Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Greatest 33 - 2020 Edition

One-hundred and three races, 777 drivers, 255 have made at least five starts, 49 drivers were covered yesterday and today we will go over the greatest 33 drivers in Indianapolis 500 history.

In case you missed it, for deciding this Greatest 33, a minimum criteria of five starts was set. Five starts levels the field and takes away the difficult task of comparing drivers with one or two or three starts to drivers with ten starts or more. Winning a race was not mandatory for inclusion but it certainly helped. This takes into consideration at every era of the Indianapolis 500, from the humble begins in the 1910s, through the more open era of the 1930s and 1940s to the specialized present.

I was probably more critical than you are going to like, and some drivers are going to be lower than you would expect. There is no correct answer to any collection of the top 33 drivers. This is just one person's view on history. You should not agree completely with it but it should also not cause any fury. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter.

With that, let's begin the journey.

Row 11:
33. Mark Donohue
2011 Position: 22nd
Starts: 5
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 3
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 70
Laps Completed: 748
Average Finish: 10
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Donohue's decline stems from a handful of drivers achieving more over the last decade and a handful of other drivers getting much deserved recognition, but he still hangs onto a top 33 spot.

As a rookie, he qualified fourth and spent the entire race in the top ten, got up to third, and then his turbocharger started giving him issues and forced an unscheduled pit stop late. He would drop to seventh, ten laps down, but he earned Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The following year, Al Unser dominated the race and Donohue again spent majority of the race at the front and finished runner-up from fifth on the grid.

It is ironic how things play out in motorsports. Donohue had one of the best cars in the 1971 race, leading the first 50 laps from second on the grid, but a gearbox issue ended his race after 66 laps. He started third in the 1972 race and spent much of the day in that position, as teammate Gary Bettenhausen controlled the race until an ignition issue dropped Bettenhausen from the lead with 25 laps to go. Jerry Grant inherited the point with Donohue sliding up to second. Worn tires brought Grant into the pit lane with 12 laps remaining. Donohue took the lead and he went unchallenged in the final 12 laps to take victory.

In his final Indianapolis start, Donohue again started on the front row, but a burned piston ended his race after 92 laps, giving him 15th position.

Donohue's career was a flash in the pan but what a bright spark it provided. Every year he was blindingly quick and a contender. As this event ages, Donohue will continue to slip. These kinds of careers, five starts with a victory and nothing but strong runs, will not grab the same hold on us as ten-year or 15-year careers become more prominent, but Donohue holds on this decade and he has his place in history, as Team Penske's first Indianapolis 500 winner.

Most surprising statistic?
Five starts and an average starting position of 3.4. He started worse than fifth.

32. Jim Rathmann
2011 Position: 30th
Starts: 14
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 7
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 153
Laps Completed: 2,320
Average Finish: 12.785
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Rathmann drops a tad, mostly for the same reasons as Donohue, but Rathmann has one of the less heralded Indianapolis 500 careers.

Not only did he win one of the greatest battles of all-time with Rodger Ward in the 1960 race, but Rathmann led 100 laps that day from second on the grid while Ward started third. This was a battle that went all 500 miles. Prior to this race, Rathmann had three runner-up finishes, which is still tied for the most in Indianapolis 500 history. In 1952, Troy Ruttman completed 500 miles just over four minutes faster than Rathmann. Five years later, Rathmann went from 32nd on the grid to second behind Sam Hanks and Rathmann led 24 laps. Ward topped Rathmann in 1959, taking the victory by just over 23 seconds.

During a time period with less mechanical reliability than today, Rathmann went the distance in seven of 14 starts. His qualifying record is quite poor, starting outside the top twenty on seven occasions, but his patience saw him go from 25th to seventh in 1953, the aforementioned 32nd to second in 1957 and from 25th to ninth in 1962.

It is a throwback career and one forgotten because it came just before the boom of the Indianapolis 500 in 1960s, an era where many of the names remain in the general discussion.

Most surprising statistic?
While averaging a finish of 12.785, Rathmann's average starting position was 18.142.

31. Will Power
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 12
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 7
Races Led: 8
Laps Led: 142
Laps Completed: 2,261
Average Finish: 11.333
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
For a driver who started his IndyCar career lacking comfort on ovals, Power has become one of the best oval drivers in contemporary IndyCar and he has shot into the top 33 drivers in Indianapolis 500 history.

