Dressed in a black collared shirt, black pants, black shoes, and dark sunglasses, the man to beat at this year's Indy 500 strolled through the paddock at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon, full of swagger.
"I'm as confident as I've ever been heading into this race," Castroneves told me earlier that morning as he leaned back in a chair in the Team Penske garage. "It's a long race and anything can happen, but I've learned from mistakes in the past and I know what it takes to win here. Plus, I've got a great car."
Indeed he does. Castroneves blew away the field in qualifying -- he was nearly half a second faster than the second-fastest qualifier,
But Indy is an endurance race, not a sprint, and the fastest car often doesn't win. So who could have a chance to spoil Castroneves' quest to join
Power, who holds a 25-point lead in the series standings over
Two other drivers to keep an eye on: Dixon and
My darkhorse to watch is Patrick. I might be the only writer in the sprawling media center at Indy who thinks she has a chance, but remember: If there's one track in the world at which she shines, it's Indy. She finished third in the 500 last year, which was the highest ever for a female driver, and in '05 came in fourth. Yes, she's starting 23rd -- his worst-ever starting position here -- and she's struggled this entire IndyCar season. But Patrick is a patient, cerebral driver whose driving skills mesh well with the challenges presented at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. She has a knack for staying out of trouble, getting in and out of the pits cleanly, and making moves late. She won't have the fastest car on Sunday, but if anyone can snooker the field with pit or fuel strategy, it's Patrick and her No. 7 team.
"We'll need a little luck, that's for sure," Patrick told me as we rode on a golf cart together through the infield on Thursday. "But Indy has been pretty good to me and you never know what's going happen over the course of 500 miles."
Patrick is a longshot. My pick to be chugging the milk late on Sunday afternoon is: Helio Castroneves.