Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Correctly Pick a Dark-Horse for the Indy 500

What is a Dark-horse?

Over the course of the past 2 weeks many people, unpaid blogging word-butchers and professional paid radio, print and TV word-butchers alike have all started to bring forth their predictions for this year’s Indy 500. This practice as usual is fun; mostly because none of them will say “I was wrong” after the race and instead talk about how they knew who the winner was going to be all along.

But one particular theme this year seems to be the practice of picking a “dark-horse.” A fun practice as it should be to try and figure out which unexpected chap may very well find his way into victory lane… the only problem is that it seems the predicting world has forgotten what the definition of dark horse is. But I’m willing to give them all a second chance…

Webster tells us that it is a: “little-known, unexpectedly successful entrant.” Emphasis really has to be put on the “unexpected” part, and this, my gambling and predicting friends, is how we need to sort out who is, and who definitely is NOT a dark-horse. So let’s find some rules.

GROUP ONE: The Non-Debatables

Rule #1:  If you’ve won the Indy 500 before, you are most definitely NOT a dark-horse.


Helio Castroneves – Dude’s got three Borg Warners

Scott Dixon – Not to mention also a Series champion and the guy who just won Kansas by about 72 car lengths

Dario Franchitti – Defending series champion, yeah that’s not an underdog.

Dan Wheldon – Some people might want to debate this, but they probably don’t realize is someone put some special stuff in their brownies, this has caused them to forget that Dan worked his way to a 500 win, and the fact that his team has come in 2nd for the past two Indy 500s

Rule #2: If your team has won 15 Indy 500s, you are NOT a dark-horse, no matter the driver.


Ryan Briscoe – he’s fast, the team is fast and he was series runner up in 2009; no... Not a dark-horse.

Will Power – Road course specialist you say? Silly you, he’s the points leader, plus he finished 5th in last year’s 500; he may also be the first person to ever have Vegemite in victory lane.

Rule #3: If you already won the Indy 500, but it was never awarded to you making you angry and vengeful to win and show everyone you should have been declared the winner back then, plus you race for the team that was third fastest in 2009… you are NOT a dark-horse.


Paul Tracy – Won the 2002 Indy 500 (I typed it like that just so I could start a flame war on our comment section, have at ye)

Rule #4: If your team has won multiple Indy 500s in the past 5 years, you are definitely NOT a dark-horse.


Danica Patrick – Came in 3rd last year, 4th in 2005, and she’s always quick at Indy.

Marco Andretti – Not only was he one conservative lap away from winning 2006, he’s also got a 3rd place to his name, and would have been a likely contender last year had Mario Moraes not taken him out at the .34 mile mark.

Tony Kanaan – would it be great to see him win after such hard luck, yes, just like it would have been nice to see Michael Andretti win after all those years… but a guy who’s led laps at Indy all except 1 year he’s run it, is not a dark-horse.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – he’s won one race already this year and he obliterated 7/8th of the field at Kansas passing all of them cause he started at the back.

John Andretti – John made Marty Roth cars look good 2 years ago putting them in the Top 10 consistently… he now has good equipment to go with his talent… nicest guy ever, yes… dark-horse… no.

Rule #5: If you finished in the Top 5 the previous year, sorry you are not a dark-horse.


Townsend Bell – Townsend is a LOT of people’s favorite dark-horse pick this year, but I guarantee you he does NOT qualify for many reasons. Townsend’s Indy 500s have gone, 22nd, 10th and 4th… there’s not only a trend going on here, but he just went from KV Racing, to an entry run by a partnership between  Sam “I can put anyone in my car and win in Indy Lights” Schmidt and CHIP GANASSI!!! Plus Townsend has Andy “freaking” Brown as his lead engineer. Not only that, he did push-ups for Jack Arute on live television last year…

GROUP TWO: the slightly debatable but not likely a true complete dark-horse

Rule #6: If your team scored multiple Top 5s in the past 2 years, you are not a dark-horse.


Mario Moraes – Mario had the speed to win it last year, the team had the speed to contend in Kansas a few weeks ago, and Mario got a podium to finish out last year… ergo not a dark-horse. Not a favorite, but not a dark-horse.

Takuma Sato – Yeah he came from Formula One, but he’s no Nigel Mansel for sure… he’s incredibly approachable and nice (rim shot). He was also hanging with the big boys at Kansas, and the team has demonstrated the ability to go fast on ovals

E.J. Viso – E.J. is one broken gearbox away from winning St. Petersburg this year. He may be the closest of this group to be a borderline but not quite definite dark-horse, but he’s got plenty experience now, and he’s always very aggressive on the track.

In fact all three of these KV guys are debatable, but see Rule 9 below for more...

Rule #7: If you’ve won the championship of the series you were racing in over 70% of your past 8 years in racing, you are not a dark-horse.


