It’s not about where you start but where you finish that counts. Unless we’re talking about the Indianapolis 500, that is. Because, then, it definitely matters where you start.
Racing fans will be focused on the starting grid for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the IndyCar Series’ premier event when the green flag waves at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday for the Indianapolis 500. Legend Scott Dixon will start from the race’s pole position for the fifth time in his career. Beside him will start Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou in the middle and Rinus VeeKay on the outside.
“It’s all about winning the 500, man,” Dixon told CBS Sports. “Winning the pole does give you confidence, but it’s no guarantee of anything. You just keep knocking on that door, and I hope it opens up for me this year.”
Dixon should know. The New Zealander’s previous Indy 500 win in 2008 started when the then-28-year-old earned the pole position. On Sunday, the now-41-year-old will attempt to become the 22nd winner in the race’s history to start from the top spot.
But Dixon also knows first-hand that plenty can go wrong over the course of 200 laps, even when you start in first. In his other Indy 500 pole starts, he has finished no higher than fourth, in 2015, and as far back as 32nd, in 2017.
The pole position has, however, produced more winners than any other grid spot in the race’s 105 previous runnings, with 21 total winners. The third starting position has accounted for the second-most winners, 13, while the second starting spot has produced 11 champions.
Behind the first row, the chances of winning have historically plummeted. Row two starters have finished first a total of 19 times while row three starters have combined for just nine wins in the race’s 111-year history.
Beyond that, the grid gets even more bleak for racers hoping to enjoy the sweet taste of victory milk. Positions 13 and 15 in row five are the only starting spots to produce more than three wins from the race’s final eight rows. This year’s row five, consisting of David Malukas, Josef Newgarden and Santino Ferrucci, hope to revive the row’s good fortune.
In the field’s 23rd to 33rd starting positions, only four racers have ever emerged victorious from the Brickyard’s final one-third of the racing field. The final row has yet to see a winner.
Last year’s winner, Hélio Castroneves, became just the third winner to have ever started from the eighth position, and the first row three winner since 1999. While that may sound grim to this year’s row three starters — Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Romain Grosjean — drivers behind the first two rows have still fared decently in recent years.
From 2012 to 2016, only rows four, five, six and seven produced champions. That could spell good news for one of this year’s most popular drivers in the field, former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting from row four’s 12th position in his debut Indy 500.
(Photo: Brian Spurlock / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)