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Helio Castroneves looks to join 'the gods of racing' with Indy 500 win

Castroneves is looking for his fourth victory, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser. 'I'm so honored to have this opportunity,' he says.

May 27, 2010|By Jim Peltz

Even by its legacy standards, the Indianapolis 500 this year is compelling because of intriguing questions surrounding drivers throughout the 33-car field.

Atop the list is Helio Castroneves' quest to become only the fourth driver to win the storied race a record four times, joining Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser. No driver has won the race five times.

Castroneves won his third Indy 500 last year and the effusive Brazilian is poised to defend his victory by starting Sunday's 200-lap race on the pole position after qualifying last weekend at 227.970 mph at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Rick, A.J., they're the gods of racing, the legends," Castroneves said earlier this week. "I'm so honored to have this opportunity."

But Castroneves knows that the Indy 500 is fraught with risk, such as a bungled pit stop or unforeseen mechanical woe. "This place, you've got to expect the unexpected," he said after winning the pole.

Conversely, a disgruntled Danica Patrick is starting back in 23rd. Patrick, who drives for the Andretti Autosport team, remains the most popular driver in the Izod IndyCar Series, but she was met with some boos after a qualifying run she labeled "absolutely awful."

This will be Patrick's sixth Indy 500, and her previous lowest starting spot was 10th in 2006 and again in 2009. But she finished third in the Memorial Day weekend classic last year, her best finish.

There are three other women in this year's race and two of them, rookies Ana Beatriz of Brazil and Simona De Silvestro of Switzerland, qualified ahead of the seasoned Patrick in 21st and 22nd, respectively. The other woman in the race is Sarah Fisher, who starts 29th.

Then there's the question of whether Will Power, Castroneves' teammate at Team Penske, can prove that he's just as capable of winning on a big oval track such as Indy as he was early this year when he won the series' first two races on twisty street courses.

Power has shown the raw speed. The Australian will be alongside Castroneves on the race's three-wide, 11-row starting grid after being the only other driver to top 227 mph in qualifying.

On the outside of the front row is Dario Franchitti, the reigning IndyCar champion and 2007 Indy 500 winner, who qualified third for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Franchitti, along with teammate and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, are trying to put team owner Chip Ganassi in the record books as the only owner to win both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Daytona 500 in the same year. Jamie McMurray of Ganassi's NASCAR team won the Daytona 500 in February.

Then there's the Rahals' hope for the traditional drink of milk in Indy's Victory Lane.

Bobby Rahal, a former Indy 500 winner who owns the Rahal Letterman Racing team with late-night comedian David Letterman, couldn't secure the sponsorship to run full time in the IndyCar series this season, and his 21-year-old son Graham Rahal couldn't secure a full-time ride with another team.

But they united for this year's Indy 500 with Graham driving for Rahal Letterman, and he qualified their car seventh, on the third row.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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