Winning the Indianapolis 500 is a career-defining moment. It's a chance for a driver to go down in racing history alongside some of the all-time greats while also potentially boosting his or her career to new heights. The race carries that much weight.
Most of the focus heading into the race has been on pole-sitter Ed Carpenter and former champions like Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves. At the same time, it's important not to lose focus on the long shots capable of stealing the spotlight.
With that in mind, let's examine some contenders who aren't getting much respect from the oddsmakers, but who could very well win the season's biggest race. All odds are courtesy of Bovada. For a complete look at the starting grid, visit the race's official site.
Takuma Sato (20-1)
Sato, who currently leads the IndyCar Series in points, isn't generating more attention for two reasons. Most importantly, he's starting from deep in the pack (18th). He's also struggled in this race, finishing no better than 17th in three prior starts.
Even though he wasn't able to contend in those prior appearances, Sato still gained valuable experience. That will come in handy this time around when he should be a much bigger threat. Learning how to handle Indianapolis Motor Speedway is often an overlooked factor.
That said, the main reason Sato can't be forgotten is how well he's been running recently. He's coming off a second-place showing in Sao Paulo after winning the Grand Prix of Long Beach. No driver enters the race with more momentum.
J.R. Hildebrand (25-1)
Two years ago, Hildebrand had an Indianapolis 500 victory within his grasp and let it slip away on the final turn. The aforementioned experience factor played a key role, as he struck the wall and couldn't recover to save the race.
After a disappointing performance last year, Hildebrand appears ready to make an impact once again. A very solid qualifying run will allow him to start inside the top 10. A few minor adjustments and his car will certainly be good enough to contend.
Unfortunately, that mistake in 2011 is going to stick with him until he wins the Indy 500. He needs to get redemption in order for that lowlight to fade away. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 25-year-old American got the monkey off his back on Sunday.
Graham Rahal (33-1)
Rahal had a poor qualifying run that will force him to start 26th. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however, because it was made clear the car needed some adjustments to succeed. Luckily for him, 500 laps is plenty of time to make up ground.
He finished third in 2011 and hasn't finished outside of 13th over the past three years. So Rahal clearly knows how to handle the track. It simply comes down to getting the car to peak at the right time. It's a process that begins on the first lap.
The biggest obstacle for Rahal, at least early, will be avoiding any collisions. Drivers often get a little overzealous trying to make up ground right way. If he's patient, there will be chances for him to move up and get into the mix by the end.
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