Who will be in Winner’s Circle for this year’s Indy 500?

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Scott Dixon

Indianapolis, IN SportsNetwork.com) – After weeks of preparation, 33 drivers are ready to embark in the IndyCar Series’ premier race of the season — the Indianapolis 500.

One driver in Sunday’s Indy 500 will relish the thrill of victory after completing 200 laps around the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the famed Borg-Warner Trophy, a bottle of milk and a payday of around $2.5 million await the race champion in Winner’s Circle.

Five drivers competing in this year’s Indy 500 have won this race in the past — Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya. Castroneves is the only one of those five that has won it multiple times. His third and most recent victory in the Indy 500 happened in 2009.

One year ago, Hunter-Reay won this race for the first time in seven starts. He also became the first American to win it since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. But Hunter-Reay’s victory came in the slimmest of margins, as he beat Castroneves to the finish line by just 0.06 seconds. It was the second-closest finish in the history of this event. Al Unser Jr. won the 1992 Indy 500 by only 0.043 seconds over Scott Goodyear.

Hunter-Reay, the driver of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda and 2012 IndyCar champion, will try to become the sixth competitor to win this race in consecutive years, joining Wilbur Shaw (1939-40), Mauri Rose (1947-48), Bill Vukovich (1953-54), Al Unser (1970-71) and Castroneves (2001-02). Hunter-Reay will start on the inside of row 6 in this year’s event.

“I’m still as hungry as I’ve ever been,” Hunter-Reay said of winning another Indy 500. “The one thing I do have is confidence around here that I can do it when the conditions are right and the car is to my liking.”

In 2014, Castroneves came oh so close to winning the Indy 500 for the fourth time and placing himself in a tie with A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser for most victories in this event.

“Last year is yesterday’s news,” Castroneves said. “It’s now a motivation to come back here and do better. We have another great car, another great opportunity and we’ve just got to go take it.”

Castroneves, the driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, will roll off from the middle of row 2.

Dixon claimed his second Indianapolis 500 pole with a four-lap average speed of 226.760 mph this past Sunday. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver started on the pole and won this race in 2008, leading a total of 115 laps.

“If we could replicate 2008, that would be fantastic,” Dixon said. “That’s the goal. It’s very hard to pull that off. There are 32 other very good competitors out there and a lot of stacked teams, a lot of teams that we’ve been running with in traffic and they’re very, very good.”

Two years ago, Kanaan won the Indy 500 for the first time in his 12th attempt. He drove for KV Racing Technology at the time. Kanaan is now in his second season with Ganassi. He will start on the inside of the second row, next to Castroneves.

The 2013 Indy 500 featured a record 68 lead changes among 14 drivers and moved at a pace of 187.433 mph, a record as well. Last year’s race had 34 lead changes among 11 drivers.

Montoya’s victory in this event occurred in 2000, driving for Ganassi at the time. He went on to compete in Formula One from 2001-06 and then NASCAR from 2007-13 before he returned to IndyCar competition with Penske in 2013. Montoya placed fifth in last year’s race here. He will start on the outside of row 5 on Sunday.

Starting alongside Dixon will be Penske drivers Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, who joined the team after last season had concluded.

Power is the defending IndyCar champion. Two weeks ago, he won the second running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course after starting on the pole for that event. Power has been superb at Indy this May, and he’s hoping to end the month with his first victory in the Indy 500.

“It would be very cool to get the double,” Power said. “I came into this month determined to have a good month, and it’s working out.”

Power will be competing in the Indy 500 for the eighth time. His best finish in this race is fifth, which occurred in 2009. He placed eighth in last year’s event.

“I’ve got more focus on the 500 than I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve won a (IndyCar) championship. I’ve kind of pushed that aside, and now the main focus to me is the 500.

“The first thing for me to accomplish was winning a championship just because it’s the best driver over a whole season. It was a big deal for me to have won that. Now, it’s just absolutely the 500. I really, really want to win that race.”

