Indianapolis 500 – 2018 – “TDZ’s” car-by-car preview

By Tony DiZinno

The last five years in my prior role with, one of my favorite pieces all year to do was a car-by-car analysis going into the race (most recent examples from 2016 and 2017 linked here).

So, I’m happy to carry that streak into TrackSide Online’s extensive preview coverage before the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

After practice and qualifying, here’s my thoughts on each of the 33 entries that made the field.

1-20-Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 15th
Best Start: 1st (2013, 2014, 2018)
Best Finish: 5th (2008)
Strategist: Tim Broyles
Engineer: Allen McDonald

Carpenter’s qualifying time was electric and the team’s had solid race pace all week with all three cars. However neither ECR cars nor McDonald-engineer cars have stayed as strong in the race as they have been in qualifying over the years. The hope is that that changes this week, to where Carpenter can be a solid win threat.

2-22-Simon Pagenaud, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 7th
Best Start: 2nd (2018)
Best Finish: 8th (2013)
Strategist: Kyle Moyer
Engineer: Ben Bretzman

Perhaps the luck is starting to turn Pagenaud’s way after he finished his qualifying run Saturday just before the rain hit, then was best of the four Penske cars on Sunday. Has run well here before – notably in 2015 – but hasn’t yet been in win contention in the final 20 laps. I think that changes this year, in what could be a mental test for him versus his teammates.

3-12-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 11th
Best Start: 2nd (2010, 2015)
Best Finish: 2nd (2015)
Strategist: Jon “Myron” Bouslog
Engineer: David Faustino

Power’s mental state seems stronger than ever this May. He’s been locked in in qualifying and has looked very good in race running practice. Castroneves may be Penske’s sentimental pick this year but Power’s perhaps the best bet of Penske’s three full-season drivers to score his first Indianapolis 500 win.

4-1-Josef Newgarden, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 7th
Best Start: 3rd (2016)
Best Finish: 2nd (2016)
Strategist: Tim Cindric
Engineer: Brian Campe/Gavin Ward

For all Newgarden’s achieved already in his young Verizon IndyCar Series career, success in the Indianapolis 500 has generally eluded him in six prior starts, with only one real year in win contention. I think he’s a top-five finisher but not a race winner this year.

5-18-Sebastien Bourdais, Team SealMaster Honda
Indianapolis 500: 7th
Best Start: 5th (2018)
Best Finish: 7th (2014)
Strategist: Dale Coyne
Engineer: Craig Hampson

First of the Hondas on the grid, Bourdais’ dynamic engineering duo of Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson has clearly found something on the setup for this car that has eluded others in the Honda camp. The fact he’s racing Sunday is great enough news. I think he’ll score another top-10 in the race, but not win it.

6-21-Spencer Pigot, Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 3rd
Best Start: 6th (2018)
Best Finish: 18th (2017)
Strategist: Brent “Woody” Harvey
Engineer: Matt Barnes

As teammate Danica Patrick only partially joked, Pigot’s a “quiet boy” who rarely speaks. He hasn’t needed to talk much this week because his driving has done the talking. In what’s easily his best month of May so far, expect Pigot to contend for a solid lower top-10 finish. He’s not been thrust into race-contending situations yet so if he’s in the lead pack late, it will be interesting to see how he races.

7-13-Danica Patrick, GoDaddy Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 8th
Best Start: 4th (2005)
Best Finish: 3rd (2009)
Strategist: Tim Keene
Engineer: Don Halliday

Unlike Fernando Alonso last year, Danica Patrick’s presence has not overshadowed May to the point of overkill. Yet. Practice and qualifying week saw Patrick as a proper one of 35 drivers attempt to make the 33-car field rather than the only highlighted driver as Alonso often was. For all her detractors, few know how to race this event better, and it’d be a surprise if she isn’t in top-10 contention late once again. Strategist Tim Keene may throw a few curveballs too to net her track position.