Power's 2018 victory put him over the top after a strong 11 years since he joined Team Penske. He scored a top five in his first race with the team in 2009, in a third car. He has had some low days and he has had some races get away from him because of pit lane mistakes and being caught in incidents not of his making.

He was a runner-up by a few feet in 2015. He has led a lap in seven consecutive Indianapolis 500, tied with Tony Kanaan for the record. He has made the Fast Nine in every single year the session has been held. He has started on the front row four times. If it wasn't for his 23rd starting position as a rookie in 2008 with KV Racing, his average starting position would be 5.09. Though never mentioned, Power's rookie year showed potential with the Australian finishing 13th and completing all 500 miles.

With only 12 starts and at only 39 years old, Power is going to have a handful of opportunities to further climb up the rankings and everything points to him taking a few more steps up the ladder.

Most surprising statistic?
Power has qualified in the top nine in 11 consecutive Indianapolis 500s, he is second all-time in IndyCar pole positions with 57 to his name, and he has never won the Indianapolis 500 pole position.

Row 10:
30. Tom Sneva
2011 Position: 20th
Starts: 18
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 6
Races Led: 8
Laps Led: 208
Laps Completed: 2,180
Average Finish: 16.5
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Synonymous with speed, Sneva left his mark when he became the first driver to break the 200 MPH barrier in qualifying in 1977 and then had a four-lap average above 200 MPH a year later. Despite the qualifying speed, Sneva finished second each year and he made it three runner-up finishes in his first seven Indianapolis starts when he went from 33rd to second in the 1980 race.

Victory finally came in 1983, leading 98 laps and defeating Al Unser in a late battle. He picked up his third pole position the following year.

Sneva was a top driver for close to a decade, but after his victory his best finish at Indianapolis was 14th and he did not complete all 500 miles again.

Most surprising statistic?
Five of Sneva's final six Indianapolis 500 starts ended with finishes outside the top 25.

29. Jimmy Murphy
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 5
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 4
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 220
Laps Completed: 907
Average Finish: 5
Pole Positions: 2

Why the change?
Murphy wasn't included in the original Greatest 33 and it was a casualty due to timing.

Murphy made five Indianapolis 500 starts. He won the 1922 race from pole position, the first driver to do so, and he led 153 laps. He completed all 500 miles in four of five starts. The one year he didn't complete all 500 miles was 1921, when he suffered an accident after 107 laps and was classified in 14th.

His results are fourth, 14th, first, third and third. He won his second pole position in 1924. Murphy's 220 laps led is still 26th all-time. He led 24.26% of the laps he completed in the Indianapolis 500, still good for 18th best percentage all-time.

It is an incredible record regardless of the era but taking the 1920s into consideration only amplifies Murphy's success.

Tragically, Murphy lost his life in a race at Syracuse, New York on September 15, 1924. He was 30 years old. He posthumously won the national championship that year, his second after taking the 1922 title. He was also the first American to win a grand prix, taking the 1921 French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

It is a shame Murphy has been lost to history. His career came before the zeal for the Indianapolis 500 and he did not live into the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to be properly celebrated.

Most surprising statistic?
To further put Murphy's laps led into perspective, he is one of only 30 drivers to lead over 200 laps in an Indianapolis 500 career.

28. Bill Holland
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 5
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 4
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 297
Laps Completed: 914
Average Finish: 4.4
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Holland's Indianapolis 500 finishes: Second, second, first, second, 15th. Holland has the best average finish in Indianapolis 500 history among drivers with at least five starts.

That is a Greatest 33 worthy stat line and the truth is if it wasn't for one brain lapse, he would be a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

As a rookie, Holland led 143 laps in the 1947 race. When shown the "EZY" board from his pit crew, Holland eased on the pace to bring the car to the finish. His teammate Mauri Rose ignored the order in second position and chased down Holland. What Holland didn't realize was Rose was on the lead lap and, thinking Rose was a lap down, Holland let him by with eight laps to go.