Raphael Matos – His team has been good at times, and lets see, Skip Barber champ, Star Mazda champ, Atlantics champ, Indy Lights champ, 24 hours of Daytona GT champ... I'd say he is a proven winner. Plus, what many people forget, or just don’t know, is that just before he wrecked with Vitor Meira last year, he was in a prime position to win the Indy 500. Most people don’t know/remember this, but he was the only car who could have made it the distance to the finish at the time of his crash (which made the move doubly, doh!).

Rule #8: If you’ve led laps at Indy without the benefit of convenient pit strategy, you’re not a dark-horse.


Tomas Scheckter – The controversy of 2002 between Helio and Paul Tracy is so funny in a way because neither of them was even remotely close to the fastest car, (Kanaan and Scheckter). Tomas led 83 laps in Indy, he's widely known for being fast and aggressive and passing many cars… oh Turn 4 how cruel are you…

Bruno Junquiera – We’re still not sure if Bruno will even be racing this year at Indy; but if he is, he’s no dark-horse, he’s lead many laps, and finished 5th twice, plus the FAZZT cars have looked fast thus far this year; just like Kanaan, many people will rejoice, but will it be totally unexpected if he won? No.

GROUP THREE: There is a reason Vegas is in business… they know what they are doing.

A very smart man once told me that Vegas rankings should determine college playoffs, and it makes a lot of sense; because the normal polls are control by sports writers and coaches and people that in a way don’t have a vested interest in the rankings. Vegas however have their ass on the line with their rankings and odds, and as a result you generally notice they are for lack of a better term… right. So let’s take a stroll over to the early betting odds from sports book and betUS and see who they deem to be decent enough to do one of 2 things with

Rule #9: Does Vegas A) think you are too good to include you in “the field” and B) not separate you simply because they know people will put bets on you as a long shot.


Ed Carpenter – Ed has a Top 5 at Indy, and for the time being this is his only race this year which means he’s putting EVERYTHING on the line, he lives for Indy and is always fast here, plus he’s racing for Panther who already has shown plenty speed through Dan Wheldon. Odds put Ed at +5000 while the field gets +3000. Translation, they’re too scared to put Ed in the field because they know he can win, and he’s not a long shot or his odds would be higher.

Hideki Mutoh – Mutoh has been on the podium before, he was plenty fast in Kansas, and Newman Haas has been fast on the ovals all last year and this year, Vegas is no fool which is why they’re giving Hideki +3500-4000 odds, meaning they think he will do just as well as “the field” which includes anywhere from 18-20 drivers right now.

Vitor Meira – How did Vitor follow up his 2nd place at Indy in 2008… well he was set on fire, rolled back out of the pits without losing a lap only to get his back broken from a too-ambitious move by Raphael Matos. Now he’s back and got a podium in Brazil, ran strong at Kansas, and then does triathlons on days following races halfway across the country. Vitor has a million Top 5s included two 2nds at Indy, there is a reason Vegas says he gets better odds than the field.

Alex Tagliani – Tag (or Tags depending on your preference) has had fast running cars so far this year. The team may be new but he’s not, he’s also not new to ovals; he was rookie of the year at Indy last year. I think Alex might be a borderline dark-horse… he definitely plays a good underdog… but then we remember who he’s married to. Sorry Alex, no dark-horse for you.

Justin Wilson – Mostly, it’s just hard to consider calling a 6’3” giant an underdog. Frankly Justin is as close to the line as I think I’m willing to go, and the fact is he loses out simply because he’s demonstrated some serious skill on the track. He has a victory and many Top finishes on road courses, and Indy of all the ovals is most like a road courses. While of the non-‘field’ odds he’s looks like the beginning of the Vegas ploys to get long shot bets at +6000, think about this No one will ever be surprised to see him in the front.

And with that… I present to you all


In no particular order:

Davey Hamilton – If this were the late 90s Davey wouldn’t qualify, he got a 4th at Indy in 1997, was runner up twice for the points championship and also had a 4th after that, but since the horrible Texas crash, he’s been on-off and Indy only, and his 9th in 2007 only really came from the timing of the rain. For a guy who could have been a double amputee, there’d be not a single fan who wouldn’t want to see him in victory lane.

Graham Rahal – If Graham were still running for Newman-Haas, this might not qualify; but right now he’s a one-off runner on a one-off team at a track where he still hasn’t conquered traffic and Turn 4 at the same time. If he manages to win, it would be unexpected given all the pieces of this entry, not to mention it’d probably vault both into full-time status.

Ana Beatriz – Ana is a true rookie. While she has FIL victories she’s always been on the “too” aggressive side, like the many rookies before her.

Alex Lloyd – If this were 2009, Alex would lose this distinction; but he went from running for the top team in the series to probably the lowest of low budget teams, and worse yet, he now has Milka Duno as his teammate. While Dale Coyne got his first victory last year, Indy depends too much on having a perfect day: consistent pit stops, good speed, good luck, things that don’t seem to come often for Dale, but we’d all love to see that change.

