Indianapolis 500 Preview: The Greatest Spectacle in Racing Will Live Up to the Hype

Robert Edelstein
Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports (2)

Indianapolos 500

The Indianapolis 500 is one of those races where it pays to believe the hype. "It's the fastest racetrack in the world," says ABC/ESPN analyst Eddie Cheever, who won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 1998. "And I think it's one of the most challenging and difficult and most dangerous."

Plenty of spots at the Brickyard can snake-bite drivers, from an opening lap that plays like a high-speed traffic jam in front of 275,000 cheering fans to cars potentially cutting in front of one another on pit lane to the "marbles" of trackside debris that sent race leader J.R. Hildebrand crashing on the final lap in 2011.

As competitive as the race typically is, Cheever believes Sunday's 99th running (May 25, noon/ET, ABC) will be even more so. With a field of 33 that includes five previous winners, the record for lead changes (68 in 2013) may fall. That could be a catalyst to continue the recent trend of a multicar dogfight over the closing laps.

Among the racers that Cheever sees potentially coming out ahead are defending champ—and rare American victor—Ryan Hunter-Reay, driving for Andretti Autosport, and Team Penske stars Hélio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. Hunter-Reay's victory was a popular one, and if he repeats, he'll become the first back-to-back American winner in 44 years.

But Cheever sees the always-competitive Penske Chevrolets as the cars to beat. If Castroneves wins, he'll join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears as the only four-time Indy 500 champs. Montoya, the 2000 winner, returned to the IndyCar series in 2014, after an unremarkable seven-year NASCAR detour, and has been dominating ever since. "If you're going to be successful at Indy, you first have to beat your teammate," Cheever says. Clearly, winning the 500 would be the greatest thrill, but if you can win team bragging rights too, the traditional Victory Lane glass of milk will taste that much sweeter.