Who are the drivers to watch entering this year's annual Memorial Day Weekend classic? SI.com offers 10 drivers to watch at the Indianapolis 500. Briscoe added his name to the Indianapolis 500 history books on May 19 by winning the pole with a four-lap average of 226.484 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet. This is Briscoe's third front-row start in his seventh Indianapolis 500. Briscoe started second in 2009 and was on the outside of the front row in 2008. He has one top-five and two top-10 finishes at Indy, including a 10th his rookie season in 2005 and a fifth in 2007. He has led just 16 laps at Indy, but starting on the pole gives him a great chance at the lead Sunday. The question is: Will starting first help him finish first in the biggest race of the year? He is a six-time IndyCar Series winner.
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The second-year driver has gained plenty of attention this season because he drives the GoDaddy car that was previously piloted by Danica Patrick. And Hinchcliffe has excelled in that ride, entering the Indy 500 third in points. He starts second on Sunday after falling .0023 seconds short of Ryan Briscoe in the race for the pole. It was the closest margin between first and second in Indianapolis 500 qualifying history. With a Chevrolet powering his race car, look for him to be up front as the laps wind down at Indy.
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The Team Penske driver is attempting to become the fourth four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Castroneves hit Victory Lane in his first two attempts in 2001 and 2002, and his third win in 2009 was emotional because it came one month after he was acquitted of tax evasion charges. Castroneves, who drove to victory in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg on March 25, is one of the most popular drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series and became a mainstream name when he won Dancing with the Stars in 2007. While the likeable Brazilian always has a smile on his face for the fans he is a fierce competitor on the track and is currently second in the series points standings trailing teammate Will Power by 45 points. He has three wins, five podiums (top three), five top-five and nine top-10 finishes 11 Indianapolis 500 starts. If Castroneves scores his fourth Indy 500 win he would join legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to accomplish that. He is also the only non-American three-time Indy 500 winner. Castroneves starts on the outside of Row 2 after qualifying sixth with a four-lap average of 225.172 mph on Pole Day.
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With a three-race winning streak to his name, Will Power is the hottest driver in IndyCar heading into the Indianapolis 500. But only one of his 18 career wins (16 in IndyCar) has come on oval racetracks and that came last year in one of the twin races at Texas Motor Speedway, a unique doubleheader. Power's career record at Indianapolis includes just one top-five and two top-10 finishes in four career starts. He was fifth in 2009 and eighth in 2010. But Power has to be considered one of the favorites based on his impressive skill and his current hot streak. His skill on street and road courses could suit him well at Indianapolis because this flat, 2.5-mile oval has four distinct turns, which rewards a driver adept at road courses. Plus, he drives for the winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history: Roger Penske, who has 15 victories in the "World's Biggest Race." Power starts in the middle of Row 2 after qualifying fifth with a four-lap average of 225.422 mph on Pole Day.
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It's been quite a turnaround for the Andretti Autosport driver who missed the cut for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Bump Day. Hunter-Reay was able to get back into that race with the help of team owner Michael Andretti, but Hunter-Reay needed no such help this year as he was one of the favorites to win the pole on Pole Day. The driver from Hollywood, Fla., came close with a four-lap average of 226.240 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet. Hunter-Reay has five career victories, including three in the IZOD IndyCar Series and two in CART/Champ Car. He finished sixth in his first Indy 500 in 2008 and was 23rd last year after starting last in the 33-car field.
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Although he is off to a slow start this season (he enters the Indianapolis 500 10th in IndyCar points after four races), Franchitti has won twice at Indianapolis (2007 and 2010). He is rapidly approaching legendary status with 30 career IndyCar wins (20 in the IndyCar Series, 10 in CART/Champ Car). Franchitti has two top-five (both victories) and five top-10 finishes in eight starts in the Indianapolis 500. He finished 12th last year after leading 51 laps when a long stretch of green flag racing turned it into a fuel mileage race. Franchitti has led 290 out of a possible 800 laps in the last four Indianapolis 500s, including an incredible 155 of 200 when he won in 2010. Franchitti had a disappointing effort on Pole Day and will start on the inside of Row 6 after qualifying 16th with a four-lap average of 223.582 miles per hour in a Dallara/Honda.
