Indy 500: 5 story lines to track in Sunday’s race

Five hundred miles. Two hundred laps. Thirty-three drivers. One winner.

Coming off the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, The Greatest Spectacle in Racing hasn’t slowed. Big crowds are again expected at the Yard of Bricks on Sunday (noon, ABC). Here are five stories to watch for the 101st running of the Indy 500:

O Captain!

Team owner Roger Penske has won a record 16 Indianapolis 500s. But to get No. 17 for the “The Captain,” Penske’s Chevrolet’s will have to deal with some traffic. Will Power starts ninth and is the lone Penske driver to crack the top three rows. Former winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves start 18th and 19th. Josef Newgarden starts 22nd and Simon Pagenaud 23rd.

Team Penske has gone from juggernaut to jugger-not in the last two weeks. Led by points-leader Pagenaud, Penske drivers hold four of the top five spots in the IndyCar standings. And they’ve won the last three races, including Power’s victory at the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 13. Will they regain their form Sunday?

By comparison, Chip Ganassi Racing has all four cars on the grid (1, 7, 15, 16) before Penske gets to its second car. Andretti Autosport (3, 4, 5, 8, 10) has five of its six cars in the top 10.

Beginner’s luck

Nine rookies — including Alexander Rossi last year — have won the Indianapolis 500 in their first start. There are four in this year’s race but none has generated as much buzz as two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso. He sent shock waves through auto racing when he decided to skip the Monaco Grand Prix and give the Indy 500 a shot.

“With Fernando choosing not to do Monaco, that was a big statement,” said fellow rookie Jack Harvey, who visited Dayton on Tuesday for the Indy 500 media tour. “Monaco still represents want the mass public thinks Formula One is like: high glamor, street racing on a closed circuit, adrenaline junkies, the boats, the gambling, everything. He’s choosing to leave that to come to Indiana and be part of the Indy 500. That’s a big, big statement.”

Alonso starts fifth on the 33-car grid for Andretti Autosport. As for the other rookies, Harvey starts 27th, Spencer Pigot 29th and Ohio’s Zach Veach 32nd.

Pole position

Scott Dixon enters as the favorite. Sure, starting on the pole helps. But his four-lap qualifying average of 232.164 was the fastest since Arie Luyendyk blistered the 2.5-mile track in 236.986 in 1996. Dixon put his Chip Ganassi Racing ride on the pole in 2015 and finished fourth. He started on the pole in 2008 and won his first and only Indy 500 title.

The last driver to win from the pole was Helio Castroneves in 2009. Dixon can join Rick Mears (three times) and Johnny Rutherford (twice) as the only drivers to win the Indy 500 multiple times from the pole.

OH-IO

For years New Albany driver Graham Rahal has carried the banner for Ohio. He gets company this year with Stockdale’s Veach, driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Veach’s dad currently has bragging rights when it comes to racing. Roger Veach is a truck and tractor pull national champion. When he was 4, Veach told his parents he was going to race in the Indianapolis 500.

“They kind of laughed at me,” Veach said Tuesday during the IndyCar’s media tour. “That just never changed. Being a small-town Ohio boy my options were truck driver or being a farmer. I dreamed outside of that.”

Stockdale, a town of about 135 people, is about 90 minutes south of Columbus, between Chillicothe and Portsmouth.

Indy invasion

IndyCar drivers won’t be the only ones navigating traffic. Officials are expecting the second-largest crowd in at least the last 20 years. The largest, of course, was for last year’s 100th running. All gates open at 6 a.m. and officials encourage fans to be at the track when they do to avoid delays.

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