8-3-Helio Castroneves (W), Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 18th
Best Start: 1st (2003, 2007, 2009, 2010)
Best Finish: 1st (2001, 2002, 2009)
Strategist: Roger Penske
Engineer: Jonathan Diuguid

This marks Castroneves’ ninth attempt to win his fourth Indianapolis 500. Was a bit disappointed with his qualifying run Sunday and not the happiest in traffic on Monday. Knowing there is a mix of IMSA and IndyCar crew for his pit stops, will be interesting to see if he maintains strong track position as a one-off entry. As always though, he’ll be a contender.

9-9-Scott Dixon (W), PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Indianapolis 500: 16th
Best Start: 1st (2008, 2015, 2017)
Best Finish: 1st (2008)
Strategist: Mike Hull/Scott Harner
Engineer: Chris Simmons

Dixon will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his 2008 ‘500 victory this year but has endured a somewhat difficult month. Strategy calls have not come good so far this season for the No. 9 car. If the race becomes a fuel-saving derby though, well, then, we’re well aware of Dixon’s strengths here.

10-14-Tony Kanaan (W), ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 17th
Best Start: 1st (2005)
Best Finish: 1st (2013)
Strategist: George Klotz
Engineer: Eric Cowdin

This is the best Kanaan has looked at Indianapolis since his win in 2013 with KVSH Racing. Kanaan and new Foyt technical director Eric Cowdin are as dynamic a driver/engineer pairing at Indianapolis as there are in the field. After years in the wilderness, it’s nice to say A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 Chevrolet is a proper contender again.

11-4-Matheus Leist (R), ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: Debut
Best Start: 11th (2018)
Best Finish: Rookie
Strategist: Larry Foyt
Engineer: Mike Colliver

Leist’s bravado and childish enthusiasm are his pluses. His minuses are that he’s a rookie, and he’s lost nearly two full days of track time with electrical issues. He won twice on ovals in Indy Lights last year but this is an entirely new ballgame. It’s hard to project his race, because he could easily impress with a top-10 finish or be one of the first ones in the wall.

12-98-Marco Andretti, U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda
Indianapolis 500: 13th
Best Start: 3rd (2013)
Best Finish: 2nd (2006)
Strategist: Bryan Herta
Engineer: Nathan O’Rourke

Another potential popular first-time Indianapolis 500 winner, somehow Marco Andretti is now on the precipice of starting his 13th ‘500 – and is still only 31. Hasn’t been in win contention here since 2014 but is renowned for his ability to play the race into his hands and be close, if not quite there. The highest qualified of the six Andretti Autosport cars, along with Hunter-Reay, have the highest odds to extend the team’s run of wins here to four in five years.

13-19-Zachary Claman De Melo (R), Paysafe Honda
Indianapolis 500: Debut
Best Start: 13th (2018)
Best Finish: Rookie
Strategist: Terry Brown
Engineer: Michael Cannon

Every year the Indianapolis 500 seems to throw one surprise, out-of-left-field, they didn’t expect to be here story and in 2018, “ZCD” is that driver. What the Quebecois has in spades is confidence; what he doesn’t is perfect race craft. Like fellow rookie Leist, “ZCD’s” potential options for this race could be an Alex Lloyd-or-Ed Jones-like Coyne top-five, or an early exit into the wall. But what would be great for him is a quiet, solid top-15 finish that simply brings the car home. Maybe, a fitting 13th.

14-28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (W), DHL Honda
Indianapolis 500: 11th
Best Start: 3rd (2012, 2016)
Best Finish: 1st (2014)
Strategist: Ray Gosselin
Engineer: Ray Gosselin

It’s been four years since “RHR’s” famous win here and nearly three since he last won any Verizon IndyCar Series race. Has looked OK if not great in race running thus far and like other Hondas, has to hope he’ll be in the mix more on great pit work or strategy if not via out-and-out race pace.

