Saturday, May 23, 2015

And the winner is ...

And now, as someone once said ... let's go to the numbers, shall we?

I've been covering the Indianapolis 500 as a professional journalist since 1977.

I've been obsessed with the 500 since, I don't know, 1965 or so. 

In all that time, half an entire damn century (and, yes, it does sound like a long time when you put it like that), I've correctly predicted the winner of the 500, um, three times.

Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989. Gil de Ferran in 2003. Scott Dixon in 2008.

That's it. Three times in 50 years. Three times since the Beatles, Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

 And so let me say right here that it's an utter fool's enterprise to try to pick the winner of the 500, and it takes an even bigger fool to know that and still try to pick it every year anyway. Sometimes you've just gotta keep touching the hot stove. It's a compulsion.

But you know what makes you the biggest fool of all?

Picking an Andretti to win.

Because, listen, even casual 500 fans know that sending an Andretti to Indianapolis is like sending Barack Obama to an NRA convention. The family patriarch, Mario, might be the greatest American race driver of all time, and he won there just once in 29 starts. His son, Michael, led 431 laps there in 16 starts and never won.

Now it's Marco out there. And so far he's not making any headway, either.

In his first start he was 200 yards from the checkers when Sam Hornish Jr. came out of nowhere -- seriously, Hornish was so far behind with less than half a lap to run we were all crafting our Marco Wins ledes -- and swiped it from him a stone's throw from the yard of brick. In eight starts since, he's finished fourth or better four other times. But he's never won.

It says here it's gotta happen sometime. So, what the hell. I'm pickin' him.

There are, of course, a whole fistful of reasons not to, and most of them don't even involve the Indy-hates-the-Andrettis meme. If you're looking for portents tomorrow, for instance, here's one: Scott Dixon starts on the pole.

The only other time Dixon sat on the pole, in 2008, he won. Plus, the polesitter hasn't won the 500 since 2009, which means we're due. So there's that.

There's also the guy who sits next to him in Row 1, Will Power, who won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and has dominated everything in IndyCar except the 500. Sooner or later, you figure, it's gotta be his day.

 You might think the same thing about Simon Pagenaud on the outside of Row 1, a coming star who won the GP of Indy last year. In Row 2, there's Tony Kanaan, who finally broke through in 2013 and is never not at the front in this deal. Ditto Helio Castroneves sitting next to him, who lost that stirring duel with Ryan Hunter-Reay by the slimmest of margins last year and who might be due a favor from the racing gods because of it.

Besides, he hasn't won since 2009. So he's due, too.

If I were a saner person, I'd pick Helio. Or Dixon. The vibe feels right.

But for some bizarre reason it feels right with Marco this time, too, so I'm going with him. He goes off in the middle of Row 3 -- right around where he always starts, and a position that's produced a couple of 500 winners.

He likes the track. He always finds his way to the front on Race Day even if he hasn't been running at the front anywhere else all season. If 80 percent of success is showing up, as Woody Allen once said, Marco's got that covered.

All he needs is for something to fall into place at the end. And, yes, I'm fully aware how crazy that sounds, expecting Indy to cut an Andretti a break.

But, hey. Wouldn't be the first time someone called me crazy.


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