Sunday, May 27 is one of the biggest days of racing this season in North America, with the running of the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon and NASCAR's Coca Cola 600 in the evening. For open-wheel racing fans, all eyes will be on Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see if there will be another exciting finish like the last-turn mayhem of 2011. These five drivers are my picks as drivers to watch in this year's "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
James Hinchcliffe - the Mayor of "Hinchtown" made his first Indy 500 start in 2011, starting 13th and finishing 29th for Newman-Haas Racing. His 12th-place finish in IZOD IndyCar Series points was enough to earn him a promotion of sorts: he replaced the late Dan Wheldon at Andretti Autosport, as Wheldon was set to replace Danica Patrick in the vacated GoDaddy.com ride. Hinchcliffe is currently third in points, and the young Canadian driver has been fast at Indy, missing the pole position for the race by just 0.003 mph.
Marco Andretti - will the Andretti Curse continue? IMS seems to be kind to the third-generation driver every other year (he finished second in 2006, third in both 2008 and 2010), and if that string continues, this should be a good year for Andretti. He's already off to a better start than last year, qualifying fourth - he didn't qualify until "Bump Day" in 2011, when he started 27th.
Josef Newgarden - the only rookie to qualifying for the "Fast Nine" on Pole Day, Newgarden starts just his fifth IZOD IndyCar Series race from the seventh position in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing #67 (he was also the highest-qualified Honda engine). Newgarden won the 2011 Indy Lights championship taking five victories along the way - including the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dario Franchitti - Franchitti has something to prove this year: he is the slowest of the Chip Ganassi cars on the field, starting 16th - the worst starting position for the two-time Indy 500 winner (2007 and 2010) since he started 17th in 2006; he also has to improve on last year's disappointing 12th-place finish in the race.
JR Hildebrand - Hildebrand ended up a somewhat disappointing second in last year's Indy 500 - disappointing because the then-rookie was leading the race going into the final turn when he hit the wall, handing the win to the late Wheldon. Hildebrand starts 18th in the race this year for Panther Racing, hoping to improve just a bit at the finish in his sophomore season.
Source: 2012 Indianapolis 500 lineup
Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.