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OK, if I have to pick a winner – Dixon

Dixon

– Sorry, Mr. I’ll Bet On Whatever You’ve Got. The fastest field in the 98-year history of the Indianapolis 500 comes to the green at just past noon today, and I got nothin’.

Crickets, man. Dead air. Amelia Earhart, phone home.

Most years I can sense a few things here, though I’m not always right. But not this year. This year, my hunches all come back as blank as a thousand-yard stare. Is this is a Helio year? An Ed Carpenter year? Will Tony Kanaan ride that No.10 – Dario Franchitti’s old seat – to a second straight victory, throwing some more dirt on his evil Indy mojo?

Beats me.

What I do know is there will be either mayhem or glory when this day is done, and quite likely both. Glory there will surely be, for whoever slams the bottle of milk in Victory Lane. Mayhem there may likely be, with 13 drivers having qualified at faster than 230 mph – which means everyone’s a rookie, at least in the sense that they’re all going to experience the kind of turbulence no one’s experienced here for a decade.

So hold your breath. And at least know a few home truths, as the field goes screaming away:

•Tony Kanaan will go to the front.

He is, after all, Kanaan, which means he always goes to the front. Today he launches from the inside of Row 6, right behind rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin; if neither makes a rookie mistake and collects him, Kanaan will be in the top five inside of 20 laps. Bank it.

•Juan Pablo Montoya will say “Me, too” on the going to the front thing.

He is, after all, Montoya. Which means he either turns his car into macramé or he runs up front all day.

If the latter happens, you could do worse than picking him either to win or lead the most laps. Might want to bank that, too.

•A name to remember: Simon Pagenaud.

He won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this month, so the place obviously doesn’t hate him. And he’s starting on the inside of Row 2, so it’s not like he’ll to wade through rush hour from deep in the pack. He’s running for Sam Schmidt, a beloved figure in these parts, and he’ll be wearing a yellow helmet in honor of the late Ayrton Senna, who was killed 20 years ago this month in Italy.

So the karma case is handled.

•Another name to remember: Hawksworth.

The rookie from England was this-close to spending his summer as a personal trainer, but Bryan Herta found him, and now he starts from inside Row 5. Almost every year, it seems, a Carlos Munoz or Takuma Sato emerges from the shadows to become a Name here. I like Hawksworth for that role this time.

•Remember, finally, this name: Scott Dixon.

Look, I could pick anyone this time around.

Kanaan? Sure.

Helio? Why not?

Carpenter, the hometown boy? Marco Andretti, who’s due? JR Hildebrand (ditto), Will Power (ditto), James Hinchcliffe (also ditto, after Indy gave him a concussion two weeks ago)?

Can’t go wrong with any of ’em. Or with Dixon.

He drives for Ganassi, first off, and Ganassi has won every other year since 2008, which means he’s also due again. He starts 11th, which means he’d be following another trend; the last two winners have come from Row 5 and Row 4, respectively. And, except for last year, he’s finished in the top 10 every year since winning in 2008, which means he’s always around the lead at the end.

In an era when the cars punch big holes in the air and the lead changes hands often, around the lead is where you want to be. So … Dixon. Just don’t bank it.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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