Rose took his second Indianapolis 500 victory and he would add his third the following year with Holland again finishing second. Holland got his day in 1949 with Rose again providing a fight down the stretch. Rose's car failed and ignoring team order led to team owner Lou Moore dismissing Rose after this race. Holland led 146 laps on his way to victory.

He concluded his career with a runner-up finish to Johnny Parsons in the rain-shortened 1950 race.

With 297 laps led, he is 20th all-time, one lap behind Jim Clark and one lap ahead of Johnny Rutherford. He led 32.49% of his laps completed.

If a driver today had four consecutive finishes of second, second, first and second in the Indianapolis 500 our jaws would be on the floor in honor of such a feat. That gets you into the Greatest 33.

Most surprising statistic?
Holland has an average finish of 4.4! Come on! That is monumental.

Row 9:
27. Arie Luyendyk
2011 Position: 16th
Starts: 17
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 7
Races Led: 8
Laps Led: 188
Laps Completed: 2,957
Average Finish: 11.941
Pole Positions: 3

Why the change?
The current track record holder, Luyendyk won what was the fastest Indianapolis 500 up until 2013 and he won the last Indianapolis 500 to go beyond its scheduled day.

Outside of Luyendyk's two victories, the only other times he finished in the top five was third in 1991 and second behind Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993. He had finishes of 15th or worse in eight of 17 starts. His saving grace is his two victories and his qualifying record. While holding the one-lap and four-lap records, he did win three pole positions and he did win the 1997 race from pole position. Luyendyk was running an encouraging race in 1999, leading 66 laps before making contact with the lapped car of Tyce Carlson on lap 118.

Most surprising statistic?
Luyendyk leads all European drivers with 17 Indianapolis 500 starts. The next closest is Oriol Servià with 11 starts.

26. Al Unser, Jr.
2011 Position: 11th
Starts: 19
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 10
Races Led: 8
Laps Led: 110
Laps Completed: 3,158
Average Finish: 12.894
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Do we overrate Unser, Jr.'s Indianapolis 500 career?

Outside of winning the closest Indianapolis 500 after Michael Andretti's mechanical failure, having the most notable victory lane quote and then winning in the most notable car over the last 40 years because his teammate Emerson Fittipaldi brushed the wall, it is not an Indianapolis 500 career that stands out.

He led in eight of 19 starts, but five of those are leading six laps or fewer. He only led 110 laps in his Indianapolis 500 career, 3.47% of the laps he completed. He is behind Greg Ray, Tony Stewart, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter in both those categories. When you look at it is closely, it is a bit underwhelming.

With all that said, Unser, Jr. still would have had top five finishes in each of the years he won. He would still have seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. It is this odd balance where without the victories it is a sufficient career yet puzzling how it is not better and we look at 1989, the one that got away after his contact with Fittipaldi in the closing laps ended his race, more intently.

Most surprising statistic?
Beside the lack of laps led, in Unser, Jr.'s final seven Indianapolis 500 starts, all under the IRL banner, his only top ten finish was ninth in 2003 and that was the only time he completed all 500 miles, his best starting position was 12th in 2002 and he led only one lap.

25. Michael Andretti
2011 Position: 23rd
Starts: 16
Wins: 0
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 9
Races Led: 9
Laps Led: 431
Laps Completed: 2,653
Average Finish: 11.75
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Andretti's career is infamously harsh at Indianapolis.

He very well could have been a three-time race winner. In 1991, he lost the battle with Rick Mears. In 1992, the car suffered a fuel pump failure with 12 laps to go. Andretti had led 160 laps, 400 miles up to that point. He was third on his return in 2001 behind the Team Penske cars of Hélio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran. On his second return in 2006, he found himself leading with four laps to go, but was quickly overtaken on the restart, with his son Marco taking the lead and then Sam Hornish, Jr. taking second. Hornish, Jr. nipped Marco at the line and Michael was third.

It is a heartbreaking career. His 431 laps led is the most for a driver to never win the race. He started in the top nine on seven occasions.

Most surprising statistic?
Andretti's only front row start was third in 1986.

Another interesting note, Andretti is one of ten drivers to lead the most laps in consecutive Indianapolis 500. The only other driver to lead the most laps in consecutive Indianapolis 500s and not win one of them is Tomas Scheckter in 2002 and 2003.

