May 19, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar driver Marco Andretti poses for a photo after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
I've never been to the Indy 500 before, so I wasn't quite sure who was the favorite to win this year's race when I showed up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday morning for Media Day.
Fortunately, since all 33 drivers who will race in Sunday's 500 were hanging around the track, I had some experts who I could ask.
Apparently, it was a common question.
"People have asked me, 'Hey, who do you think is the favorite?' or 'Who do you think is going to win?'" Graham Rahal said. "Normally you have an idea, and this year I have no clue. I really couldn't tell you who I think is going to be fast."
This apparently was going to be trickier than I thought. But then I spotted Dario Franchitti, who has won the last three IZOD IndyCar Series titles. I figured he'd probably know.
"The favorite?" he said. "Is there such a thing as the favorite for this race? I mean, have you not learned anything over the years?"
He said this with sort of a laugh, but I couldn't tell if he was kidding or not.
Next up was Will Power. Since he seems to be winning every week and is leading the points, I though he might have an answer.
"Well, I don't know, but I think I'm in there with a chance," he said. "There's probably about six guys who are favorites this year. The Andretti cars are strong, no question. So are the Penske cars."
That's all well and good, but the "favorite" can't be six drivers. It has to be one driver. Surely, someone could help me out. Right?
I persisted by looking for some more veterans. Tony Kanaan didn't seem to be too busy, so I walked up to him and asked the same question.
"Helio (Castroneves)," he said. "I think he has a strong car, he's starting in a good place and he knows his way around."
Now we're getting somewhere! All I had to do is get Castroneves to confirm his favorite status, and this column would be done.
"I'm glad (Kanaan said that)," Castroneves said with a laugh. "I feel pretty confident. I certainly did my homework and the team did their homework."
But then he promptly flicked his newfound title away with the flair you'd expect from a former Dancing With The Stars champ.
"I can't point to one guy, but I'll have to say a team – Andretti Autosport – seems to be pretty strong," he said.
It seemed I was back to square one. But one of Andretti's drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, looked like a nice guy willing to help me out, so I asked him about what Castroneves said.
"I'd like to think of myself as the favorite," Hunter-Reay said, getting my hopes up.
"But you've got to respect this place, and I'm not out here waving a flag that I'm the guy to beat," he quickly added. "We have a great car, and I'm going to go out there and hopefully drive the best race of my career. But I'm not sure who the favorite is."
This was starting to get discouraging. Was there no one who would step up and claim the title of Indy 500 favorite?
Rookie Josef Newgarden, an energetic American preparing for his first 500, volunteered to assist in my quest to find the "favorite."
"Well, Rubens Barrichello is pretty popular..." he said.
"No, not the fans' favorite; the favorite to win the race!" I said.
"Oh, who's going to win the thing?" he said. "I think Scott Dixon is the guy to watch out for. You can't rule out Scott Dixon. That guy just knows how to wheel a car, in my opinion. He's just good. He's damn good."
BOOM! I felt optimistic about this one. Would Dixon confirm it for me?
"Personally, I think Marco (Andretti) is," Dixon said. "In race runs, as long as he doesn't have any mess-ups or anything like that, I think he's got the car to be strong."
By this time, I was losing hope. But then I had a thought: Maybe the key to this whole thing was to get two drivers to name the same favorite. Then I'd have some stronger evidence.
Andretti's teammate James Hinchcliffe – who missed the pole by thatmuch – said he'd bet on Andretti if he couldn't bet on himself.
"The way he's been practicing in race trim, he is absolutely on it," Hinchcliffe said. "And that kid is so hungry. I mean, he's always been good here. ... If it's not me, I've got strong feelings about Marco pulling it off this year."
So there it was: Two top drivers said Marco Andretti was the favorite to win the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.
How about it, Marco?
"Darn right I agree with it!" Andretti said immediately. "I'm not sending you anywhere else."
My man! And that's the ballgame, folks.
Now there's just the small matter of backing that up on Sunday.
"(Being called the favorite) just kind of confirms the way I'm feeling anyway," he said. "Yeah, I'm the one to beat, but we've still got to go 500 miles and we've still got to prove that every lap. Obviously, that's the goal and I'm very confident going into this race."
So to answer Franchitti's earlier question: Yes, there is a favorite, and his name is Marco Andretti.