My full time job is teaching math and science to middle schoolers so I'm a numbers guy. The Indianapolis 500 has been contested 96 times already so the event is full of numbers to play with so I thought I would take a spin of my own through this year's race figures just for kicks. Although I play the lottery occasionally, I am not a gambler but I wondered who the oddsmakers in Las Vegas had instilled as the favorite this year. according to Linemakers, this year's pole winner Ed Carpenter, three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon, have been tabbed at 7-1 odds. Another three-time winner and the defending Indy 500 champion, Dario Franchitti, is next up at 8-1. Interestingly, Dario and teammate Dixon start next to each other on Row 6. James Hinchcliffe is also at 8-1 and he has won twice already this season in the IZOD Indycar Series, and been a stalwart in the Andretti Autosport onslaught on top practice speeds this past week. Hinchtown's teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, my pre-practice pick to win this year, is at 10-1 while another Andretti racer, rookie sensation Carlos Munoz, is at 20-1. Even though I wrote earlier this month that Ed Carpenter should be considered a darkhorse candidate, this may no longer be true since he has won twice on ovals in Indycars, and now he gets to start from P1 at the track owned by his relatives. If car numbers mean anything, the last driver to win with #20 was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 in his legendary duel with Al Unser, Jr., so Ed would be in good company were he to follow in Emmo's wheel tracks.
Oddly enough A. J. Allmendinger is posted at 12-1 along with Penske Racing teammate Will Power even though the Dinger has never run the 500 before. Chalk that up to the strength of the Penske team and A. J.'s prowess in Champ Car a few years back. The pride of Japan, Takuma Sato, is listed at 30-1 but I would put five bucks on him in a heartbeat since he came so close to winning last year and won an Indycar race this season at long last. Sato's teammate, rookie Conor Daly, is only given a 300-1 chance of winning from the last row but rest assured that race fans in Noblesville, Indiana and Heritage Christian High School would be willing to take those odds and blow a few dollars to show their support. Needless to say, the top drivers with the top teams are being touted as potential winners this year, but the 500 usually has its share of surprises in store.
My pick to win: Ryan Hunter-Reay
Lots of other numbers factor into this year's race. There are four previous winners and four women starters. Dario won in #10 in 2010. The most experienced and oldest driver is Buddy Lazier at 45 years of age with 16 Indy 500's under his belt, although he starts next to Daly in Row 11, and isn't likely to do much on race day. Carols Munoz is the youngest at 21 and hopes to follow the example of fellow Columbian Roberto Guerrero challenged for an Indy as a rookie in 1984. Eighteen drivers, including Munoz, have experience in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, so the Road to Indy feeder system must be judged a success on that basis. Seventeen drivers in the field have led laps at Indy previously, and Dario has led more than anyone who is starting the race this Sunday. The lowest starting position ever to produce a 500 winner is 28th, and you have to go back to Louis Meyer in 1936 and Ray Harroun in the inaugural 500 in 1911 to find them. When Lone Star Johnny Rutherford won the 1974 race, he had started 25th but since then 30 of 38 winners have started in 10th or better. J. R. Hildebrand starts 10th this year and was one turn away from winning as a rookie in 2011 when the late Dan Wheldon got his second Indy win in car #98. Starting next to Hildebrand? Alex Tagliani in Car #98. Don't count Tags out, even at 50-1 odds. There's another five bucks that would be well spent.
If these numbers don't make your head spin, then try these: as I recall, the teams ran over 11,000 laps (27,500 miles) in the nine days of track activity, which is more than enough to make a lap around the earth at the equator (24,859.82 miles), or for every car in the field to run the full 500 miles 1.67 times. My camera counters were spinning too as I shot 4,490 images (that I kept), and that's with a schedule that only allowed me to be at the track full time on four out of the nine days. If you add up all the car numbers for the 33 starters, the total is 1,028, so the average car number is 31.15152. While there is no car #31 in this year's race, all the cars in Row 11 end in the number 1 - (41, 91, 81), and the last driver to win in #31 was Al Unser, Jr. in 1994. The third row car numbers add up to 31 and it includes three of the odds-on favorites: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. Finally, in Row 6, the car numbers add up to 33, there are 33 cars in the field, and 3 + 3 equals 6. This row features Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato, so watch out for these guys!
The most important number is that the 97th Indianapolis 500, which used to also carry the moniker of an "International Sweepstakes", is now just a little more than three days away. It will my 38th in a row and I can hardly wait to see you all at 16th & Georgetown!