Row 8:
24. Gordon Johncock
2011 Position: 15th
Starts: 24
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 11
Races Led: 7
Laps Led: 339
Laps Completed: 3,158
Average Finish: 14.333
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Johncock had a lengthy and successful Indianapolis 500 career, one that hit all ends of the emotional spectrum. He won the Indianapolis 500 everyone wishes to forget in 1973 and then won the most celebrated Indianapolis 500 of the time in 1982. In-between, a rainstorm shorted him of a fight for victory in 1976 and he dominated a race in 1977 while battling heat exhaustion only for the car to quit before he did.

His 1982 victory remembered for the thrilling battle to the wire with Rick Mears and the closest finish in event history at the time was a steep juxtaposition from his victory nine years early, overshadowed due to the tragic events and rain showers that lingered over those three days.

He posted eight top five finishes, 11 top ten finishes and he qualified in the top nine in 12 of his 24 starts. Early in his career, he had a string of rough results, with six consecutive retirements, five of which were results in the back half of the field.

Most surprising statistic?
Maybe this isn't a surprise, but Johncock finished fifth as a rookie in 1965, one of two rookies in the top five. The other was Mario Andretti in third. There were three other rookies in the top ten that year, Mickey Rupp in sixth, Bobby Johns in seventh and Al Unser in ninth.

23. Rodger Ward
2011 Position: 17th
Starts: 15
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 7
Races Led: 4
Laps Led: 261
Laps Completed: 2,160
Average Finish: 13.4667
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Ward's Indianapolis 500 career started with tough slog and ended on a historically high note.

He had one top ten finish in his first eight starts. His results over the next six years were first, second, third, first, fourth and second. Sixth was his worst starting position over that six-year stretch. He is one of two drivers to have at least six consecutive top five finishes in the Indianapolis 500. He led 12.08% of the laps he completed. He was the precursor to a decade that was to feature A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser and Al Unser coming onto the scene. Because of timing, he is often overlooked.

That being said, a six-year hot-streak fails to entirely erase a difficult first half of his career.

Most surprising statistic?
Ward's six consecutive years going the distance is tied for the all-time record with Wilbur Shaw, Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves.

22. Tommy Milton
2011 Position: 26th
Starts: 8
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 5
Races Led: 2
Laps Led: 218
Laps Completed: 1,204
Average Finish: 11
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Milton was the first driver to win multiple Indianapolis 500s, but he is not in here as some token inclusion to history.

Milton won quarter of his starts and finished in the top five in half of them. His 218 laps led is still 27th all-time and he led 18.11% of the laps he completed. He won the 1923 race from pole position, however, that race featured 28 lead changes, a record that would stand until 1960 and a race that is still tenth all-time in lead changes.

Oh, and Milton did all this with vision in one eye!

Every time Milton finished, he went the distance, completing all 500 miles. In each of his three retirements, he was classified outside the top twenty.

Most surprising statistic?
Milton started outside the top ten in six of his eight starts with his pole position in 1923 and a third starting position in 1924 being the exceptions.

Row 7:
21. Scott Dixon
2011 Position: 33rd
Starts: 17
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 11
Races Led: 12
Laps Led: 452
Laps Completed: 3,069
Average Finish: 11.25
Pole Positions: 3

Why the change?
Despite having only one Indianapolis 500 victory and that coming over a decade ago, Dixon has amassed Dixon-esque numbers at the Speedway.

Besides his victory, Dixon has twice finished runner-up. His seven top five finishes are third most among active drivers and his 11 top ten finishes are second most among active drivers. His 452 laps led not only give him the lead among active drivers, but he is ninth all-time. Besides his three pole positions, has started in the top nine on ten occasions with nine of those being starts on one of the first two rows.

There have been a few tough blows to Dixon in recent years, notably accidents while running in the top five in 2014 and 2017, the latter being his flight off the damaged car of Jay Howard.

With 3,069 laps completed, Dixon has run the seventh most miles in Indianapolis 500 history and one more time going the distance would put him in the top five. One more victory will certainly elevate him closer to the top ten.

Most surprising statistic?
Dixon has led the most laps in four Indianapolis 500s (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2015), which is tied for most times leading the most laps with Louis Meyer (1929, 1933, 1936 and 1939) and Mario Andretti (1969, 1985, 1987 and 1993).