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The 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner returns to the Indianapolis 500 sixth in points. He drives for the powerful Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team, which also includes Dario Franchitti. Dixon has 27 career victories including 26 in the IZOD IndyCar Series and has one win, two podiums, four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in nine Indianapolis 500 starts. He is on an impressive streak with finishes of sixth, second, first, sixth and fifth since 2006. Dixon led 73 laps last year before finishing fifth. Dixon is cold and calculated on the racetrack and is one of the cleanest drivers in the sport despite arriving in IndyCar in 2003 as a very aggressive racer. Chevrolet engines have won the first four events since engine competition returned to the series, but it may be time for Dixon and his Honda engine to leap to the forefront of the race. Dixon starts on the outside of Row 5 after qualifying 15th with a four-lap average of 223.684 mph.
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So how does a driver who sits 19th in the standings with only two career IndyCar victories become a driver to watch at this year's Indianapolis 500? Well, first off, his last name is Andretti, and most importantly, he has three top-three finishes in his six Indy 500 starts. He came within a few hundred yards of winning in his first attempt in 2006 before Sam Hornish, Jr. nipped him at the checkered flag in one of the most dramatic Indy 500s in history. Andretti also finished third in 2008 and 2010; he was ninth last year. This is a track that suits Andretti's style perfectly and if he drives to victory this year, he would join his grandfather, the legendary Mario Andretti, as an Indy 500 winner. Mario won at Indy in 1969. Marco's father, Michael, holds the Indy 500 record for most laps led by a non-winner. Michael is currently Marco's team owner. He starts on the inside of Row 2 after qualifying with a four-lap average of 225.456 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
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All Hildebrand had to do to win last year's Indianapolis 500 was make it through the final turn. But the American driver encountered Charlie Kimball's stalled race car at the apex of the fourth turn and as he tried to avoid it, he crashed into the outside wall in Turn 4, allowing Dan Wheldon to seize the victory. Hildebrand's "Bill Buckner Moment" was called one of the "Biggest Blunders in Sports History" by SI.com the night of the race, but he is back to make up for that in 2012. The Panther Racing driver has been one of the fastest drivers on the track in the opening days at Indy this year. And by displaying class, character and dignity after his disappointment last year, he has made lots of fans who are pulling for him to put last year's disappointment behind him with a win at Indy. Hildebrand starts on the outside of Row 6 after qualifying 18th with a four-lap average of 223.422 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
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This driver represents what that the IZOD IndyCar Series needs -- a young, American driver who can one day become a star. The reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion is a 21-year-old rookie for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and has shown flashes of brilliance on the street and road courses this year, but rookie mistakes, including a few crashes, have left him 22nd in points. Newgarden was the fastest driver at Indy on Opening Day on May 12, and the driver from Henderson, Tenn., gives American IndyCar fans a fresh face to root for. He is a graduate of the Mazda "Road to Indy" ladder system. Keep an eye on this driver because in the future he will be one of the big names in this series. He has impressive skills and maturity and poise that belie his youth. Newgarden lines up on the inside of Row 3 after qualifying seventh with a four-lap average of 224.037 mph in a Dallara/Honda -- the fastest Honda in the starting lineup.
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The Brazilian veteran is a 2004 IndyCar Series champion who has the dubious honor of being the best driver in the series who has never won the Indy 500. The driver for KV Racing has 15 career wins (14 in IndyCar) and two podium finishes (third in 2003, second in 2004), four top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 Indy 500 starts. He put on a thrilling show in 2010 when he started last in the 33-car field but passed seven cars before Turn 2 on the first lap. He raced as high as second place late in that race before having to pit for fuel with just a few laps remaining. He was loudly cheered by the fans after that race for his incredible performance and Kanaan was emotional afterwards calling it one of the greatest races of his career. Kanaan finished fourth last year and is always a threat to be up front in the Indy 500. He starts in the middle of Row 3 after qualifying eighth with a four-lap average of 224.751 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
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The son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal made history in 2008 when he became the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar race with a victory in his first-ever start at St. Petersburg, Fla. Rahal is still waiting on win No. 2, but he has all the tools necessary to become a multiple-time winner. Rahal finished third in last year's Indy 500 after starting 29th. The driver from New Albany, Ohio, is a young, American talent and a win in the Indianapolis 500 would make waves because of his personality and pedigree, as well as the fact he is a second-generation star. He starts on the outside of Row 4 after qualifying 12th with a four-lap average of 223.959 mph in a Dallara/Honda.
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