Sunday's Indianapolis 500 is believed to be the most wide-open race in years. There are no clear favorites and there's a group of new faces vying for attention. And with no Danica Patrick, there's a chance for some new stars to be born in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The front two rows for the start of the race are stacked with drivers from Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport, so it could be a shootout between those six guys. Penske has Ryan Briscoe on the pole, with Will Power and three-time race winner Helio Castroneves in the second row. Andretti has spots two through four with James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay on the front row, and Marco Andretti in the second row.
The Penske team is undefeated so far this season, with four wins and five poles.
Dan Wheldon tributes
Sunday's race is paying tribute to driver Dan Wheldon, who died after a crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.
Everywhere fans look, they'll see something commemorating Wheldon. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a large banner with Wheldon's image on it hanging outside the track, and fans are donning sunglasses and wearing stickers.
IMS CEO Jeff Belskus spoke to Eyewitness News Sunday morning.
"Dan was a fantastic champion. He loved the Indy 500 race. We're celebrating his life, celebrating his victories," said Belskus.
Susie Wheldon, Dan's widow, appeared Saturday at the public driver meeting. There was a long standing ovation as she accepted the "Baby Borg" - a replica of the Borg-Warner trophy - on behalf of her late husband. Wheldon was a two-time Indy 500 winner.
"It's good to see Susie out here," said Belskus. "She's a remarkable lady. She seems to be enjoying herself and we're happy to have her here."
Meantime, the drivers were preparing for what is sure to be an interesting race. Everyone is eager to see how the new chassis performs, and possible record-breaking heat will also be a factor.
Ed Carpenter says the testing of the new chassis went well, but it's "always a little different during the race. People don't play quite as nice." Carpenter will have the Butler Bulldogs logo on his car Sunday.
Wade Cunningham is a rookie from New Zealand who's driving for AJ Foyt. At 5'5" and 130 lbs, he's one of the smaller drivers, meaning he has to have some weight added to his car.
"They shoot for about 185 lbs so you can do the math on that," he joked.
Although he's a rookie, Cunningham is a three-time winner of Indy Lights. Competing in the Indy 500 has always been his goal.
"It's great. This is what I've been working towards for the last seven years of my life. It's a very happy day for me," he said.
Cunningham starts 26th and is one of two Kiwis in the race.
Japanese driver Takuma Sato has been training in Denver, but he wasn't worried about the heat.
"The atmosphere at the Indy 500 is always special. There's so much excitement about the new package for cars and engines," he said.
Sato, who drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, was confident going into Sunday's race. "It's great. This team has so much potential and I'm certainly very comfortable."
Sato starts 19th.
Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves is looking for his fourth victory, and despite his experience he still admits to having butterflies - even if they're flying in formation.
"It's like when you go to a show, any kind of music show or things like that, and you hear a lot of people talking and [at the beginning of the performance] it's suddenly very quiet. The only thing different is we're part of the show."
But Helio says being a little nervous is probably a good thing, because it means "maybe I'm sharp, I'm ready, close the visor, game on!"
Helio is confident about his car and says he'll be looking for opportunities everywhere.
"If there is a door open, I'm gonna stick my nose in there - no, actually, I'm gonna go through! You can't be in the middle. Don't lose your cool. Just stay patient. It's a long race."
Helio thought that there would be some passing when there's a gap, but "you might lose a little bit of the draft."
"I think it's gonna be very intense. You gotta focus, keep the eyes on strategy. It's a big part of the race."
As for the heat, he added, "Our cars are very sensitive to the weather" but "it's the same boat for everyone."
Winning the 500 for a fourth time "would be an incredible experience. I just gotta execute."
On the celebrity watch, Guy Fieri with the Food Network joined Eyewitness News for an interview Sunday morning. He described what it was like to receive one of the drivers' rings.
"My 16-year-old kid is right next to me going, 'It's my size, Dad!' And I'm like, 'Gimme that ring!'"
Fieri says he has a dream job as the host of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. "As a chef and restaurant owner, if you had told me this would come about...I would have told you you were crazy."
Fieri has been to over 500 restaurants and delights in helping mom and pop joints get national recognition. He also maintains his show is the real deal.
"I'm not selling you a bag of beans! We really do taste the food. If it's not the real deal, we don't show it," he said.
Fieri says there have been roughly 15 locations over the last six years that didn't make the cut. But overall, he's glad to be part of the food revolution and believes the movement has helped make restaurant food better, with the focus on fresh, organic and farm to table.
He was sporting a yellow pair of Gators with his name on them. "I never take them off," he quipped. "I don't even have eyes, man."
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