<
>

See where your favorite driver ranks

5/29/2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Any 500-mile race is difficult to handicap because of the endurance
factor. But the Indianapolis 500 is a case unto itself, because as the
biggest single-day sporting event in the world, the 500 carries much
more pressure than a normal race.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a tricky track to master even with dozens of hours of practice time available, and the venerable old facility takes on a whole new look
when it is packed with more than 250,000 people.

It has been well documented that this year's Indy field is the strongest and deepest in the Indy Racing League era, which began in 1996. Nearly all of American open-wheel racing's top teams are represented in the field, along with an interesting mix of veteran and youthful drivers.

Additional variables that make the 88th running tough to assess are the new 3.0-liter engines and a revised aerodynamic package. Most insiders believe the key to Sunday's 200-lap race will be how drivers get through traffic, as the low-torque 3.0-liter motors will not forgive any loss of momentum.

Five-hundred miles create a lot of opportunity for sleeper candidates to move up through the field, but this year's race is likely to be settled by sheer speed on the track and in the pits. With that in mind, here's how I rate the field for the 88th Indianappolis 500 … for entertainment purposes only, naturally.

DRIVER - Odds
TONY KANAAN -- 3:1. Comment: Honda's favorite driver has to be considered the
overall favorite.

HELIO CASTRONEVES -- 4:1. Comment: Always rises to the occasion at Indy, but does Toyota have the horses?

DAN WHELDON -- 4:1. Comment: The IRL's hottest driver could launch a championship campaign with an Indy win.

SAM HORNISH JR. -- 5:1. Comment: Has never led a lap at Indy, but with Penske,
that's certain to change.

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA -- 6:1. Comment: Confident, but carrying the weight of Champ Car Nation on his shoulders.

BUDDY RICE -- 6:1. Comment: Pole winner is just three hours away from wrapping
up a magic month.

SCOTT DIXON -- 8:1. Comment: Fueled by a desire to atone for silly late-race spin
in 2003.

DARIO FRANCHITTI -- 8:1. Comment: Performed when it counted in qualifying. Can
he do the same on Sunday?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ -- 10:1. Comment: Fast all month, but lack of seat time in the
IRL will hurt his racecraft.

VITOR MEIRA -- 10:1. Comment: Underrated Brazilian could be the surprise
darkhorse of 2004.

DARREN MANNING -- 12:1. Comment: Resilient racer with an uncanny ability to bring a car home.

BRYAN HERTA -- 15:1. Comment: Deserves a good finish after a character-building
month at the Speedway.

ROGER YASUKAWA -- 15:1. Comment: Second-year American driver has impressed team boss Bobby Rahal.

TOMAS SCHECKTER -- 18:1. Comment: Has a tendency to overdrive, which underpowered Chevy could bring out.

KOSUKE MATSUURA -- 20:1. Comment: Rookie is fast and fearless, but sometimes
foolhardy.

ROBBY GORDON -- 20:1. Comment: Came close to winning in '99, but competition is
tougher now.

AL UNSER JR. -- 25:1. Comment: Loves Indy, but doesn't have the package to add a
third win.

MARK TAYLOR -- 30:1. Comment: Just finishing would boost his confidence after
tough IRL baptism.

ALEX BARRON -- 30:1. Comment: Probably Chevrolet's best hope for victory.

ED CARPENTER -- 33:1 . Comment: Steady month at the family racetrack.

FELIPE GIAFFONE -- 40:1. Comment: Tough month with new team featured two crashes.

SCOTT SHARP -- 40:1. Comment: He'll need lots of luck, but stranger things have happened.

GREG RAY -- 50:1. Comment: Last-minute shoestring effort for '99 IRL champion.

TORA TAKAGI -- 60:1. Comment: Seems to have lost confidence.

BUDDY LAZIER -- 60:1. Comment: The manufacturer era IRL left the '96 Indy winner
behind.

JEFF SIMMONS -- 75:1. Comment: Impressive American rookie deserves a full-time IRL chance.

RICHIE HEARN -- 75:1. Comment: Good equipment from Penske, but it takes more than that.

AJ FOYT IV -- 100:1. Comment: Won't deliver Grandpa Indy win #6

LARRY FOYT -- 150:1. Comment: Could upstage cousin A.J. IV.

SARAH FISHER -- 150:1. Comment: No longer America's best female racer. Danica's
coming.

ROBBY McGEHEE -- 200:1. Comment: Little guys don't win at Indy anymore.

PJ JONES -- 500:1. Comment: Feel-good retro story but not a threat to win.

MARTY ROTH -- 1 million to 1. Comment: Made the field, now needs to make a
graceful exit.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.