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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Volume 17: Indy 500 Dark Horses

Today’s question: There now are two oval races complete this season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. We know the usual suspects for victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30. But who impressed you at Texas as a dark horse contender to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Curt Cavin: My inclination is to ride Pato O’Ward, and he will be a popular pick after finishing sixth last year at Indy and being named Rookie of the Year. Heck, his story is so good he might even win! I’ve been saying for months that Takuma Sato will repeat, but two-time winners can’t avoid the “usual suspects” category. So, for the purpose of this question, I’ll pick someone who hasn’t won the “500” but ran really well at Texas: That’s Graham Rahal. He’s due at the Speedway.

Zach Horrall: My eyes are on Scott McLaughlin when we hit the 2.5-mile oval. Seriously. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie really impressed me with his finishes of second and eighth, respectively, at Texas Motor Speedway. It shows me he might have a knack for oval racing, but what I also learned is that the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet really steps up his game on tracks he’s been to before. His 11th at St. Petersburg came after he competed in that race last fall. He had tested plenty at the 1.5-mile Texas oval leading into last weekend’s doubleheader and scored his first career podium finish in just his third start. The Kiwi got plenty of track time at the Indy 500 Open Test in April, and while he showed mid-pack speed last month, he certainly has a hefty notebook to reference when practice starts on Tuesday, May 18. The idea of a rookie getting better with additional track time might sound obvious, but it’s worth extra consideration for McLaughlin this May.

Paul Kelly: Man, either you guys are really smart or we’re all idiots, as Graham Rahal and Scotty Mac were at the top of my list, too. Juan Pablo Montoya also springs to mind, but any two-time Indy 500 winner can’t be considered a dark horse. So, to avoid being called a copycat, I’ll go with Alex Palou. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, fool, he’s third in points – how can he be a dark horse?” Well, this is only Alex’s second “500” start and only his second season of oval racing. He also crashed out of the race last year as a rookie and placed 28th. And almost any time you’re Scott Dixon’s teammate, you’re not going to be the center of attention at the Speedway. But remember Palou qualified seventh last year with Dale Coyne Racing, and he finished fourth and seventh last weekend in the first oval races of the season at Texas. This guy is just flat-out good and could become the first Spaniard to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

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