Cavin picks his Fave 5

Posted by Iannucci | 5/03/2009 | 14 comments »
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When the intrepid Curt Cavin speaks, people listen, and more than a few ears perked up in response to Cavin's analysis of the field for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Here is what Cavin said last Thursday during the Trackside show.

"Well, the reality is there's about five guys. Two at Ganassi, so you've got about five favorites. Let's just list them. Dario and Dixon. You've got Kanaan, Castroneves, and Briscoe. Honestly, who could win...

Wheldon, you would say 'Yeah, I think he could win the race', but you can't put him above those five. If you were just based on raw speed and the race going according to plan, which it never does.

But, normally you don't have five guys at that tip-top level. You've got five of them now that..he's got to flat out beat, because, they're not all five gonna fall out. So there's five, and then kind of a second tier in my opinion is Wheldon, and after that he may be the only one in that..."

Although I don't agree entirely with Cavin, I didn't think this was any earth-shattering news. It's a logical opinion because these are going to be the favorites for pretty much every race this year. However, our good buddy pressdog called this a "Month of May Buzz Kill". And while one man's opinion of another man's opinion doesn't necessarily demand a response from me, I've got to try to refute this doom and gloom.

As you may or may not have heard, this year my family will be staying back in Arizona for The 500, and as a consequence I have taken the daring step of sharing lodging for the race weekend with the p-dog. That's right - it will be the Bargain Basement Blogger Budget Special, and if you really want to know I might be able to find out the eagerly anticipated Beer of the Race in advance.

But that's all for later, because right now I'm concerned with picking up the spirits (which will later involve picking up the tab for spirits) of my soon-to-be roomie. In recent years I've attended the race with my kids, who could care less about the generally accepted prospects for their favorite drivers because they just love the speedway, the crowd, the race, and the opportunity to cheer up close and in person. And they LOVE track fries.

So yes, I'm expecting equal enthusiasm from pressdog. My goal, difficult as it may be, is to get him just as fired up for the race as P1 and P2 would be, but I know I can't do this by arguing. So instead I'm going to try a different approach by showing that Cavin's "buzz kill" prediction may not be the most accurate. Curt's certainly entitled to his well-thought opinion, but I'm not obligated to buy that this race comes down to just these five.

It's pop quiz time, friends. Get your inner Donald Davidson ready.

Question 1 What driver has led the most laps at Indianapolis over the last three years?

Question 2 Which drivers have led laps in each of the last three 500s?

Question 3 Who has led more laps at Indianapolis in the last three years: Ryan Briscoe, Jacques Lazier, Mario Moraes, or Michael Andretti?

Go ahead. Take your time. Google the answer if you must. It's all about learning here, and it doesn't matter how you do it.

...Done yet? No? Still on hold for "Talk of Gasoline Alley"? I see.

...Alright people, I don't have all day. Here are the answers.

Answer 1 Dan Wheldon, who has led 178 combined laps in the last three years. Bear in mind that doesn't even count 2005 when he WON the race, which I realize might come as a shock to Danica Patrick fans who mistakenly believe she was victorious that year. Also, well behind Dan on that list of lap leaders is Scott Dixon with 132 and Tony Kanaan with 107.

It's true Wheldon no longer drives for one of the Big Three, but last year Vitor Meira and Panther Racing finished second with a car that was obviously equal to winner Scott Dixon's. While Panther hasn't won a race sine Tomas Scheckter was their driver, this is Wheldon and this is Indy and for this race only Dan's chances are literally as good as any other driver's.

Answer 2 Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Marco Andretti.

It's possible Marco Andretti isn't considered in that top tier because he's only won one race in 51 IndyCar starts. It's more likely, however, that it's because his surname is 'Andretti'. Everyone knows about the family's hard luck at Indy (I think the Andretti family is now 0-for-the-last-73 entries collectively), but there are other very good drivers - some included in Cavin's list - who also are winless at The 500.

Marco has led 454 laps in his career, which is roughly NINE for every race he's entered. The law of averages says at some point those laps led will come at the end of a race, and given that he's been at or near the front of the field near the end of all three of his prior Indy 500s, he seems an obvious pick for that top tier. You just have to look past the name.

Answer 3 Michael Andretti (4), Mario Moraes (3), Jacques Lazier (2), Ryan Briscoe (0).

