May 26, 2013

2012 Indy a tough act to follow

But defending champion Dario Franchitti predicts another close, exciting race for Sunday.

By JENNA FRYER The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Dario Franchitti
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Dario Franchitti overcame Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon in a wild scramble to the finish of last year’s Indy 500, and said he won’t be surprised if this year’s race has similar dramatics.

The Associated Press

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Carlos Munoz, a 21-year-old Colombian making his IndyCar debut, will start second alongside Marco Andretti, who is once again considered a favorite but must overcome a curse that has limited his famous family to one win -- Mario Andretti in 1969 -- in 80 starts.

Andretti feels far more comfortable about his chances this year than he did last season, when he called the race "mine to lose." Graham Rahal, the other half of the closest rivalry in the mild-mannered series, doesn't consider his nemesis the favorite.

"Do I think it's Marco's race? No. Marco hasn't led in the pack all week," Rahal said. "He just sits in the back and runs a big lap time and pits."

Instead, Rahal thinks everybody is overlooking A.J. Allmendinger, who will make his Indianapolis 500 debut seven years after he left open-wheel racing for NASCAR. A failed drug test cost him his NASCAR ride last summer with Roger Penske, but the team owner has given him a second chance with this IndyCar opportunity.

Allmendinger has been fast at Indy -- so good that struggling teammate Will Power used his setup in qualifying. Power said Allmendinger has the best car in traffic of all three Penske entries. Named after Foyt, his father's favorite driver, Allmendinger could complete his comeback Sunday.

"A.J. Allmendinger is a very good race driver. He's had quite a bit of experience," said Foyt. "I met his daddy the other day, I said, 'Why did you handicap that kid putting A.J. on him?' "

Allmendinger is one of the 11 American drivers in the field of 33 -- there are also a record-tying four women -- and leading the red, white and blue charge is local boy Ed Carpenter, the only owner-driver in the field.

Carpenter is powered by Chevrolet, which for the second year in a row dominated all the preparations for the Indy 500 and swept the first 10 spots in qualifying. But Honda showed more life in Friday's final practice, when it had six drivers in the top 10 of the speed chart. If that sounds familiar, it should -- last year, Chevrolet dominated leading into the Indy 500 but Franchitti won in a Honda.

"We have seen this movie before -- this is the same story of last year, and Honda had the advantage on race day," said James Hinchcliffe, who goes into the race with two wins this season for Andretti.

And race day is the only day that matters, according to Ganassi, who publicly called out Honda during the season-opening weekend when he questioned the manufacturer's desire to win. Ganassi went so far as to claim the only thing Honda wants to do is "sit around and hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I want to win."

Ganassi wasn't panicked Friday about Honda's performance so far at Indy, and said Sunday will be the "tale of the tape."

"I'd like to think we gave them a little bit of a spark there that started a bit of a fire, and that fire burns today very hot," Ganassi said. "I'm happy with how they responded, but this is in response this is a long, not a one-race or one-day commitment we're looking for a response to, it's a season-long slog. A marathon we're involved in throughout the season. I'm sure they're up to the task."

So he'll wait and see if this year's running of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing" can live up to last year.

 

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