2018 Indianapolis 500 preview

The 2018 Indianapolis 500 will change the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Here’s what to watch for in the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is the race that Verizon IndyCar Series fans wait all year for. The race is the crown jewel of every IndyCar season, and whoever wins it automatically claims a spot in motor racing history.

The 2018 edition of the race is poised to live up to the hype. The 102nd Indianapolis 500 has had a high-profile bump, another big name from outside IndyCar coming in to try their luck, and the pole-sitter is a hometown favorite.

There are all kinds of elements at play here, many of which could impact not just the outcome of the 2018 Indianapolis 500, but what happens in the second half of the 2018 IndyCar season. So what do race fans need to keep their eye on this Sunday?

Let’s break the race down in our Indianapolis 500 preview.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

  • The back end of the field: This is not one of those years where the last few rows have the couple of people who scraped into the Indy 500. It’s got a combination of excellent drivers who had bad qualifyings (like 30th place Graham Rahal and 32nd place Alexander Rossi) and drivers who have absolutely nothing to lose (28th place Jay Howard and 33rd place Conor Daly). These drivers will be looking to make up ground early and often, which means they’ll keep the rest of the field on their toes.
  • What will James Hinchcliffe do?: Everyone was shocked when the 2016 Indy 500 pole winner was bumped out of the race last Saturday. Rumors circulated that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would try to buy him someone else’s seat, but no one sounded particularly enthusiastic about that. So now what? Does he stay on the SPM pit stand and help his teammates Howard, Jack Harvey and Robert Wickens? Or does ABC pluck the Dancing with the Stars runner-up into the commentary booth to balance out Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear?
  • Double points: Love it or hate it, the Indianapolis 500 is worth double points. Keep that in mind as you watch drivers move through the field. When IndyCar championship leader Josef Newgarden is at the front, and current runner-up Rossi is at the back, there is the potential for some massive point swings throughout the field that could clear up the title picture.

THREE DRIVERS TO WATCH:

  • Ed Carpenter: It’s a given that the pole-sitter is always someone to keep an eye on, but especially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and especially Ed Carpenter. Last Sunday was his third pole at IMS and it wasn’t even close. If Carpenter’s car is anywhere near how fast it ran last week, he’ll be the next Indianapolis 500 winner. Plus, don’t forget that he’s an oval specialist, so he’s had a lot of time to prep for this race and has plenty of experience to put to use.
  • Alexander Rossi: We said this above, but we can’t say it enough — Rossi could be in huge trouble here, and it’s the complete antithesis of everything that’s happened for him so far in the 2018 IndyCar season. Rossi won at Long Beach and has yet to finish outside of the top five in any race. That streak is in jeopardy, and if he doesn’t post a strong result, he’s going to go from right up on the championship leader’s tailpipe to potentially further back in the title hunt. The Indianapolis 500 must go well for him, and he’s proven that he can make that happen.
  • Danica Patrick: Patrick is this year’s Fernando Alonso, as she uses the Indy 500 as the last stop of her motorsports career. Patrick’s return to IndyCar has generated a lot of buzz, but here’s the thing: She ran well in qualifying, making the Fast Nine Shootout, and she’s with one of the two fastest teams in Ed Carpenter Racing. She has a chance to do well at Indy. And if she does, those are valuable points that she will take away from the full-time drivers, too. Keep an eye on how she finishes.

The 2018 Indianapolis 500 takes place Sunday, May 27 at 11:00 a.m. ET. For complete coverage of the 2018 IndyCar season, follow the Motor Sports category at FanSided.