15-23-Charlie Kimball, Fiasp Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 8th
Best Start: 14th (2012, 2015)
Best Finish: 3rd (2015)
Strategist: Davey Hamilton
Engineer: Matt Greasley

Want a good sleeper pick for the race? Here you go. It may be the Carlin team’s first Indianapolis 500 but in Kimball and teammate Max Chilton, they have two drivers who’ve figured out how to race it. Kimball has two Indianapolis 500 top-five finishes and was poised for another last year before his engine expired. A win is likely asking too much but if Kimball and/or Chilton can get a top-10 for Carlin in its first ‘500, it’d be an excellent result.

16-30-Takuma Sato (W), Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda
Indianapolis 500: 9th
Best Start: 4th (2017)
Best Finish: 1st (2017)
Strategist: Derek Davidson/Bob Rahal
Engineer: Eddie Jones

Sato made an impressive leap up the order in Sunday qualifying to get up to 16th on the grid. But the defending Indianapolis 500 champion – nor his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates – has seemed to have that strong of pace thus far.

17-32-Kyle Kaiser (R), NFP/Juncos Racing Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: Debut
Best Start: 17th (2018)
Best Finish: Rookie
Strategist: Darren Crouser
Engineer: Tom Brown

Those who have followed Kaiser’s methodical improvement over the last few years won’t be surprised by how well he’s stayed calm and level headed all week. Making it in without drama on Bump Day was huge and parlayed itself into an even better qualifying run on Sunday. This Juncos Racing group has kept Kaiser in a great mindset and with a clean 500 miles, the Indy Lights champion could well be named this May’s rookie-of-the-year.

18-6-Robert Wickens (R), Lucas Oil SPM Honda
Indianapolis 500: Debut
Best Start: 17th (2018)
Best Finish: Rookie
Strategist: Piers Phillips
Engineer: Blair Perschbacher

One of the stars of the season so far, Wickens has endured something of a humbling first month of May ahead of his first Indianapolis 500. Between his frustration over the qualifying process to his accident on post-qualifying Monday, things have not gone as smoothly for the talented Canadian as he might have hoped. He’ll be looking for a significantly less eventful first race on Sunday.

19-33-James Davison, Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 4th
Best Start: 19th (2018)
Best Finish: 16th (2014)
Strategist: Steve Moore
Engineer: Kyle Brannan

For better or worse, Davison carries bravado and swagger that’s hard to ignore. Quite what the Steve Moore-led crew for the combination Foyt, Byrd, Hollinger and Belardi entry has done has been beyond impressive, and “Davo” has converted that work in Gasoline Alley into pace on the Speedway itself. Usually Davison has spent his races coming from 33rd on the grid to the front. He’ll have fewer cars to pass this year, but the key is finishing – something he has not done since posting a solid 16th as a rookie four years ago.

20-59-Max Chilton, Gallagher Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 3rd
Best Start: 15th (2017)
Best Finish: 4th (2017)
Strategist: Geoff Fickling/Colin Hale
Engineer: Geoff Fickling

A track position and patience type of race could play to Chilton’s strengths. The Englishman is calm and easy on equipment. We learned how he could race at the front of the field last year, when he led a race-high 50 laps, before fading in the final stages down to fourth. Chilton is not a “sexy” pick to star here but like Kimball, don’t be surprised if he is in solid top-10 contention on Carlin’s Indianapolis 500 debut.

21-29-Carlos Munoz, Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda
Indianapolis 500: 6th
Best Start: 2nd (2013)
Best Finish: 2nd (2013, 2016)
Strategist: Michael Andretti
Engineer: Len Paskus

Munoz has a pretty impressive record at the Speedway with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth with Andretti Autosport, and a 10th for A.J. Foyt last year. And true to form, while Helio Castroneves and Danica Patrick are getting the majority of the headlines among the “one-off” drivers, it’s Munoz who you should expect to stealthily advance up the leaderboard with nothing to lose. Former strategist Rob Edwards said Munoz’s presence back in the team this year has been great for both parties. He’s looked really strong in traffic all month. He has top-five potential on merit and may be in with a sniff of that elusive victory if he catches the right break.

