Hornish's wreck untimely; Marco Andretti the real deal

Updated: May 25, 2006, 11:35 PM ET
By Rusty Wallace | Special to ESPN.com

You don't want to wreck just before a race, but Sam Hornish Jr. probably will be able to put his crash from Sunday behind him.

Marlo Klain's video blog: Marco Andretti

It has to affect Hornish a little bit, but that Penske Racing team has so much depth and strength that I'm sure those folks went through everything and isolated how it happened.

Hornish was real down in his interview with Jerry Punch. I'm sure what's on his mind is that he's not invincible after he looked that way most of the month.

He's very fortunate he didn't wreck his qualifying car, of course. I'm still getting used to these rules, but if this were a Cup race, he'd be at the back of the field. But that's not the rule here, and that's fine.

And things are different here for a good reason, and honestly you have to be awed by the place.

Being able to sit up in the TV booth and look down at the literal history of Indianapolis has been a treat. This is a completely different event.

It's not just another race because it's really second to none.

You go to the museum, you see all the different drivers from the past. You see Danny Sullivan show up. The personalities like Parnelli Jones come by.

And watching cars come past me at 234 miles an hour into Turn 1 and watching that car make that corner without coming out of the throttle is amazing. I didn't think it could be physically possible.

I'm a big stock car guy -- everybody knows that -- but these Indy cars and the Indianapolis 500 ... I find it totally captivating.

But it's not all about speed. Handling plays a crucial role here, and that's where Danica Patrick comes in.

She has been down a little on speed this month, but she needs to realize she potentially can overcome that.

All Danica has to do is hold steady, stay focused, don't scream and holler and get mad, but stay focused on improving the handling of that car.

I still think when it's all said and done that if she can hold that throttle wide open -- even if she's a mile or two per hour slower at the beginning of a long run -- during the longer runs on the track, if she has a better-handling car, that could make up the difference.

Her Rahal Letterman team is running the Panoz chassis because that was the fastest chassis at Indy last year.

There have been no aerodynamic changes this year, only a tire change and a little bit different motor, so she needs to hold course and keep working on the chassis. If she can do that, she has a real chance at a successful race.

One of the real eye-openers has been Marco Andretti.

He's from a great family, and he's with a great team. With his father owning the team, he get the parts he wants, and the team has good depth.

But none of that matters if the driver can't drive. Marco can drive.

At 19, he has done all the things he needs to do to be a success. He looks good; he speaks well. I really like everything I see out of him.

He did break a couple of half-shafts early in the season that took him out of good finishes.

I'm concerned for him at the 500 for the simple reason that the pit road is concrete, which creates a ton of grip and really tears up drivetrains. I know in Cup racing a lot of drivers have torn up rear ends and driveshafts at the Brickyard, so that's something Andretti really has be careful with. He already has torn up two half-shafts at tracks that are easier on them than this one.

I've been asked who I think the winner will be and I've been asked who I think the winner will be if it's not a driver with the Penske and Ganassi teams. Penske drivers Hornish and Helio Castroneves and Ganassi drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon have topped the speed charts all month.

But if it's not one of those four that wins, who will?

I keep changing my mind on that, but my pick is Tony Kanaan. I had picked Dario Franchitti earlier in the week, but he has been really unhappy with his car, his spirits have been up and down, and that kind of moved my decision because I don't know whether he can get refocused quickly enough.

Kanaan, on the other hand, has looked quick and confident. He says he's ready to go.

And even though he won't win, you have to love Indy for stories such as Thiago Medeiros. He's driving the last car in the field, but the fact he's in the field should make just about anybody smile.

Even my wife said we need to do a special on him.

He went out and made a mistake wrecking the car in practice.

Then his team had to decide whether it could put the car back together in time to qualify. Then the team had to decide whether to keep him.

There were drivers hanging around the garage like vultures to get that ride, but the team stuck with Medeiros.

He had all that amazing pressure on him, and the team had all that pressure on it, too.

It was great to see other teams come together to help this underfunded bunch get its car put back together by loaning pieces and parts.

To see him get the last starting spot and to see his joy -- and the team's joy -- was amazing. He put up four great laps, and that's a good story.

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at www.rustywallace.com

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at rustywallace.com.