Indy 500 arrives with clear favorites, plenty of off-the-radar spoilers

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Alex Palou will start no the poll at the 2023 Indianapolis 500. (Penske Entertainment photo/Chris Jones)

The favorites are well known after two weeks of qualifying and practice ahead of the Indy 500, which rolls off Sunday for its 107th running with one of the largest crowds in more than three decades expected to pack Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

IndyCar points leader Alex Palou, the series champion two years ago, sits on the pole to lead the powerful quartet from Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou is the betting favorite at 5-1 odds, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, ahead of Pato O’Ward, the Mexican star for the equally stout Arrow McLaren, and Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, who is still searching for a second Indy 500 win.

Palou and Dixon have two more teammates capable of winning in defending champion Marcus Ericsson and two-time winner Takuma Sato, while O’Ward has McLaren teammates Felix Rosenqvist and former winners Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan.

Things rarely go according to script in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” though. The chaos of 33 cars flying down the front stretch and into that infamous first turn at more than 230 mph, and the ensuing 200 laps, often produces some unexpected results.

Asked for a surprise contender, Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport replied: “Canapino.”

Indy 500 drivers say that Agustín Canapino, a rookie from Argentina, will likely compete for the win. (Penske Entertainment photo/Karl Zemlin)

That would be Agustín Canapino, one of the most popular athletes in Argentina, who is making his Indy 500 debut. He has been fast in practice and, despite qualifying in the ninth row, showed plenty of speed in Friday’s final shakedown.

“I think he’s still got a little bit to learn from following him and whatnot on his gaps and his timing,” Herta said, “but he seems like he has a fast car. I think if he can make some adjustments driving-wise, it could be really good for him.”

Josef Newgarden, the Team Penske driver still searching for his first Indy 500 win, also said Canapino stood out to him.

“You put Canapino in position at the end and, oh, he would go for it,” Newgarden said. “He’s very, very impressive this year, and people wrote him off before he even started. He’s done tremendously well for no experience. I can’t speak highly enough.”

Santino Ferrucci is another driver who has come out of nowhere in May. He joined A.J. Foyt Racing, which has struggled for years but underwent an operational overhaul in the offseason, and along with rookie Benjamin Pedersen has turned heads all month.

Santino Ferrucci joined A.J. Foyt Racing, which has struggled for years but underwent an operational overhaul in the offseason. (Penske Entertainment photo/Joe Skibinski)

Ferrucci, who will start fourth, has never finished worse than 10th in four previous starts.

“Yeah, I think Santino can be fast if they all get it right in the pits and stuff,” Kanaan said. “He finished up front here in the past, he ran up front, and he has a really good car, so I think he’s going to be tough.”

Two of the more high-profile teams have had quiet Indianapolis 500 preps before making a statement in final practice.

Andretti Autosport has flown under the radar but sent a warning shot on Friday when Kyle Kirkwood was fifth-fastest on the speed chart, with Herta two spots behind him and Romain Grosjean giving the team a third car in the top eight.

Meanwhile, the Penske team seemed to find some speed — and confidence — during final practice after putting just one driver in the first four rows in qualifying. Will Power turned the third-fastest lap in practice while Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin also were in the top 10.

Practice is one thing, though. One of the most iconic races in motorsports is something else entirely.

“It’s really hard to single anyone out these days,” Newgarden said. “Anyone can win this race, genuinely. The strategy can flip on its head with 50 to go and all of a sudden the front-runners are in the back and vice versa. You just don’t know how it’s going to shape up. It could be a normal day; it could be a crazy day. It’s always a guess when you come into these things.”

Helio Castroneves, left, is going for a record-breaking fifth win, and Tony Kanaan, in his last race, is going for a second win. (Penske Entertainment photo/Joe Skibinski)

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