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Predictions for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Indy

You’d probably think, rightfully so, that little about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 could be discerned from the first three races of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season. After all, they were road and street races, so they wouldn’t be as accurate in forecasting an Indy winner as, say, three races at Texas Motor Speedway, right?

Not so fast. Ask any IndyCar driver about the specific genre of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What type of track is it? You’d expect everyone to answer oval, but you’d be surprised by what they really say.

Most would say something like this: Technically it’s an oval, but in reality, in the way that it races, Indy is more like a hybrid. It’s a mix of oval and road course. It’s really very much like a road course with four distinctly different, high-speed left-hand turns. It requires elements of both oval skills and road-racing skills to be good at Indy.

If that definition is accurate, then we can indeed glean some fairly reliable statements about the month of May from what’s happened in March and April. Without further ado, here are a few:

Dario is the man. He’s won the 500 twice since 2007, and he’s finished on the podium in each of the first three races in 2011. That makes him the odds-on favorite to win the 100th anniversary 500. Many others are contenders, but there is only one favorite.

Penske/Ganassi are still on top. Of the pole and race winners so far this season, only one – Mike Conway at Long Beach – wasn’t with Team Penske or Target Chip Ganassi Racing. That trend is likely to continue at Indy, where four of the last five and eight of the last 11 wins have gone to someone from one of the two teams.

That doesn’t mean someone else can’t break through. Andretti Autosport and KV Racing Technology-Lotus have shown signs of speed in the first three events, including Conway’s win for Michael Andretti’s team at Long Beach. An occasional surprise is good for business.

TK will have them on their feet again. Clearly a sentimental favorite, Tony Kanaan will bring his compelling story back to the Speedway for another shot at the race that has eluded him. Judging from the results so far, he’ll be fast.

Mike Conway will continue to be asked about last year. It’s getting old already, but Conway’s wicked crash at the end of the 2010 race has become the backstory to his 2011 campaign. He’ll most likely be competitive in May, so look for more references to last year. That’s not a bad thing, unless you’re the guy trying to forget about it.

Is this Danica’s farewell? It remains to be seen whether she’s done with the 500, but it’s likely this is her final year in the IndyCar Series. Could an epic goodbye be in the cards? It’s certainly not out of the realm, given her history at Indy.

Will Power will power to the pole. He’s the master of qualifying, having won an astonishing 13 of 26 pole positions since joining Team Penske. He’s the one they’ll be chasing on May 21.

Hinch is a hit. It’s about time someone hired James Hinchcliffe to drive a big car. Now he’ll get the opportunity to show off his skills – he finished in the top five in the championship running each of the past four years in Atlantics and Indy Lights – on the big stage.

Will Helio redeem himself? He’s had a couple of overly aggressive blunders so far this year, but the three-time Indy winner is magic at IMS, and he’s almost always in contention. It’s possible that he might be feeling the love at the end of the race.

What are your predictions for the historic 500? Share them with us at!

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