This is a bit of a loaded question because Briscoe didn't race in '06 or '07 (EDIT: Good catch, Kohl. Forgot about the Luczo-Dragon run for Briscoe in '07.), though on the other hand none of these guys has actually driven in all three of the last three 500s. However, I bring this up to show that it doesn't make much sense to me to count the Briscoe Inferno in the top tier and not his teammate Will Power. Perhaps there's a belief that Briscoe is superior because he has more experience racing on ovals larger than mile, but even with all of that experience he has as many wins on them as Power. Zero.

I can only presume Will Power is still viewed by many as the dreaded "road course specialist", but Roger Penske must have seen something in the guy to hire him as his 2009 contingency driver. Like maybe that in 2008 Power finished 1st or 2nd among "transition" drivers at Milwaukee, Texas, Iowa, Nashville, Chicagoland and most importantly Indianapolis. Or maybe his gradual improvement in those races, which chronologically were: Indy 13th, Milwaukee 14th, Texas 13th, Iowa 9th, Nashville 11th, Chicagoland 5th. If he's good enough for The Captain, then he's good enough to consider him in the top tier.

Not that I've bothered to select a top tier, mind you. I'm not in the prognostication business, other than to predict that since I'll be attending the race will probably be affected by rain. It seems your humble host always brings the precipitation, and as you know crazy results can happen at the Greatest Spectacle in Raining. In fact...


  1. Kohl // May 03, 2009 3:46 PM  

    Ryan Briscoe did race in 07' and 08'. He was with Penske last year and Luzco the year before.

  2. Iannucci // May 03, 2009 3:50 PM  

    Oops! Thanks, Kohl. Added an edit.

  3. dylan // May 03, 2009 4:47 PM  

    I would dissagree with Curvin. Even though they aren't always great, Danica, Marco, Hediki, as well as Tracy, Power, Weldon, and Carptenter are contenders. The first three have the team, they just need to use it. Tracy and Weldon have the talent, if not team, and Power has both. I don't think the top five will run away with it. Briscoe still wrecks a lot, and Kannan has no luck. My pick is Castronevies, but, Dixon probably will acually win it, unfortuantly.

  4. Anonymous // May 03, 2009 5:34 PM  

    You forgot to mention Graham Rahal, dylan

  5. Danica // May 03, 2009 6:05 PM  

    Cavin says: But, normally you don't have five guys at that tip-top level. You've got five of them now that..he's got to flat out beat, because, they're not all five gonna fall out.

    Here's the thing about that comment: While the "top level guys", as Curt calls them, aren't going to all fall out, let's not act like they can't be beaten.

    Last year, going into the race Kanaan, Dixon, Wheldon and Castroneves were recognized as the top level guys, but at the time of the final caution of the 500 on lap 169, Vitor Meira was LEADING the race and ahead of 3/4 top level guys still in the race (Dixon,Castroneves and Wheldon) and finished 2nd, ahead of Castroneves and Wheldon. Marco finished 3rd, ahead of Castroneves and Wheldon.

    Let's also not forget that at the time of the caution on lap 153, Tomas Scheckter was running in 3rd place (only Dixon was ahead of him from that top-tier group of four still running) and ahead of Castroneves/Wheldon, but he broke his driveshaft and got a DNF.

    So while Dixon, Franchitti, Kanaan and Castroneves are the prohibited favorites going into the month (I can't put Briscoe in this group yet based on the fact his resume through his first 3 Indy 500 starts isn't any better than Danica's or Marco's and those two are getting kicked to the curb), let's not act like 2 or 3 drivers outside of that group can't seriously contend to win this race even in the top guys are still in the race.

  6. Danica // May 03, 2009 6:06 PM  

    Yes, I'm actually named Danica and no, my last name isn't Patrick, it's case you were wondering.

  7. Iannucci // May 03, 2009 6:33 PM  


    For one fleeting moment I thought I might have finally bested pressdog. I mean, Curt Cavin and Janet Guthrie leave comments over at his site, while I get...well, I think MIKE KING might have left a response once.

    But thanks for the solid comment nonetheless.

  8. Demond Sanders // May 03, 2009 7:22 PM  

    Totally agreed about Briscoe. He isn't on that level yet, at least not for Indy. I'll take Marco (2nd and 3rd finihes) over him if I'm betting on Indy. I might take Marco over TK as well, but that's a much closer discussion.