20. Ted Horn
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 10
Wins: 0
Top Fives: 9
Top Tens: 9
Races Led: 3
Laps Led: 94
Laps Completed: 1,944
Average Finish: 4.6
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Horn's results at Indianapolis: 16th, second, third, fourth, fourth, fourth, third, third, third, fourth.

His average finish is 4.6, second best all-time amongst drivers with at least five starts and the best ten-year streak. He completed 1,944 out of a possible 2,000 laps in his Indianapolis 500 career.

Horn is the greatest driver never to win the Indianapolis 500 and he didn't even make the original Greatest 33, a reprehensible decision.

He has nine consecutive top five finishes for crying out loud! Only the aforementioned Rodger Ward has had more than five consecutive top five finishes and Horn still has Ward beat by three races. He went the distance in eight starts and it would have been nine if he had not been flagged off with a lap to go in the 1940 race because of rain.

Are his laps led low? Yes. There wasn't a heartbreaking race for Horn. The only time he was runner-up was to Louis Meyer in 1936, but Meyer led 96 laps to Horn's 16. He failed to lead a lap from pole position in 1947 on his way to finishing third, slightly over three minutes behind Mauri Rose. Horn led 74 laps the following year, his most led in a single Indianapolis 500, but even that year he did not lead the most laps. Rose took that honor with 81 laps led on his way to his third victory.

If a driver today had nine consecutive top five finishes in this race that would be the overused fact from every commentator on television or radio. It would be run into the ground to the point fans would joke about it. It would still be astonishing and if it would be astonishing today, it was damn well incredible in the 1930s and 1940s.

Horn's streak bridged the World War II hiatus. He had six consecutive top five finishes, then the war stopped the race for four year, and when it returned Horn finished in the top five in three successive races. A lot of things could have happened over that four-year period and yet when the race picked up, Horn was back at the front completing all 500 miles.

With Horn in the car you had a 90% chance of a top five finish. Though he never won, you are taking that consistency every time.

Most surprising statistic?
It is the record nine consecutive top five finishes. The only other drivers with nine top five finishes in the Indianapolis 500 are Al Unser (13), A.J. Foyt (10) and Rick Mears (9). That is the list. When you are in a group with only the four-time winners it is going to be difficult to dismiss the achievement.

19. Dan Wheldon
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 9
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 6
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 235
Laps Completed: 1,729
Average Finish: 7.333
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
After winning the 2011 race, as fortunate as it was, everyone was slotting Wheldon into the Greatest 33, but it goes beyond the two wins.

Wheldon's second victory followed two runner-up finishes, he had finishes of third, first and fourth from 2004 to 2006 and he led 148 laps in the 2006 race before the late caution allowed Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Sam Hornish, Jr. to leapfrog Wheldon while Michael Andretti stayed out to take the lead. Wheldon was able to get up to fourth in what was his finest performance.

Wheldon qualified on one of the front two rows on six occasions. He likely would have had another top ten finish if he and Marco Andretti didn't get together in 2007 when the race picked up in franticness due to closing a rainstorm. His rookie year was the only other time he did not finish on the lead lap. Out of 1,746 laps, Wheldon completed 99.026% of them over his nine Indianapolis 500 starts.

Most surprising statistic?
For only nine years, Wheldon had a well-rounded Indianapolis 500 career. The only thing missing was a pole position. The only other way to show how successful Wheldon was at Indianapolis is to say his average finish of 7.333 is fifth all-time among drivers with five starts behind Holland, Horn, Murphy and Harry Hartz.

Row 6:
18. Tony Kanaan
2011 Position: Did Not Qualify
Starts: 18
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 10
Races Led: 14
Laps Led: 346
Laps Completed: 3,152
Average Finish: 12.667
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Kanaan was on the cusp of making the Greatest 33 back in 2011 and he got his elusive Indianapolis 500 victory in 2013. It was the final touch on a historic Indianapolis 500 career.

No driver had led a lap in his or her first seven Indianapolis 500 starts until Kanaan did it. Not only did Kanaan set the record for most consecutive Indianapolis 500s led, but he matched it later on. His 14 Indianapolis 500s led is an event record. He also holds the honor of winning the fastest Indianapolis 500.

