe, but Penske will give him a great car with which to make his challenge.
25) Danica Patrick
Danica can list Indy as one of her best tracks, but she's got a lot of stiff competition in the back part of the field. Her moves upward will likely initially be through attrition and the pits, but she's careful enough to take advantage of others' mistakes.
24) Paul Tracy
PT was the fastest Bump Day qualifier, and ran towards the front for most of practice overall. After missing the race last year, the veteran should be great fun to watch, and might be a dark horse to move up in the later stages of the race.
23) Simona de Silvestro
Simona probably quadrupled her fan base with an incredibly gutsy Pole Day battle, but it'll be interesting to see how her car “Pork Chop” handles over a long race. At this point, though, I'm about ready to believe this little team can do just about anything.
22) Tony Kanaan
Of course, we all now have the expectation that TK will pass the first 5 rows in front of him on the start, and will tie up all the lose ends on the first restart. No driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series has led more laps at Indy without winning, and if any driver on this grid is due, it's TK. He's got the experience, he's got the talent, and he should have a good car. All that's missing for now is luck.
21) Tomas Scheckter
Tomas Scheckter will doubtlessly irritate someone by going three-wide through somewhere where it should be a physical impossibility to do so.
20) Jay Howard
Jay Howard is the great riddle and cipher of this field. His team seems solid, Howard qualified without incident, and the years of his frustration at Indy were suddenly over. Although his race could end either way, I tend to think now that he's got his chance at running Indy, he's going to make the most of it.
19) Justin Wilson
After poor 500 finishes in 2008-2009, Wilson broke into the Top 10 in 2010, finishing P7 and leading laps late in the race. He's perfectly capable of doing the same again this year, and a nice result here would help pick up what's been a mixed season at best so far.
18) EJ Viso
No one has ever started P18 and won the Indy 500. This is probably not the year for it to happen, either. If Viso runs a clean race, he might be able to move towards the front, but considering his season so far, an incident-free finish would be a pretty big plus as is.
17) John Andretti
Easily the fastest Andretti Autosport qualifier, John has seemed comfortable all month long with his car. A Top 10 finish here is not out of the question, but it will probably come through a sold, not overly-aggressive race. The crowd at Indy loves John, and you couldn't pull for a nicer guy to do well on Sunday.
16) Helio Castroneves
Wait, how is it we’re talking about Helio this far down in the field? The three-time 500 champ had a qualifying run just about as disappointing as his season thus far, but honestly, I believe they'd have re-qualified higher if not for the Pole Day rain. Still, you can’t count him out at Indy—he still has to certainly be listed among the favorites here.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.