Indianapolis 500 Row 7 – An unlikely historic row

INDIANAPOLIS – The seventh row in Sunday’s 108th Indianapolis 500 is the second most experienced row in Indianapolis 500 history, accounting for 62 starts, five wins, 10 Indy 500 poles, 11,694 laps and 1,135 laps led.

It also features three great names in the field with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves starting in the middle, 2008 Indy 500 and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon on the outside and 2020 Indy 500 pole winner Marco Andretti on the inside.

That’s more starts than any other row in Indy 500 history since the Row 1 in 1991. That lineup included Rick Mears on the pole, AJ Foyt in the middle and Mario Andretti on the outside of the front row.

At that time, those drivers accounted for 72 previous Indy 500 starts, 9,246 laps, 1,414 laps led, eight wins and 13 Indy 500 poles.

1991 Indy 500
1991 Indy 500

Mears would go on that day to become the third four-time Indy 500 winner.

So, how did this talented and impressive collection of drivers end up in the seventh row?

“Look, the competition every year it's becoming crazier,” Castroneves told “We thought we did a good job over the winter. I guess the other ones did a better job over the winter. That's why they end up a little ahead of us.

“But that doesn't intimidate me at all. The good news, we have good, experienced guys in the row. Interesting situation in front of us, we have inexperienced guys. But that's what it is in the Indy 500. Always have ups and downs. It's a long race.

“I feel very, very good. I understand what I need to do. Hopefully all three of us will go to the front.”

Row 7 is the result of a strange Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Chevrolet dominated the Fast 12 and Hondas were relegated to the back half of the field.

All three drivers in Row 7 are powered by Honda.

Andretti was the fastest of those three, with a four-lap qualification run at 231.890 miles per hour in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Global.

“I definitely am more happy than I've been in a long time here at the Speedway,” Andretti said. “I'm just bummed with no track position. If we wrung everything out, we should have been top 12, which is disappointing. We were lined up to go back out, but we miss-timed it and I didn't make it back out.

“Coming from the back, but the car feels good.”

Castroneves was next at 231.871 mph for four laps in the No. 06 Honda for Meyer-Shank Racing and Dixon’s four-lap qualification effort was 231.851 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Hopefully the row doesn't take each other out,” Dixon quipped. “That would be interesting.

“The starting position is one thing. I think the way we look at it, even after last year the first stint, our tire issue, we were 28th or somethingand ended up to getting back to the top five towards the last stint.

“Anything is possible in this race.

“I think people always have issues. I think for us with where we're starting as a group, you definitely need to have no more issues from the outside part of what happened in qualifying.

“Yeah, hopefully we all move forward. Maybe this row will be fighting it out for the win.”

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Over their careers, Castroneves has 23 Indy 500 starts, 4,398 laps completed, 326 laps led, four Indy 500 wins and four Indy 500 poles.

Dixon has 21 career Indy 500 starts, 3,896 laps completed, 665 laps led, 2008 Indy 500 victory and five Indy 500 Poles.

Andretti has 18 career starts, 3,400 laps completed, 144 laps led and one Indy 500 Pole.

Compare that with Row One in 1991.

Mears started on the pole and had 14 starts, 2,068 laps completed, 399 laps led, three wins at that time and six poles. He would win his fourth Indy 500 that day.

Foyt had 33 starts, four wins, four poles, 4,626 laps and 556 laps led.

Andretti had 25 Indy 500 starts, one win, three poles, 2,552 laps and 459 laps led.

Add it all up and it was 72 starts, 9,246 laps completed, 1,414 laps led, eight wins and 13 poles.

On Sunday, Castroneves is attempting to become the first five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“How can you not think about that, right?” Castroneves said. “I wake up in the morning, have this amazing opportunity first to be already with this incredible gods of racing, Rick Mears, AJ and Al Unser Sr. I'm honored and blessed to be in this position.

“Now having this opportunity to do something nobody ever did. People are saying records are made to be broken in any sport. Why not?

“I'm sure a lot of fans wants to see that. I want to see that. I'm sure those guys here, they want to try to stop that. But that's life.”

Sunday’s Indy 500 features an all-Team Penske Front Row with Scott McLaughlin on the pole, Will Power in the middle of Row 1 and defending Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden on the outside.

There are six rows between those three drivers and the trio in Row 7. So, what is the strategy for Andretti, Castroneves and Dixon?

Do they let the race come to them? Or do they feel a sense of urgency to race through the field to get to the front before settling into a rhythm?

“You got to read the vibe at the beginning,” Castroneves explained. “You can't just do something. That's normally how I would approach at this point, not knowing the racing of those guys in front of me. I got to see what the situation's going to be and see the restart.

“I know it changes a little bit understanding the rules. We going to have sort of like a line that you're not supposed to pass before turn four, whatever area this year, right?”

“Yours’ is in Turn 3,” Andretti told Castroneves with a laugh.

“I'm just going to read the race and go according to it.”

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Marco Andretti is also taking a more cautious, sensible approach.

“You have to be methodical,” Andretti said. “The first two-thirds, I drive it more like a marathon rather than a sprint. In order to be in that position in the end, you have to be smart in certain scenarios that present themselves. Do you take it, do you not?

“I'll read Helio's vibe at the beginning and follow him through.

“I just have to be smart about it. If you have a good enough run, you take it.”

Dixon quipped he might try to get all 20 positions on the first lap in a move that would make his friend, 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan proud.

But Dixon realizes the cautious approach may be the best.

“I agree totally with the others -- read the situation,” Dixon said. “It's a long race. Obviously to be in it, you got to be there at the end.

“We'll see.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500