On Thursday, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced that Ryan Briscoe will substitute for the injured James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Honda in this race. Hinchcliffe sustained serious injuries to his upper left thigh and pelvic area during an accident in Monday’s practice session at IMS. He underwent emergency surgery at nearby IU Health Methodist Hospital to repair an artery.

Hinchcliffe was transferred out of the intensive car unit on Wednesday. He has been ruled out of competition for the foreseeable future.

Briscoe has nine previous starts in the Indy 500, with his best finish of fifth occurring in 2007 and ’12. He placed 18th in the 2014 race, driving for Ganassi during the full IndyCar season.

“First and foremost, I feel absolutely terrible for Hinch, and I wish him the best and a speedy recovery,” Briscoe said. “You sort of prepare for this race a year out. You visualize how you’re going to go through practice, all the prep you’re going to do, and something like this comes up and you throw that all out the window.

“I feel with my experience and the experience the team has, the experience that Hinch has had with (race engineer) Allen McDonald putting this car in really good condition for the race, I feel really confident that even with a few laps I’ll be able to find my groove again.”

Hinchcliffe had qualified on the outside of row 8. Briscoe will start in the middle of row 11 due to the driver change. Also on the final row, the 33rd position, will be James Davison, driving the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Davison did not participate in last weekend’s qualifying due to another race obligation. Tristan Vautier substituted for him.

Starting lineup for the 99th Indianapolis 500 Verizon IndyCar Series: Event staged at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 02:38.7579 (226.760)
2. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 02:39.0458 (226.350)
3. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 02:39.1900 (226.145)
4. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 02:39.6428 (225.503)
5. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 02:39.6439 (225.502)
6. (25) Justin Wilson, Honda, 02:39.8022 (225.279)
7. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 02:39.8626 (225.193)
8. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 02:39.8659 (225.189)
9. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 02:39.8670 (225.187)
10. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 02:39.9297 (225.099)
11. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 02:39.9703 (225.042)
12. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 02:40.0830 (224.883)
13. (32) Oriol Servia, Honda, 02:40.1585 (224.777)
14. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 02:40.1828 (224.743)
15. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 02:40.2446 (224.657)
16. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 02:40.3041 (224.573)
17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 02:40.5064 (224.290)
18. (18) Carlos Huertas, Honda, 02:40.5473 (224.233)
19. (29) Simona de Silvestro, Honda, 02:40.8304 (223.838)
20. (7) James Jakes, Honda, 02:40.8651 (223.790)
21. (48) Alex Tagliani, Honda, 02:40.9140 (223.722)
22. (8) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 02:41.0051 (223.595)
23. (43) Conor Daly, Honda, 02:41.0865 (223.482)
24. (24) Townsend Bell, Chevrolet, 02:41.1119 (223.447)
25. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 02:41.2718 (223.226)
26. (63) Pippa Mann, Honda, 02:41.3600 (223.104)
27. (98) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 02:41.4958 (222.916)
28. (17) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 02:41.5086 (222.898)
29. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 02:40.9022 (223.738)
30. (4) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 02:42.1617 (222.001)
31. (88) Bryan Clauson, Chevrolet, 02:42.6328 (221.358)
32. (5) Ryan Briscoe, Honda, 02:41.0602 (223.519) *
33. (19) James Davison, Honda, 02:40.8960 (223.747) **

* – Named 5/21 as driver of car qualified by James Hinchcliffe; ** – Named 5/18 as driver for car qualified by Tristan Vautier. Order of Briscoe and Davison determined by Verizon IndyCar Series entrant points entering the event.

Series: Verizon IndyCar. Date: Sunday May 24. Race: Indianapolis 500. Site: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track: 2.5-mile oval. Start Time: 12:15 p.m. ET (expected green flag). Laps: 200. Miles: 500. 2014 Winner: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Television: ABC. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.

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