22-88-Gabby Chaves, Harding Group Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 4th
Best Start: 21st (2016)
Best Finish: 9th (2017)
Strategist: Brian Barnhart
Engineer: Matt Curry

If you picked Chaves to finish ninth in Harding Racing’s team debut last year… just kidding. You didn’t. No one did. And that tells you the quality of effort put together by this team out of the box, before they went through and made the personnel additions they have for 2018. Chaves, who is a smart racer, now has Brian Barnhart guiding his race back on the competition side of the sport, along with other experienced pros like Vince Kremer and Gerald Tyler on board. Was strong in pre-qualifying practice and will look to work his way forward from 22nd, where another top-12 to 15 run is more than possible.

23-25-Stefan Wilson, #Driven2SaveLives Honda
Indianapolis 500: 2nd
Best Start: 23rd (2018)
Best Finish: 28th (2016)
Strategist: Paul “Ziggy” Harcus
Engineer: Doug Zister

Tall, lanky Stefan Wilson has had a much smother May in 2018 than in 2016 as a rookie or 2017 when he sat out, as part of a six-car team at Andretti Autosport that has been well planned out in advance. For an extra car he has a lot going for him, both on the strategy box with last year’s winning strategist and on the timing stand with engineer Doug Zister, who is also engineering Colton Herta’s Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing car in Indy Lights. Has done just what he’s needed to this month, which is stay under the radar while working to promote the #Driven2SaveLives cause. He isn’t a win contender on outright pace but could crack the top-15 if his run progresses smoothly.

24-24-Sage Karam, WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 5th
Best Start: 21st (2015, 2017)
Best Finish: 9th (2014)
Strategist: Dennis Reinbold
Engineer: Jeff Britton

Karam expects his fifth Indianapolis 500 to be his most challenging and one where he’ll need to “think outside the box” to advance. The 23-year-old always seems on the edge of adhesion and is always a driver to watch as he progresses through the field. He’s made a habit of that in three of his previous four starts. Together with his excellent pit crew, Karam is a potential big mover on Sunday.

25-26-Zach Veach, Relay Group 1001 Honda
Indianapolis 500: 2nd
Best Start: 25th (2018)
Best Finish: 26th (2017)
Strategist: Josh Freund
Engineer: Garrett Mothershead

Veach’s first Indianapolis 500 as a full-season driver and second overall has gone smoothly and quietly, as part of Andretti Autosport’s six-pack of cars. Expect the race to go the same. If he progresses into the top-15 it’ll be a good effort from P25 on the grid.

26-64-Oriol Servia, Scuderia Corsa/Manitowoc Honda
Indianapolis 500: 10th
Best Start: 3rd (2011)
Best Finish: 4th (2012)
Strategist: Jim Prescott
Engineer: Mike Talbott

Servia’s opened 2018 with three new elements of his life: being a father (first daughter Ona), a restaurateur (PoKing PoKe in Santa Monica, Calif.), and an INDYCAR Pace Car driver. But he’s back where he belongs in May, in an extra RLL Racing Indy car, as part of Scuderia Corsa’s first entry into the Indianapolis 500. Few have Servia’s depth and experience level and he always finds a way to make his forward to the front of the field. Surprisingly hasn’t had a top-10 finish here since 2012 when he was fourth, but three finishes of 11th or 12th since then should mean he’ll be close again.

