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Last year the Indy 500 was delayed until August and the race was run without fans in the stands. As the seventh race on the 2020 calendar, IndyCar was well into their 14-race schedule. NASCAR was already accustomed to racing without fans in the stands. But there was something eerie about the Indy 500 being run in its echo chamber.
That did not detract from Takuma Sato’s second Indy 500 win, Scott Dixon’s second sacred podium finish in three races, or Josef Newgarden’s fifth top-10 in the last six Brickyard races. Still, a sense of normalcy returns this year as IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway open up the grandstands and welcomes 135,000 fans – or about 55 percent of the capacity – to enjoy the race.
With last week’s GMR Grand Prix in the books, IndyCar turns their eye to the 500. The rest of the month of May will be devoted to finding the speed needed for 33 cars from an 35-car entry list to make the show.
Much like the NASCAR season, IndyCar has been marked by parity. There have been five different winners in five races. Three of these were first-time winners, including last week’s Rinus VeeKay who took the checkers with +4000 odds. Sato wasn’t exactly last year’s favorite either, which suggests there are some great bargains to be had for the 105th running of the Indy 500.
With so much parity in IndyCar, we are going to skip over the oddsmakers’ favorite and look for better value from our proposed winner. Dixon and Newgarden are both solid picks and if your betting strategy requires multiple wagers, they should be covered. But we are paying close attention to Patricio O’Ward (+850).
IndyCar has already run two races on ovals, and while Texas Motor Speedway is considerably different than Indy, O’Ward was the top performer there. He finished third in the first race of the doubleheader and scored his career-first win the next day in an accident-marred event. Last year in his Indy 500 debut, O’Ward finished sixth. He needs only a little improvement to challenge for the win.
In his young career O’Ward has been better on ovals than road courses. Four of six podium finishes came on this track type that favors boldness.
Best Bets for a top five
Of course Dixon (+525) cannot be ignored. He won Texas 1 and that was part of a four-race, top-five streak to start the season. Last week in the GMR Grand Prix, he failed to show much strength, but that is likely to make him even hungrier for the win. The downside to Dixon is that he has been uneven in the Indy 500 since 2013. He finished 14th that season and has top-10s in only 50 percent of his recent starts. The upside is that he finished second to Sato last year.
Newgarden (+750) is seeking his first Indy 500 win, but he has come close three times in the last five attempts. He finished third in 2016, fourth in 2019, and was fifth last year. In one of the two races that he finished outside that mark, he was eighth in 2018. This could be his season.
Sato (+2000) was not favored last year and nothing has changed. For a driver with two wins and a third-place finish in his last four Indy 500s, he deserves a lot more respect than 20/1 odds. He is a longshot based on his other eight starts on this track, however. When he hasn’t finished on the podium, he hasn’t finished among the top 10. Sato deserves a bet of at least a couple of units.
Graham Rahal (+2200) could be another surprising contender for this race. Like Sato, he lacks the buzz that would make him a favorite, but he’s been strong on ovals this year with a sweep of the top five at Texas. He had a third-place finish in last year’s 500. He dodged a bullet last week and salvaged a top-five after getting involved in a Lap 1 accident on the road course. That could give him a little bigger spring in his step.
Best Bets for a top 10
Coming off last week’s dramatic first win, VeeKay (+5000) may deserve a unit or two. He scored a top-10 in one of the two Texas races this year. Last year, he was fourth and sixth at Gateway Motorsports Park. His trajectory could launch him into a surprise top-five. With 50/1 odds, he could fatten your kitty for the remainder of the IndyCar season and allow you to bet with house money.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s (+2500) odds took a nosedive after his Indy road course struggles. Last week he was listed at +1400, but after he failed to stay on the lead lap in the GMR Grand Prix, it seems oddsmakers have decided he may be a little rusty. They may be right. Montoya hasn’t been in the Indy 500 since 2017, but he is still a three-time winner of this race with his most recent coming in 2015.
Will Power (+1000) has been less than consistent in the Indy 500. In 13 career starts, he is barely over the .500 mark in regard to top-10s. Two of his last three efforts ended in top-fives, however, including a 2018 victory. He has the horsepower and the skill to get the job done for “The Captain” Roger Penske.
At first glance, Alexander Rossi seems to be overvalued at +1100, but one should consider that he had a perfect record of top-seven finishes in the Indy 500 until a Lap 143 accident last year took him out of contention. Rossi led 17 laps last year and had the lead as late as Lap 123.
Alex Palou (+2200) got off to a strong start in 2021 by winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He was listed as the second-ranked driver at Texas races with a +650 and he swept the top 10 in those two events. This week he has much longer odds, but a Return on Investment of 22/1 makes him very attractive.
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