The history book shows only one victory, but there were other opportunities. As a rookie, Kanaan spun while leading due to oil on the racetrack. In 2004, the weather ended any hope of Kanaan challenging Buddy Rice down the stretch. Three years later, Kanaan was leading at the wrong rain delay. He had led 83 laps, but due to the mix up of strategies and the rainstorms, Kanaan ended up 12th on a day he otherwise controlled. The race in 2013 might not have been his greatest, but it made up for all the ones that got away.

Kanaan says that at Indianapolis Motor Speedway chooses the winner and it is not up to the drivers. While the track dealt Kanaan harsh hands, the hundreds of thousands of spectators that flowed into the grandstands surrounding the 2.5-mile oval embraced the Salvador, Brazil-native like few drivers that came before him. For close to 20 years, the loudest cheers have been for a man who started with Tasman Motorsports in CART, far off from the vision that shaped American open-wheel racing in the late 1990s.

During a combative time, Kanaan showed up to Indianapolis and became the Speedway's favorite son, even if the on-track results didn't comply. In the 21st century no active driver has been as loved and showed as much love in return at Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Tony Kanaan.

Most surprising statistic?
This might not qualify as a surprise, but it is an overlooked fact: Kanaan had three top five finishes in three Indianapolis 500 starts with KV Racing. His results with the team were fourth, third and first. That is a pretty good considering Kanaan made 12 of 18 starts with either Andretti Autosport or Chip Ganassi Racing.

17. Emerson Fittipaldi
2011 Position: 11th
Starts: 11
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 5
Races Led: 7
Laps Led: 505
Laps Completed: 1,785
Average Finish: 11.545
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Fittipaldi debuted at Indianapolis at 37 years old, but he made the most of the 11 years he spent at the Speedway.

He didn't complete 100 miles in his rookie year and his first top ten finish was a seventh-place finish in year three and he was runner-up in 1988. The 1989 race was the first of three times Fittpaldi led over 300 miles in an Indianapolis 500 and he defeated Al Unser, Jr. in a memorable battle. While he led 128 laps from pole position the following year, Fittipaldi would end up third. His 1993 victory came with a slick move late on Nigel Mansell after spending majority of the race in the top five.

The 1994 race might have been Fittipaldi's most dominant performance. In the Penske PC-23 Mercedes-Benz 500I, the Brazilian took the lead on lap 24 and would only relinquish through pit cycles. With 50 miles to go, he had lapped the field and just needing one more splash of fuel late. In prime position to win his third Indianapolis 500, it went wrong on lap 185 when he clipped the rumble strips inside of turn four, sending him into the turn four wall. His race was over after leading 145 of the first 185 laps. It would be the last time he raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For the heights Fittipaldi reached, his results are streaky. For his victories and top five finishes, Fittipaldi has an accident or mechanical failure to cancel it out.

Most surprising statistic?
With 505 laps led, Fittipaldi is one of six drivers to reach the 500-laps led milestone.

16. Ralph DePalma
2011 Position: 24th
Starts: 10
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 6
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 612
Laps Completed: 1,594
Average Finish: 9
Pole Positions: 2

Why the change?
DePalma was underrated the first time around in 2011.

He was ahead of his time for heartbreaking defeats. The first came in year two of the race. He led from lap four to lap 198 when his car broken down and led to DePalma and riding mechanic Rupert Jenkins to push the car down the front straightaway. He held over a five-lap lead to Joe Dawson in second at the time, but Dawson continued to circle and eventually take the victory. With DePalma unable to restart the car and re-join the race, he ended up 11th.

Three years later, DePalma made up for the devastating 1912 race with a victory from second on the grid with 132 laps led.

In his next three Indianapolis 500 starts, DePalma would lead 280 laps and start on pole position twice only for a combination of tire issues, stalling with fuel issues while holding a two-lap led with 13 laps to go and having a rod break with a two-lap lead after only 112 laps cost him additional trips to victory lane.

DePalma completed 79.7% of the possible laps in his ten starts. He led 38.39% of the laps he completed. He is second all-time in laps led and last led a lap in 1921. He has an average finish of ninth.