27-66-JR Hildebrand, Salesforce DRR Chevrolet
Indianapolis 500: 8th
Best Start: 6th (2017)
Best Finish: 2nd (2011)
Strategist: Andy O’Gara
Engineer: Chase Kaufman

Hildebrand’s run of three consecutive top-10 finishes as a May-only entry came to an end last year, when he was back in a full-season seat. Now back in a May-only seat, he’ll look to start a new run this year. A lot of the Andy O’Gara-led crew here worked on the third Foyt car last year and it’ll be interesting to see how they can help propel the likable Californian-turned-Colorado resident towards the front, for a driver who generally is there or thereabouts 400 to 450 miles into the race.

28-7-Jay Howard, One Cure SPM Honda
Indianapolis 500: 3rd
Best Start: 20th (2011, 2017)
Best Finish: 30th (2011)
Strategist: John Cummiskey
Engineer: Bruno Couprie

Over 10 years, Howard’s been through more highs and lows at this place for any number of reasons, and found himself perhaps unnecessarily at the center of attention in this last week. Like several others in the field, the best thing for Howard this Sunday is that we aren’t talking about him at all until we see him pop up in a higher finishing position than you might expect, say in the top half of the field.

29-10-Ed Jones, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Indianapolis 500: 2nd
Best Start: 11th (2017)
Best Finish: 3rd (2017)
Strategist: Chip Ganassi/Barry Wanser
Engineer: Julian Robertson

The 2016 Freedom 100 runner-up and 2017 unofficial Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year has endured a sophomore slump this May in what should, theoretically, have been a move up the grid. It’s not that Jones has lost the quiet swagger or confidence he carried last year. But with a car that’s sensitive and understeery in traffic, Jones has found himself mired further back. Seems weird to say but a top-10 would be a surprise result for him on Sunday, although knowing how quietly Jones has tended to move forward, you can’t rule it out.

30-15-Graham Rahal, United Rentals Honda
Indianapolis 500: 11th
Best Start: 4th (2009)
Best Finish: 3rd (2011)
Strategist: Ricardo Nault
Engineer: Tom German

Rahal’s long been bullish on race pace over qualifying pace, but he’s left himself a lot of work to do the last several Indianapolis 500-mile races. He narrowly avoided the last row this year and will start 30th, a career-worst. This is his fifth start of 20th or worse in 11 races here; however, his career-best finish here of third came from 29th in 2011. He’ll need a similar turnaround on Sunday, but has been adept at recovery drives so far this season – notably at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

31-60-Jack Harvey, AutoNation/Sirius XM MSR with SPM Honda
Indianapolis 500: 2nd
Best Start: 27th (2017)
Best Finish: 31st (2017)
Strategist: Will Anderson
Engineer: Will Anderson

Harvey sweated through Bump Day with a slow morning run, but improved in the afternoon to avoid the bubble. Sunday saw the same issue as affected him on Saturday return, and leaves him on the back row. A simple finish will be a good achievement for Harvey in his second ‘500, anything in the top-15 or better a bonus.

32-27-Alexander Rossi (W), NAPA Auto Parts Honda
Indianapolis 500: 3rd
Best Start: 3rd (2017)
Best Finish: 1st (2016)
Strategist: Rob Edwards
Engineer: Jeremy Milless

After a deflating tire left Rossi unable to make a representative qualifying speed on Sunday, he fell from the fringes of the Fast Nine to second-to-last on the grid. However, he stands the best chance of becoming the first driver to start 32nd and win the race. It’ll take a lot of strategic and track position moves to advance, but Rossi has the wherewithal, experience and patience to do it given that’s how he won in 2016 when he fell down to 29th after fuel issues. Alas, a top-10 result is the more realistic pick here, and would be very important in the big picture of the overall championship.

33-17-Conor Daly, United States Air Force Honda
Indianapolis 500: 5th
Best Start: 22nd (2015)
Best Finish: 22nd (2013)
Strategist: Dan Hobbs
Engineer: Dan Hobbs

Daly will fly the red, white and blue “Thunderbird on wheels” for the United States Air Force and like his aviation brethren, he has nowhere to go but up on Sunday from shotgun on the field in 33rd place. A solid top-20 finish would be a good result.