Indy 500’s intriguing Row 7 lineup: Andretti, Castroneves and Dixon

INDIANAPOLIS — Team Penske’s front row sweep and Kyle Larson’s Memorial Day weekend double chase, naturally, stole the attention all week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Row 7 lineup could be every bit as intriguing.

With Marco Andretti, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 pole winner and grandson of Hall of Famer Mario Andretti, starting 19th and just inside four-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves and six-time series champion Scott Dixon, open-wheel fans will get a rare glimpse of racing royalty competing side-by-side-by-side.

“Hopefully the row doesn’t take each other out, that would be interesting,” Dixon joked Thursday as he chases a record-tying seventh career series crown to match A.J. Foyt. “Anything is possible in this race. Hopefully we all move forward, maybe this row will be fighting it out for the win.”

It’s certainly possible given that this trio has a combined total of five Indy wins along with seven runner-up finishes and 17 top-fives.

Castroneves starts 20th in his third quest to become the first five-time race winner. The 49-year-old Brazilian, Foyt, the late Al Unser and Rick Mears have four wins each.

Dixon, 43, ranks second in series history with 57 career wins, trailing only Foyt’s 67, and is trying to become the 21st driver with multiple 500 wins. The New Zealander won Indy in 2008.

The 37-year-old Andretti is still trying to end his family’s curse at Indy. Five family members have made a total of 76 starts on the 2.5-mile Brickyard since his grandfather’s only win and nobody — not even Andretti’s father, Michael — has owned the coveted title of Indy champion. It’s Marco Andretti’s first, and likely only, series start this season.

“You have to be methodical,” he said when asked about race strategy. “The first 2/3 of the race, I’ll drive it more like a marathon rather than a sprint. In order to be in that position in the end, you have to be smart in certain scenarios that present themselves. Do you take it, do you not? I’ll read Helio’s vibe at the beginning and follow him through.”

For Castroneves, another one-off starter on the back end of his career, the stakes are even grander. He’s now a part-owner of Meyer Shank Racing, and if Spiderman can climb the catch-fence one more time, he will create a whole new winner’s club at Indianapolis.

Don’t bet against him — or anyone else in Row 7.

“I remember in 2021, I was about six months without — actually about a year without being in an IndyCar,” Castroneves said. “I jump in, new time, new people, that was actually even harder, and we still ended up being able to execute. This place, it brings the best out of everyone, including us with experience.”

Rain, rain … and severe thunderstorms

As the 33 drivers on the starting grid paraded through their media day appearances, one thing became readily apparent — everyone is concerned about rain on Sunday.

The most recent forecast is calling for thunderstorms, potentially severe, and an 86% chance of rain Sunday. The last race to be postponed came in 1997 when the 500 was washed out Sunday and Monday before concluding Tuesday. Since then there have been two rain-shortened races, in 2004 and 2007.

To be considered official, at least 101 of the scheduled 200 laps must be completed. But it’s not just Sunday that has some drivers worried.

“I’m hoping with the lessons we learned Monday and the lessons we’re going to learn (Friday), because there’s no rain, despite what others think, we’re going to be good,” Sting Ray Robb said. “I think the car has a lot of natural speed in it.”


Representing for women

While practice and qualifying have been top of mind for race fans in Indianapolis all month, sports fans around the city have also been closely monitoring the Indiana Pacers’ NBA playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals and the influence of the WNBA’s newest star, Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark.

Women have a long history in the 500, dating to Janet Guthrie’s historic qualifying run in 1977. And

, the only female on this year’s 33-car starting grid, feels she has a certain responsibility this weekend, too.

“I believe that I do the best job that I can to represent the women. I often think, I’m running in the woods or whatever, I’m thinking, positive thinking, what am I doing here?” said Legge, who is starting 31st. “But I think if I can make Roger Penske proud, my dad, and if I had a daughter by doing what I’m doing, if I could make those three people happy, I’m doing the right things. That’s where my mentality is.”

Gil de Ferran, left, and Simon Pagenaud in 2009 (Getty Images)


Paying tribute

Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar Series champ, isn’t racing Sunday. But he’ll make his 13th consecutive race day appearance at Indy, this time paying tribute to his mentor, the late Gil de Ferran.

Pagenaud will take de Ferran’s 2003 Indy 500-winning car around the Brickyard’s 2.5-mile oval on a parade lap before the race starts. Penske Restoration has kept the car in operational order, and de Ferran’s family asked Pagenaud to help with the tribute.

“I am so happy we will get to remember Gil winning Indianapolis in this iconic Team Penske livery,” Pagenaud said in a statement in which he called the French-Brazilian his role model. “The colors, the helmet, the sound, the memories, and the fact that he taught me everything about this place. I remember late nights and countless hours with my Yoda talking about all the fine details to get to victory lane at the Speedway.”

Pagenaud will wear a helmet he designed in memory of de Ferran, who suffered a fatal heart attack in December. De Ferran was 56 years old.

Book it

Josef Newgarden isn’t busy just defending his Indianapolis 500 title this weekend. He’s also putting the finishing touches on a children’s book, “Josef’s BIG Dream.”

The 33-year-old Tennessean and his wife, Ashley, collaborated with author Andy Amendola on a project Newgarden describes as promoting the values of hard work and dedication required to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“Creating this book with my wife, Ashley, and Andy Amendola was a fun journey and one we are all proud of,” Newgarden said. “I hope families and kids that read this book are inspired to chase their dreams, no matter how big or small, and take pride in their efforts in pursuing them.”


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