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Indianapolis 500

Indianapolis 500 Live: the 104th Indy 500 will take the green flag Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a competitive starting lineup that ranks among the best in its history.

Simon Pagenaud led 116 of the 200 laps, but had to fight with 2016 winner Alexander Rossi – the two swapped the lead five times in the final 13 laps – to give Roger Penske a record-extending 18th victory in the race. He edged Rossi by .02086 of a second and became the first Frenchman to win the 500 since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.

Susan Peverill was expecting Doug Boles, dressed in one of his typical pinstripe suites and a perfectly matched shirt and tie to roll up in a Chevy Corvette pace car, maybe an Indianapolis 500 gift bag in tow. She’d gotten a call Wednesday evening from someone at IMS, telling her to make sure to be at her home off Georgetown Road right outside Turn 4 for a couple hours starting around 11 a.m. Saturday morning.

As it turns out, Boles, the IMS president, may have been the fourth-most impressive person or thing that strolled or rolled up her driveway, black and white checkered flags wafting in the breeze.

Scott Dixon started the season with a three-race winning streak (Texas, Indy road course, Road America 1) and holds a 49-point advantage over Pagenaud and 53 over two-time and defending series champion Josef Newgarden. Other winners have been Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda teammate Felix Rosenqvist (Road America 2), Pagenaud (Iowa 1) and his Team Penske Chevrolet teammate Newgarden (Iowa 2).

There are eight past winners: Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009), Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Rossi (2016), Sato (2017), Power (2018) and Pagenaud.

Castroneves is the most experienced driver in the field with 19 previous starts and oldest at 45. Five starters are rookies. This will be the first Indianapolis 500 since 2000 without a female driver.

Marco Andretti became the first member of his famous family since his grandfather, Mario, in 1987 to win the pole for the 500. In 64 starts combined among Marco, father Michael, second cousin John, uncle Jeff and grandfather Mario, the Andrettis have one win, Mario’s in 1969, and three poles, all by Mario. Marco was runner-up in his debut in 2006, but his overall IndyCar numbers have been disappointing: two wins in 240 starts.

After postponing from Memorial Day Weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic and then scuttling a plan to allow some spectators, the race will be run 13 weeks late in front of 232,000 empty seats. The drivers will be harder to see too. For safety, IndyCar has added an aeroscreen designed to keep dangerous debris out of the cockpit, which gives the cars a decidedly different look, particularly for those who remember how exposed drivers were generations ago. The screens affect the aerodynamics of the car and are a work in progress, having caused such side effects as making it difficult for the driver to get fresh, cool air.

More than the usual number of familiar names will have to work their way through the field after some surprises in qualifying. Row 8 includes two past winners, Power and Kanaan, Row 9 has Pagenaud and two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, and Castroneves, four-time pole-sitter and three-time winner lines up on the inside of the 10th row.

Honda had the upper hand in qualifying, locking up 11 of the first 12 positions. Chevrolet cars seem to close the gap considerably in racing conditions. Beyond outright top speed, fuel mileage comes into play. Honda has had the edge more often than not, but it’s unclear how that will play out Sunday.

Roger Penske owned the speedway metaphorically, winning the 500 some 18 times between his arrival in 1969 and last year. Now he owns it outright – along with the IndyCar Series – after purchasing it from the Hulman George family in the offseason. His new position will take “The Captain” off pit road, where he has traditionally called a race strategy for one of his drivers, and change his role dramatically.

With all 33 cars having made at least one qualifying attempt, Colton Herta was in 10th, and Zach Veach was 15th with three hours remaining in Saturday’s session.

After going winless with his five full-time cars through the first six races this season (following only two victories last year), Michael Andretti said his team was unsure it would be so fast in qualifying until Friday’s practice.

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