As the 106th Indianapolis 500 draws closer, it brings the racing world one step closer toward normalcy.
The first “full house” since the onset of the pandemic (and also since Roger Penske purchased the track in late 2019) will contain the fastest front row in 500 history, and a legendary driver called Helio Castroneves who is looking to be the first driver in history to win five Indy 500s. But, that’s not even the half of it.
Let’s take a look at some of the key storylines going into race day.
3 Indy 500 Storylines
Chip Ganassi Racing
If there is a team that has dominated the month so far, it is Chip Ganassi Racing. Their five-car armada of Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Tony Kanaan, and Jimmie Johnson all start in the first four rows and all but Johnson start in the first two rows.
Dixon qualified for the pole at 234.046 mph with Palou in second place. 2022 marks Dixon’s fifth pole for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” while Palou is out to show that last year’s runner-up finish at Indianapolis was a learning experience.
Meanwhile, Marcus Ericsson is looking to show that his form at Texas Motor Speedway that netted the Swedish racer a third-place finish wasn’t a fluke, and Tony Kanaan wants to earn a second baby Borg-Warner trophy to go with the one he won in 2013.
Then there’s Jimmie Johnson, who had a massive save in the Fast 12 round of qualifying that had minimal space between his car and the wall. Johnson is not new to 500-mile races, but this will be his first 500-mile race in open-wheel cars. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion finished sixth at Texas Motor Speedway in March, so expectations are high.
Qualifications at the Indianapolis 500 sometimes provide circumstances where there are rows in the field that are extremely strong, but are mid-pack or further back than one would expect. Such is the case with Row 9.
Starting 25th is GMR Grand Prix winner Colton Herta. Herta had an engine failure on his warmup lap coming to his qualifying run, which required an engine change before the second-generation racer finally made his qualifying run late in the session.
In 26th position is Scott McLaughlin. The New Zealand native was originally on Row 5, but withdrew his time to try and get into the Fast 12 to participate in the shootout on Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the three-time Supercars champion qualified slower, withdrawing an average of 231.543 mph and qualified with an average of 230.154 mph. The gamble did not pay off, but at least there was no danger of falling out of the field.
The Strong Rookie Class
Seven rookies make up the rookie class for the 2022 Indianapolis 500 starting field, which is one of the strongest in recent memory. Going down the list numerically, Kyle Kirkwood is the most successful driver on the Road to Indy ladder system. The Florida native won 31 out of the 50 Road to Indy races he took part in, becoming the first driver to win the championship in the three steps of the ladder as he climbed them.
David Malukas also went through the Road to Indy system with Kirkwood, finishing second to Kirkwood in the 2021 Indy Lights title battle by just over a dozen points. The Chicago native won seven Indy Lights races that season before signing with Dale Coyne Racing and qualified a remarkable 13th.
Romain Grosjean raced at Gateway in 2021, learning how to race on ovals before making his first superspeedway start at Texas Motor Speedway in March. The former Formula One driver teamed up with Andretti Autosport and starts ninth on May 29th.
Devlin DeFrancesco won two races in Indy Pro 2000 in 2020 and had two podiums in Indy Lights in 2021. However, the transition to IndyCar has not been going the Canadian’s way. After finishing as the last car on the lead lap at St. Petersburg, DeFrancesco crashed at Texas and at Long Beach before respectively finishing 17th and 21st at Barber Motorsports Park and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Christian Lundgaard qualified fourth for his IndyCar debut at the IMS road course last August and finished 12th. A solid debut in the August race at the IndyCar/NASCAR combined weekend was a lead-in to a full season for 2022. Lundgaard finished ninth at the IMS road course earlier in May, but the first Danish driver to race at Indianapolis starts 31st for the team that has had some of the fastest cars at IMS the last few years.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 Honda has Johnson behind the wheel starting in 12th place after competing in the road and street course races in 2021. Sixth place at Texas Motor Speedway was a great superspeedway debut for Johnson, but this rookie has one advantage that no other rookie has this year.
By competing in NASCAR in the early-mid 2000s, Johnson experienced what it was like to race in front of packed grandstands almost all the way around IMS. The other rookies competing at Indianapolis have never had a packed house greeting them on race day, which will be a whole other experience entirely.
The final rookie competing at Indianapolis this year is Callum Ilott. The 2020 Formula 2 runner-up is competing for Juncos Hollinger Racing, the only team competing full time in IndyCar competition as a single-car operation. The partnership has paid dividends, with Ilott finishing eighth at the GMR Grand Prix earlier in May and advancing through qualifying rounds at Barber Motorsports Park and at the IMS road course to start in the top 12 grid positions at those races.
The rookies competing at the Indianapolis 500 are actually very experienced drivers, but everyone starting the race for the first time has to deal with all the jitters that come with competing in the world’s largest single-day sporting event.
2022 Indy 500 Odds
These odds are according to DraftKings and are current as of the article’s publication.
Scott Dixon: +550
Alex Palou: +600
Pato O’Ward: +900
Rinus Veekay: +1100
Josef Newgarden: +1200
Will Power: +1400
Colton Herta: +1500
Scott McLaughlin: +1600
Jimmie Johnson: +1600
Takuma Sato: +1800
The Rest of the Field
Marcus Ericsson: +1800
Ed Carpenter: +1800
Tony Kanaan: +2000
Felix Rosenqvist: +2000
Alexander Rossi: +2500
Simon Pagenaud: +2500
Helio Castroneves: +2800
Graham Rahal: +3000
Romain Grosjean: +3000
Marco Andretti: +5000
Conor Daly: +5000
David Malukas: +5000
Santino Ferrucci: +6000
Juan Pablo Montoya: +8000
Christian Lundgaard: +10000
Kyle Kirkwood: +10000
Devlin DeFrancesco: +10000
Jack Harvey: +10000
Sage Karam: +10000
J.R. Hildebrand: +10000
Callum Ilott: +10000
Dalton Kellett: +20000
Stefan Wilson: +20000