Commentary

How do you like them odds?

Updated: May 23, 2009, 12:30 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the cars, tires and engines all are theoretically identical, what produces a winner in the Indianapolis 500?

It takes a fast, physically fit driver who communicates well with engineers to get the most out of the Dallara/Honda/Firestone spec package in every conceivable weather condition.

It takes a team that makes the right strategy calls over the course of 500 miles and roughly three hours, and executes up to 10 pit stops with split-second perfection.

And it takes a little bit of luck -- the kind of fortune that puts the driver at the head of the pit lane when the yellow flag flies, or at the head of the field when it starts to rain, as it inevitably does on May afternoons at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With that in mind, the favorite to win the 93rd Indianapolis 500 (Sunday, noon ET, ABC) is Helio Castroneves.

The 34-year-old Brazilian got the biggest break of his racing career a month ago when he was acquitted of federal tax evasion charges. Given a new lease on life, Castroneves has emerged as a stronger racer than ever, and after claiming his third Indianapolis pole, he looks set to add a third Borg-Warner Trophy to his mantel.

Castroneves will get tough competition from his Team Penske teammate, Ryan Briscoe, as well as from Target Chip Ganassi Racing's dynamic duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti -- the past two Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champions.

Tony Kanaan, and to a lesser extent his Andretti Green Racing teammates Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick, could also contend for overall honors. Twenty-year-old Graham Rahal could become the youngest winner in the long history of the Indy 500 and is the logical dark-horse candidate. But as is so often the case in the IndyCar Series, the laurels are likely to go to Penske or Ganassi.

Here's a driver-by-driver look at what to expect on Sunday. As always, odds are listed for entertainment purposes only.

• 4-1 -- Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Team Penske; qualified first). Recent tax evasion trial was just a speed bump in what has been a 10-year run of good fortune. Helio beat the Feds; now he'll beat the Indy field.

• 9-2 -- Scott Dixon (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Q5). Bad start to the season was righted by dominant Kansas win. Low-key month of May has quiet Kiwi in position to surprise on race day.

• 5-1 -- Ryan Briscoe (No. 6 Team Penske; Q2). Arguably the second-best driver in the IndyCar Series over the past calendar year, and rising fast. No better place to peak as a Penske driver than Indianapolis.

• 6-1 -- Dario Franchitti (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Q3). Appreciates the history of the Indianapolis 500 more than the rest of the field combined and knows what it would mean to become a two-time winner.

• 7-1 -- Tony Kanaan (No. 11 Andretti Green Racing; Q6). As the best driver to have never won the IndyCar Series' major, TK is the sentimental favorite Sunday. But has AGR lost a step to Penske and Ganassi?

• 8-1 -- Marco Andretti (No. 26 Andretti Green Racing; Q8). With his career stuck in neutral, Marco needs a good result and always seems to rise to the occasion at Indianapolis.

• 8-1 -- Graham Rahal (No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing; Q4). A strong run in the 500 would go a long way toward legitimizing young Rahal as a championship contender of the present, not just the future.

• 10-1 -- Paul Tracy (No. 15 KV Racing Technology; Q13). Will race with a big chip on his shoulder in first IMS appearance since 2002 near-miss. But will that be a help or a hindrance?

• 10-1 -- Will Power (No. 12 Team Penske; Q9). Ultraquick over one lap but likely to run a conservative race at Indy with an eye toward securing a long-term future with the Penske organization.

• 12-1 -- Dan Wheldon (No. 4 Panther Racing; Q18). Former winner is the 500's biggest fan. Still adapting to life at Panther Racing after six years at the top with Andretti Green and Ganassi.

• 12-1 -- Danica Patrick (No. 7 Andretti Green Racing; Q10). She's the center of attention for most fans and media, but she's not the favorite to win the race.

• 15-1 -- Justin Wilson (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing; Q15). Former "Tail End Charlie" Coyne team is rapidly moving up the grid. But it won't be enough to win this year's 500.

• 15-1 -- Oriol Servia (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing; Q25). Top transition driver from Champ Car in '08 got left on the sidelines for '09, as did RLR team. Probably best bet among the Indy one-offs.

• 18-1 -- Mario Moraes (No. 5 KV Racing Technology; Q7). Rapid learner has posted some impressive oval qualifying runs in his second season. Five hundred miles will be a good test for him and his team.

• 18-1 -- Vitor Meira (No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing; Q14). Underappreciated driver may have found a happy home at Foyt Racing. A solid run at Indy would make A.J. even happier with "Vito."

• 18-1 -- Robert Doornbos (No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing; Q23). Got his first oval crash out of the way in practice, quickly followed by his second. The speed is there -- how about the smarts?

• 20-1 -- Ed Carpenter (No. 20 Vision Racing; Q17). Vision team has struggled in '09 after making solid progress a year ago. Will be hard-pressed to match his '08 top-5 finish.

• 20-1 -- Rafael Matos (No. 2 Luczo Dragon Racing; Q12). Rookie's patience will be tested over the longest race of his career.

• 20-1 -- Tomas Scheckter (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing; Q26). Still quick, but former IRL wunderkind has been reduced to Indy-only part-timer.

• 25-1 -- Alex Lloyd (No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports; Q11). Dominant '07 Indy Lights champion still searching for a foothold in the big cars.

• 25-1 -- Hideki Mutoh (No. 27 Andretti Green Racing; Q16). Quiet Japanese driver unlikely to make much noise in the 500.

• 30-1 -- Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 21 Vision Racing; Q32). Last year's rookie of the year was the last driver to make this year's Indy field.

• 35-1 -- Davey Hamilton (No. 44 Kingdom Racing; Q22). Annual foray from the broadcasting booth is unlikely to end in a trip to Victory Lane.

• 35-1 -- E.J. Viso (No. 13 HVM Racing; Q29). Improving as an oval racer but breakthrough won't come at Indy.

• 40-1 -- Townsend Bell (No. 8 KV Racing Technology; Q24). Quick and marketable American making his only IndyCar start of the season.

• 50-1 -- Sarah Fisher (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Racing; Q21). Team and cars are nicely presented but victory is a long shot.

• 50-1 -- Alex Tagliani (No. 36 Conquest Racing; Q33). Won't win, but hopefully will split winnings with Bruno Junqueira, who qualified the car.

• 60-1 -- Scott Sharp (No. 16 Panther Racing; Q20). Sports car pilot's return to Indy hasn't gone as smoothly as he would have hoped.

• 75-1 -- A.J. Foyt IV (No. 41 A.J. Foyt Racing; Q19). Has looked like an accident waiting to happen a couple of times in practice.

• 100-1 -- Nelson Philippe (No. 00 HVM Racing; Q31). Has endured a tough Indy baptism.

• 200-1 -- John Andretti (No. 43 Petty-Andretti Racing; Q28). Feel-good Petty- Andretti story is unlikely to produce a fairy-tale ending.

• 200-1 -- Mike Conway (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing; Q27). Suffered the Indy rookie blues (and associated bruises).

• 1,000-1 -- Milka Duno (No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing; Q30). Least likely driver in the field to succeed.

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