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104th Indianapolis 500 Teeming with Interesting Storylines

INDYCAR engines roar to life starting Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and after all the talk of COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, it’s worth shouting this important point from the top of the Pagoda:

A driver will soon earn their forever place on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Could the winner of this most unusual Indianapolis 500 be NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Scott Dixon, the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran who has won three of the six races held so far this interrupted season? Maybe it’s a Team Penske driver winning for a record-tying third consecutive year. And it would be foolish to discount Andretti Autosport, which has won the “500” with five different drivers since 2005.

What about local hero Ed Carpenter winning his first “500?” Maybe it’s Tony Kanaan becoming a two-time “500” winner – in an A.J. Foyt car, no less – in the year of the “TK Last Lap.” Then there’s Helio Castroneves’ latest bid to join the illustrious four-time winner’s club (with Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears).

Colton Herta completed only three laps last year in his first “500” due to equipment failure. He certainly could win this race with an Andretti car as could James Hinchcliffe, the 2016 polesitter who recently became the sixth member of this year’s Andretti onslaught.

Fernando Alonso returns, and it wouldn’t be wise to discount the two-time Formula One World Champion after his impressive first showing in 2017. Alonso will join race rookies Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew in an Arrow McLaren SP outfit that shouldn’t be taken lightly despite failure-to-qualify struggles in 2019. The team has shown well in 2020 races to date.

Simon Pagenaud, who won last year’s “500” from the pole, has good odds to become the event’s first repeat winner since Castroneves in 2002. Of course, some of Pagenaud’s biggest threats will come from within his team: Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009) and Will Power (2018) are former “500” winners, and Josef Newgarden is the reigning and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. History notes that only twice before has the same team won three “500s” in succession, the most recent being Team Penske with Castroneves (2001, 2002) and Gil de Ferran (2003). It could happen again this year.

The entry list features eight former race winners, the most since 1992. Any one of them -- Castroneves, Dixon, Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, Power and Pagenaud -- could win again, as could any of the six past pole winners. Something to watch: Power is second on INDYCAR’s career poles list with 58, yet he’s never won the pole for the “500.”

The rookie class stands at five – Askew, O’Ward, Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay and Dalton Kellett – and the competition for Rookie of the Year should be fierce. Askew and O’Ward are the most recent champions of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. Askew and VeeKay have been matched against each other for the past four years.

Legacy drivers Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal are still in search of their first “500” victories, and both have shown capable of winning in the past. Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson will be bidding to become the first Swedish drivers to win the “500” since Kenny Brack in 1999. Conor Daly wants to become the first Indiana-born winner since Wilbur Shaw in 1940. The deepest field in recent 500 history? A case can be made for that. What’s not in question is the number of interesting storylines. Much will play out in the days ahead. It’s time to start engines.

Practice opens at 11 a.m. (ET) Wednesday, with live coverage until 5:30 p.m. on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold.

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