NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Indy 500 2020 Qualifying Analysis: Fast 9

With the NTT IndyCar Series Indy 500 rapidly approaching this weekend, we at Frontstretch are breaking down the starting grid row by row to analyze who has the best shot at winning the race and who will have a grueling 200 laps in front of them. Today, we’re wrapping up this series by looking at the drivers who qualified in the Fast Nine.

The full qualifying grid can be found here.

Row 1: Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato

Marco Andretti has been legitimately fast since practice for the Indy 500 started. He and his No. 98 machine look legitimately fast, and Andretti is obviously motivated to take home a win at the most iconic race in the world. Whether or not the Andretti curse will be lifted in 2020 remains to be seen, but he almost looks as good as Simon Pagenaud did when he swept the Month of May in 2019. The polesitter has won the race 21 times—pretty good odds for someone looking to recoup his losses, both at 500s past and during the rest of the season.

If anyone has looked consistently good in 2020, it would be Scott DixonThe Chip Ganassi No. 9 and current points leader looked promising as he lined up for qualifying, and it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll have the skill, cool head, and consistency necessary to not only go faster than the competition but to outlast them. Dixon and race engineer Mike Hull are a force to be reckoned with, and it’s likely that he’ll be the driver to give Andretti a run for his money.

Takuma Sato‘s front row start is his best yet at the Indy 500, just one higher than his starting position when he won the event in 2017. 2020 hasn’t been kind to Sato, but it’s obvious that the Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars are quick at the Speedway. A top five finish is very likely in the cards for Sato, but he just hasn’t been as dominant as some of his competition.

Row 2: Rinus Veekay, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe

Rinus Veekay is almost terrifyingly fast. The Ed Carpenter Racing rookie still has a lot to learn at oval tracks if his performances at Texas and Iowa are anything to go by, but he did finish in third at last year’s Indy Lights Freedom 100. He’s piloting a Chevy, which seems to be on the back foot compared to Honda for the event. He’s going to have the benefit of a second row start to keep him out of traffic, but 500 miles is a long time. If he stays out of trouble, Veekay could come home in the top 10, but even a top 15 will be a win in and of itself for him.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay is in good company in the Fast Nine. Joined by four of his six teammates, Rahal can take comfort in knowing that the team has figured out what it takes to make a car go fast at the Indy 500. Interestingly, though, Hunter-Reay’s starting often seems to have a negative correlation to his finishing position. The higher he qualifies, the lower he finishes. As a former Indy 500 champion in his 12th year competing at the track, Hunter-Reay will have to rely on his experience to help him maintain position.

The Indy 500 has been a cruel mistress to James HinchcliffeWhether it be his 2015 accident, his 2016 pole position, or his 2018 DNQ, the Canadian driver had found that the Speedway can take away just as much as it gives. A win would almost certainly guarantee Hinchcliffe the full-time 2021 seat that he was denied this year, but we’re more likely to see him secure his first top three finish.

Row 3: Alex Palou, Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi

Alex Palou has certainly impressed in his rookie year. He’s often been blisteringly quick, but he just hasn’t made it stick. His qualifying run is a perfect example: Palou was the first driver to hit 240 mph, but he was unable to maintain that speed throughout the rest of the run. If he manages to withstand the pressures of 200 laps, Palou could be a strong top 10 contender, but he’s going to have a lot of work to do to get to that point.

Graham Rahal is the kind of driver to qualify in 30th and finish third like he did in 2011, but he’s also the kind of driver that seems to suffer from chronic bad luck and just plain old unfortunate strategy. 2020 has been one of those up-and-down years for the Ohio native, but if he’s able to hold out, a top 10 could easily be in his reach. That said, Rahal is one of the more difficult drivers to predict—considering the extremes of his year, it’s just as likely that he’ll finish in top or bottom five.

No matter where he starts, Alexander Rossi has the skill to not only finish well but to finish within sight of the leaders. He’ll be looking to regain the win he narrowly missed out on last year from his starting position of ninth. Rossi has never finished lower than seventh, and it’s hard to see such a clean, consistent driver ending up outside of the top five.

The 2020 IndyCar season continues Aug. 23 with the 104th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will air at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

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