    Indy is different. The Big 3 drivers will be up there, of course, but there are a lot of drivers, like Vitor, in lesser cars with TONS of 500 experience. I'd argue for a top ten favorites, but a top 5 is a little silly.

  9. mmack // May 03, 2009 8:19 PM  


    I don't know what's scarier: Cavin saying only five drivers have a shot at the 500 this year, or you sharing a hotel room with Pressdog. Suddenly I'm seeing the motel scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy:

    Jeff: Dog... Why did you kiss my ear?
    Dog: Why are you holding my hand?
    Jeff: Where's your other hand?
    Dog: Between two pillows...
    Jeff: Those aren't pillows!!!!!!

    But anyway, Please inform your new roomie that:

    1) Back in 1987 nobody thought Al Unser Sr. could win the race.

    2) Back in 1990, Arie Luyendyk, who had never won an Indy Car race, ended up winning the fastest Indy 500 to date.

    3) Back in 1992, who saw Al Unser Jr (Started 12th, nearly 10 MPH slower than the pole speed) winning in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history over Scott Goodyear, who started dead last because he was bumped out of the field and took over Mike Groff's car?

    4) How about Sam Hornish winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500 with the second closest finish in Indy 500 history on a last lap pass, after Mr. Well-done lead 148 of 200 laps, and after Sam was almost knocked out of the race leaving the pits with the fuel hose attached to the car?

    In other words, 500 miles is a long way to go, and even with proven engines, chassis, and tires, things can change in the blink of an eye for the "favorites" on race day. That's what makes sports so great: At yesterday's Kentucky Derby, a 50:1 longshot went out and won the race, and made yours truly and mrs. mmack over $100 on a $2 bet. Who knows who takes the checkered first on May 24th? It could be any of the five Cavin named, or someone he didn't even consider.

  10. vitorfan // May 03, 2009 10:07 PM  

    Way to think outside the box there Cavin. I'll be rooting for Kanaan to win. I think he deserves it and he's the best driver in the AGR stable. Of course I'll be rooting on Vitor as well, although, honestly I don't see him winning in a Foyt car. (Prove me wrong dammit) I'm surprised no one mentioned Scott Sharp in the top 5. Or Ed Carpenter who had a hell of a run last year.

  11. Mike // May 03, 2009 11:49 PM  

    I'm in complete agreement with MMack (btw, congrats on the 100 buck payoff!).

    Regarding Briscoe, I think y'all are being a bit too quick to count him out. Let's not forget that every race is more experience. His learning curve was pretty steep over the past two years. He was a work in progress, and there has been quite a lot of evidence that he's matured a lot in his racecraft (notwithstanding the LB gaffe into Dixon). He's with the team that's won this race more than any other single team. Roger obviously sees good reason to keep him, and there's no reason to discount him being in the mix.

    As for me, I'm pulling for PT to make everyone sit up and take notice. KV isn't far off from taking a shot at the so-called "big 3", though I certainly wish Oriol was still in the number 5.

    N/H/L has plenty of good minds involved, now including people with a lot of IRL experience. Rahal, despite the naysayers, is making his presence felt in every race, and is on the verge of doing so on the ovals. And don't forget he's got someone to tap into (Dad, a former winner) for a lot of experiential knowledge of how to run at this track.

  12. pressdog // May 04, 2009 6:15 AM  

    For the record, the room has two beds, which I plan to push as far apart as possible. I apologize in advance for the window-rattling snoring. I was struck by how dismissive Curt was in the broadcast as Kevin brought up others mentioned here. That was probably most buzz killing of all. Perhaps Curt regrets the tone since he's out with a "Well, I guess others have a shot" article:

  13. indyumd // May 04, 2009 11:30 AM  

    Marco has to be considered a prime contender at Indy. He always runs well there. I think he might be right there with Tony at AGR at Indy.

  14. The American Mutt // May 04, 2009 5:48 PM  

    Am I the only one who thinks Cavin isn't a great assessor of on track capability? The man has the off the track stuff down, but to suggest that Dixon was going to win no matter what at Kansas kind of makes me think that it didn't even occur to him that the car in clean air was going to win.