Best field in years set for classic race

The field for today's 87th running of the Indianapolis 500 is as talented and deep as it has been since the dispute between speedway owner Tony George and powerful car owners led CART to boycott the race in 1996

Best field in years set for classic race

In other words, the race has become the focus of attention rather than the off-track politics. The product, it seems, has superceded the issues surrounding it.

"It's going to be very hard to win this race because everyone in this race is very equal," said Al Unser Jr, who will compete in his 16th Indy 500 when the green flag waves on Sunday. "The quality of teams and drivers in this field is the best it's been in years."

The field is the second-fastest in history (227.125mph) and the ninth-closest (33 cars separated by 5.6386 seconds). Add to that the fact that the Indy Racing League's new engine-chassis combination has proven remarkably reliable, and the stage is set for a dramatic and unpredictable race.

"We've got a great opportunity to put on one of the best races," Barnhart said. "We've had 38,000 miles this month. In case you haven't noticed, we're not blowing up things. I think we lost one motor throughout the month. If the guys don't run into something or each other, the cars aren't going to fall out of the race."

The various sidebars and sub-stories only add to the tension. Among the best:

Helio Castroneves has a chance to win the race three consecutive times, something nobody has managed to do in the first 86 Indy 500s. "You never know what's going to happen," said Castroneves, who will start from the pole. "I've been very fortunate to come here and be successful. Whatever happens hopefully will happen in a good way."
Michael Andretti is ending a 21-year racing career Sunday with his 14th Indy 500. A win would be a stunning sendoff and a reprieve to the Andretti curse. Together, Michael and Mario have run the race 42 times with just one victory. "This is the most fun I've ever had in the month of May," Andretti said.
A Japanese auto manufacturer is likely to win the world's most famous auto race for the first time. Honda and Toyota are far ahead of the Chevrolet; in fact, the best chance Chevy has might be Vitor Meira, who found 227mph last weekend and will start 26th.
It's the first time an Unser, Foyt and Andretti have been in the same Indy 500 since 1993. And, like the good old days, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti have exchanged insults in the days leading up to the race.
The field is rich with talented rookies, including four in the first three rows and one - Scott Dixon - who is considered a very strong favorite to win. "I'm not used to anything like this," Dixon said. "I'm used to qualifying, then racing. I'm ready to get on with it."

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