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Indy 500 is pandemic’s biggest sporting event – NBC 6 South Florida

The milk is on ice, the celebrities are in the house, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is once again buzzing with the roar of engines and the largest crowd at a sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

The Indianapolis 500 will welcome 135,000 sold-out spectators on Sunday – nine months after the race without fans for the first time in its 105-year history – and will drop the green flag on a packed house and a party unprecedented since early 2020.

“We’re just excited to open America,” said Roger Penske, who bought Indianapolis in January 2020, about two months before the pandemic shut down the country.

The speedway has 240,000 permanent grandstand seats and space in the infield and suites to accommodate nearly 400,000 on race day. But Penske couldn’t open the doors until October, when only 10,000 people a day were allowed into the historic facility for a three-day weekend for an IndyCar race.

Americans are eager to return to some sort of normalcy. They want to reclaim their traditions and their sports, nothing more than “The Greatest Racing Show”, which has withstood the World Wars, the Great Depression and the current pandemic.

As tough as the past year has been for college basketball players and fans, it’s been just as tough for broadcasters, who have navigated empty stadiums, remote video streams and, on occasion. , questionable internet connections to call games this season. And while most of us have dealt with the annoying Zoom issue here and there during the pandemic, a split-second video dropped at a live sporting event is much bigger.

Thanks to vaccinations, of which more than 90,000 were carried out on the highway, Penske obtained the authorization to finally allow 40% of attendance.

“The good news is that it started rolling in here and I think with America opening up we can be the first event,” he said. “It’s an honor for us to even be able to perform something like this. We will continue to refine it. I would do the same transaction again. I just see the longer term benefits. I really want to run as big as my anticipation and not my exception. ”

And so it is with expectation and not anticipation that the six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon starts from pole on Sunday for the fourth time at the Indy 500. Dixon is considered the best driver of his generation and ahead of Mario Andretti with only one victory for the second. on IndyCar’s all-time win list. He has only one Indy 500 victory in 2008 and three runners-up.

“It’s the biggest race in the world and the toughest race in the world. I feel very lucky and privileged to have won it once, but it also pushes you to have a deeper will to want to win it again, ”Dixon said. “Would I trade championships for 500 wins? May be. I do not know. I feel like the focus is on the IndyCar championships, but the Indy 500 is the Indy 500. ”

Dixon and the four competitors from Chip Ganassi Racing are the most consistent in Indianapolis ahead of the 500. The squad includes Tony Kanaan, who at 46 is the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou, who failed in qualifying on Saturday. but rebounded Sunday to qualify. sixth alongside Kanaan.

This season has seen a changing of the guard with five different winners in the first five races of the season, including four 24 and under. Three are first-time winners and Dixon is the only veteran to date to represent in the win column.

He starts at No. 1 alongside Colton Herta, a 21-year-old four-race winner who secured a two-year contract extension earlier this month with Andretti Autosport, and Rinus Veekay, at 20. , the youngest starter in the history of the race. .

VeeKay claimed his first career victory earlier this month on Indy’s road course and the Borat-loving Dutchman said the victory allowed him to further show his playful personality. He pursued a professional racing car career for more than half of his life and shortened his last name from van Kalmthout to VK to ease his transition to sponsorship negotiations in the United States before eventually settling on the current form of VeeKay.

A butterfly has landed on his shoulder for the past two weeks, some of his Ed Carpenter Racing crew have spotted Red Cardinals for luck, and VeeKay now thinks he’s as lucky as any other kid in the field to pull off an upset Indy 500.

“We grew up in the computer age, in the digital age,” VeeKay said. “It helps the simulators look very normal for us, helps us feel comfortable in the simulator. Maybe that translates to better results.

Staying at a high stress level – even if it’s watching your favorite team – can make your body work, says Dr. Kate Chard. She shared with us some tips on how to deal with the stress of this game day, for the sake of your health.

The impressive group of youngsters includes Pato O’Ward, the 22-year-old Mexican who rose to popularity with Arrow McLaren SP and is a teammate in the 500 with two-time race winner Juan Pablo Montoya. McLaren brought Montoya back to racing for the first time since 2017 and isn’t too concerned about this crop of young children.

“At the end of the day, you look at how many youngsters have won the 500 in the last few years? Said Montoya. “Do they have a chance? Of course, no question. I think Pato and Herta and all these kids, they’re very talented and everything. You have to do 200 laps, you know? So we’ll see. “

No one knows what happens with Team Penske cars after a questionable qualifying effort. Will Power won in 2018 and Simon Pagenuad won in 2019, but Power barely qualified for the race.

“Our cars are good every Sunday,” said an indifferent Penske, winner of a record 18 Indy 500.

Marco Andretti, poleman last year, is back for the only race on his IndyCar calendar and has hated his car all week. A change made just after qualifying last Sunday calmed him down and he now thinks he might have a chance to win from 25th place.

Andretti is one of Andretti Autosport’s six entries, but Herta has become the star. Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th running back in 2016 as a 24-year-old rookie, is approaching two years without a win in the IndyCar Series. He finished second in the 500 in 2019, fourth in 2018 and is still trying to regain the joy of that surprise victory.

“Every year that goes by and you watch someone else win, it’s like a knife in your heart because you know how special Indy is because you have to taste it,” Rossi said. “It’s like having the best dessert in the world and then you can’t have it anymore.

The race features nine former winners, including reigning two-time winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan. But so many young new drivers are planning to fight on Sunday and Dixon warns of overconfidence on one of the most intimidating tracks in the world.

There is a difference, Dixon noted, between champions and race winners and Josef Newgarden said it took him several seasons to figure this out. Newgarden is now two-time IndyCar champion but is still looking for his first Indy 500 victory.

“There are guys who are quick and have elements of the whole, but they don’t have everything,” Newgarden said. “There is a difference between someone who is really good, flashy and fun and who wins races and never wins a championship.

“When you look at the 500 and what it demands, compared to what the Championship demands, they’re different. There’s one argument you prefer. And that’s a very different question.

POINTS AND ENDS: Scott Dixon is the 13-4 favorite to win the Indy 500. The last driver to take pole was Simon Pagenaud in 2019.