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Indy 500 May 22th, 2016 ©2016 Walt Kuhn

The 2016 Indy 500 Field: Stats, Numbers and Other Useless Facts

by Frank Santoroski        @seveng1967

16_Indy500_Flag_3x5__93701.1445355305.1280.1280I saw a poster recently for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil that had the caption “50,000 Miles of Memories.”

Now, those of you that know me well understand that I am fascinated with odd, trivial, interesting and just plain useless information.

When I saw that banner, I thought to myself, “That’s nice, I wonder if they realize that if the 100th running goes the full distance, the total will be 48,923 and 1/2 miles. I guess that wouldn’t look quite as good on a poster.

Seven times in its long history, the Indianapolis 500 fell short of its billing due to rain. Add to that the 1916 race, run while WWI was raging in Europe. The event was actually scheduled, billed and run as a 300 mile race. Now, considering that fact, this isn’t technically the 100th Indianapolis ‘500’ since that one race was a 300. Of course, billing it as “99 500s and that other race” looks bad on a poster too.

Most, if not all, race historians recognize the 1916 International Sweepstakes as a true Indianapolis 500, and all of its stats are included in Speedway history, so I’ll leave that well enough alone.

four-time-500-winners-foyt-mears-unser-lead-the-greatest-33A longstanding event like the Indianapolis lends itself to both traditional and odd records. While its fairly common knowledge that the record for most wins has a three-way tie between A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, far fewer people could tell you that the record for consecutive years finishing on the lead lap ( 6 years) is also a three-way tie between Wilbur Shaw, Rodger Ward, and Scott Dixon.

With that being said, lets take a look at the field for the 100th running and see what possible records may be broken.

The field is comprised of 33 drivers from eleven countries. Fourteen are from the United States and four are from England. Three are from Colombia, and there are two drivers each from Brazil, Canada, France, and Australia. The countries of Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Spain are represented by one driver apiece.

Drivers born in the United States are responsible for 71 Indianapolis wins, far ahead of the United Kingdom with 8 wins to their credit. Of the countries represented in the 100th, Australia, Japan, Russia and Spain have yet to produce a winner. If Will Power, Matthew Brabham, Takuma Sato, Mikhail Aleshin or Oriol Servia were to pull off a win, it would change that statistic.

Of the 33 drivers in the field, none of them have the last name Smith. This keeps a long streak alive. Believe it or not, despite the fact that it is the most common surname in the United States, a driver named Smith has never qualified for the Indianapolis 500.

Six of the drivers entered are former Indianapolis 500 winners, a bit off of the record of 10 former winners starting the race in 1992. Only one of the winners in this years field has a shot at the all-time win record. Helio Castroneves, with three wins under his belt, will be given a key to the four-timers lounge should he come home victorious on Sunday.

JPMandRogerThe only other multiple winner in the field actually shares a distinction with Castroneves. Juan Pablo Montoya and Castroneves both won the 500 in their first attempt. Five drivers on the grid can join that group with a win on Sunday: Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Matthew Brabham, Spencer Pigot and Stefan Wilson.

Montoya has another distinction, that being the driver with the most years between wins. With his first win coming in 2000 and his second in 2015, he broke a record held by A.J. Foyt. Believe it or not, that 15 year span between wins can actually be broken. Buddy Lazier, who is entered in the 500 this year, won the 500 a full 20 years ago.

A win by Lazier, however unlikely it would seem, would break a couple of records. No driver has won from a starting position lower than 28th, and Lazier will be lined up 30th on Sunday. Also, at 48 years of age he is older than Al Unser was in 1987 when he became the oldest 500 winner.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the youngest driver in the field, Sage Karam. Having just turned 21 in March, Karam is younger than Troy Ruttman was in 1952, the youngest 500 winner on record.

Getting back to Montoya for a moment, given the fact that his two wins have come in just three starts, he has a 67% success rate in the 500. Another win on Sunday would kick that number up to an astonishing 75%. And, it still wouldn’t be a record.

Ray Harroun won the inaugural 500 mile race in 1911, and retired from driving shortly thereafter, giving him a perfect 100%.

JHH_33442013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan holds  the record for winning the fastest race, completing the 500 miles at 187.433 mph. Given the lack of cautions that we have seen in the early part of the Verizon Indycar Series 2016 season, this record may find itself in jeopardy.

Another record that currently belongs to TK is consecutive years of leading the race. He has a seven year streak that lasted from 2002 – 2008, that will not be broken this year. Scott Dixon, however, has a five-year run going that is still active. If he leads this coming Sunday, and again next May, he will match Tony.

Kanaan and Dixon, along with Ryan Hunter-Reay and the aforementioned Buddy Lazier, have a chance to win a second 500 and become the 20th multiple winner in Speedway history.

Looking at the grid, however Kanaan has another obstacle to break. No driver has ever won from the 18th starting position. Guess where Tony qualified?

No driver has won starting from 23rd, 24th or 26th either. While this might be bad news for Sage Karam, Conor Daly and Graham Rahal, maybe it is good news for Pippa Mann who is starting 25th.

16C_2647Pippa Mann has already put herself into the record books this week by running the fastest practice lap by a female driver. On Friday she cracked off a 229.918, bouncing Sarah Fisher down a notch.

Now, I am not a fan of keeping separate records for male and female drivers (and Pippa isn’t either) but these records do exist, and the highest finish for a female driver was set by Danica Patrick in 2009 when she came home third. While a third place finish from Mann’s Indy-only effort is a tall order indeed, stranger things have happened.

While it is indeed fun to talk about the driver records, the record for wins by a team owner will not be in jeopardy any time soon. Andretti Autosport’s three wins and Chip Ganassi’s four wins pale in comparison to the sixteen wins held by the Captain, Roger Penske.

Similarly, on the engine manufacturers front, the record of 27 wins held by Offenhauser is safe for quite some time. Honda and Chevrolet are embroiled in a battle of their own with Honda leading Chevy 10-9. A win for the bowtie brigade will even the record, but a Honda victory would break a tie with Cosworth and move them up to third all-time, behind Offy and Miller.

In less than a week we will know what records will be broken, and which driver and team will come home victorious and engage in that age-old tradition of kissing the bricks.

Oh, wait. That one was started by Dale Jarrett in 1996 when he won that Stock car race they have here in the Summer.

Images courtesy: IMS Photo, INDYCAR

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