Milka Duno – Dead serious… if you went to a Vegas sports book today, and asked them to take a bet from you on 1,000,000 to 1 odds for Milka… they would take it. I think she’ll make it in at the bottom of the field this year because, like Marty Roth, she’s got the whole qualifying at Indy thing memorized. After that, look for a series of black flags and then going out due to handling.

Sebastian Saavedra – I’m EXTREMELY curious to see how Sebastian does. He’s been quick in Indy Lights, and Bryan Herta, a great driver, and even better coach (from what I hear) is making his first foray to the big leagues with the biggest race of the year. As I’m writing this, rain is keeping them off the track, but I think there are MANY of us very eager to see how this combination looks on the big stage.

Mario Romancini – Mario was very quick and aggressive for Rahal in Indy Lights, but we can’t pretend that Conquests equipment is suddenly going to be fast, not to mention this is the same team that had the HUGE brain-fade last year that knocked Alex Tagliani out of the field simply because they forgot to put in a faster time than they needed.

Bertrand Baguette – Add the above qualifications that Romancini gets, but then add to it that Bertrand is still quite new to this whole oval thing. If they painted the center pod of this car to look like a piece of French bread, he would instantly be the most popular guy in the series. Or if he drove the F1 car made of bread you see to the right, either would suffice.

A.J. Foyt IV
– The team has shown some good speed with Vitor this year, and while Vitor is no dark-horse, Quattro just hasn’t really ever shown speed; in fact his best finish (3rd at Kentucky in 2007) came from the timing of a yellow flag that put him in a position to not need to pit when no one else had yet. He has yet to crack the top 10 at Indy, and I’m sure no one would love more than to have a Foyt back in victory lane.

Jay Howard – I’m never really sure where to put Jay these days. He’s basically right there with Alex Lloyd and Townsend Bell… guys who killed the competition in Indy Lights, seriously the things Jay did for Schmidt that year were unreal. But he never got a fair shake at the big leagues. Jay out performed his teammate Marty Roth for that ill-planned contract where Marty decided to remove Jay from the car, rather than himself, but now I think Jay’s time has been so sporadic that when he gets in the car he’s so anxious that he’s overly aggressive.

Sarah Fisher – The one person everyone would love to see in victory lane. Small business owner, personable, put Graham in a car earlier this year, and did it all on her own. Now if the cars could just find some dang speed, we know she has the skills to win, she’s come so close many times.

Simona De Silvestro – I almost didn’t put her in the dark-horse list simply because I feared that she might crush my mind with her Jedi mind skills. I don’t know where HVM would just suddenly find the speed they’ve always lacked on ovals, but if they did, that’s the only thing missing for this entry to be a contender.

TBA (Yasukawa, Antinucci, the Brothers Lazier, Servia etc.) – I don’t know the possibilities of any of these entries happening, but any of them would be too little too late to in my opinion to contend. Can they make the race? Sure… but I don’t know how they’d be able to contend unless it was Roger Penske that at the last minute decided to throw a new car into the race.

And with that, I’ll finish this entry with my dark-horse pick…

Drum roll please..........



Mike Conway
Yes, there I said it; Mike is the perfect storm that every die-hard race fan knows happens in a driver’s life. He is incredibly aggressive, and has a history of crashes in his first year, and easily knows the quick way around tracks, but like all rookies, he’s been hampered by the learning curve... walls. Sometimes he’s too aggressive which has caught him in the marbles trying to pass people, or slapping a wall on a road course trying to make room to get around people, BUT none of his crashes have been unexplainable, they’ve all made sense, in fact almost all of his crashes have come from when he was passing other cars. He’s had speed on both road and ovals, and he’s now had enough time to suddenly explode onto the podium on a regular basis, plus he has Larry Curry, a guy who (regardless of other past history) knows how to make a car go fast.

Mike is getting +8000 to +10,000 odds right now!!! He is the worst odds you can get right now, over triple what the “field” is getting, it almost makes you wonder why Vegas has separated him from the “field”… and that’s why I wondered… Vegas knows what they are doing… they know he shouldn’t be in the field because he’s the perfect storm of potential. He’s a young, bright, kid, very personable, aggressive on the track, quick at times, he’s been on the podium before and has won at other levels so contending is not foreign to him. Then on top of it all he’s got a sweet looking car with a sweet sponsor. Plus this gives me an excuse to post a link to this picture of Mike.

And that my friends is a dark-horse.
So who is your pick??? Let us know in the comments, I think we can easily accept anyone in group 4... and with some convincing, maybe take a group 3 driver, but you're going to have to make a seriously convincing  case for a Group 2 driver, but that is what the comments section is for.

1 comment:

NaBUru38 said...

The first two rules should be in the reverse order. And two other are missing before them:

Hiro Matsushita rule: if you are pathetic driving a 650hp car, not matter what team you drive for, you are an Indy 500 darkhorse. That is for Milka Duno.

Minardi rule: if your team sucks, you are an Indy 500 darkhorse. That's for the drivers of Fisher, Foyt, Coyne and Conquest.