Most surprising statistic?
DePalma became the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 laps led on lap 87 of the 1912 Indianapolis 500 when he led his 89th lap in the history of the event. He remained the all-time lap leader in Indianapolis 500 history until Al Unser led the 200th lap of the 1987 race. DePalma was the all-time leader in laps led for 27,387 days or 74 years, 11 months and 24 days.

Row 5:
15. Juan Pablo Montoya
2011 Position: 31st
Starts: 5
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 4
Races Led: 4
Laps Led: 193
Laps Completed: 863
Average Finish: 9.2
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
If Montoya had never comeback to Indianapolis after his 2000 victory, he was going to be the exception to the rule and be included in The Greatest 33 with one start to his name.

Montoya is in a class of his own when it comes to learning Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His first laps around the place were on museum's tour bus and the rest is history. As a rookie, he led 167 laps on his way to a historically dominating victory. He barely broke a sweat and we thought we would never see him again in the Indianapolis 500.

Off to Formula One and the luxurious grand prix scene, Montoya was bound to make his name known to the world and he did that. It did not last nearly as long as expected, and after a tumultuous end to his time at McLaren, Montoya returned to the comforting embrace of Chip Ganassi in his NASCAR program, where he could rake in millions of dollars. In stock car racing, Montoya experienced moderate success. It appeared his career would end before the age of 40 with accomplishments across a diverse set of series.

Then came the twist, a return to IndyCar with an expanding Team Penske operation. After 14 years away, Montoya returned to where it all began and it was as if he never left. A master of the superspeedway, Montoya slid back into the 500-mile race disciple and picked up where he left off in CART.

His first trip back to Indianapolis was a fifth-place finish. In 2015, after suffering early damage from contact with Simona de Silvestro, Montoya rallied to the front and was in striking distance late. With the miles slipping away, each pass came at the right time and he took the lead from teammate Will Power with ten miles remaining. Power attempted a few counters, but Montoya had him by a tenth of a second at the completion of the 200th lap.

Montoya experienced his first retirement the following year after a spin exiting turn two. He rebounded with a sixth-place finish in what is his final "500" start to date. There is plenty of time for another comeback and with his talent there is plenty left to accomplish.

Most surprising statistic?
The 15 years between Montoya's two victories is the most years between Indianapolis 500 victories.

14. Jim Clark
2011 Position: 18th
Starts: 5
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 3
Races Led: 4
Laps Led: 298
Laps Completed: 682
Average Finish: 12
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Clark is remembered for being the face of the rear-engine revolution of the 1960s. He wasn't the first to drive it, but he was the first to challenge for Indianapolis glory with it and boy did he put up a fight.

Similar to Montoya, Clark rolled into Indianapolis and took no time getting up to speed. On debut, he gave Parnelli Jones a run for his money and nearly won the whole bloody thing. In year two, he started on pole position, only for a suspension failure on lap 48 while leading.

The third year was just right, he started second and led from the drop of the green flag. For 190 laps, Clark paced the field, only sacrificing the top spot to A.J. Foyt during pit stops. No one touched Clark that day and it was his grand masterpiece in a dazzling 1965 season.

Clark returned to Indianapolis for the following two years. He nearly won back-to-back races, settling for second behind Graham Hill with 66 laps led. His one down year was 1967. After starting no worse than fifth in his first four years, he rolled off from 16th and a piston failure ended his race after 35 laps.

Most surprising statistic?
In terms of percentage of laps led, Clark is still fifth all-time at 43.69%.

13. Parnelli Jones
2011 Position: 14th
Starts: 7
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 4
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 492
Laps Completed: 1,130
Average Finish: 9.285
Pole Positions: 2

Why the change?
I see Parnelli Jones and Jim Clark as almost equals. Though Jones showed up a few years before Clark and Lotus sailed across the Atlantic, the two careers overlap. Clark was Jones' biggest rival and Jones was Clark.

The two battled throughout the 1963 race and when Clark dropped out in 1964, Jones took the lead before his pit fire ended his race within eight laps of Clark's retirement. While Clark ran away with the 1965 race, Jones was second, ready to swoop in should Clark slip up.

Jones didn't need Clark to raise his game. He rolled into the Speedway with a pace many veterans could not match. He qualified fifth on debut and spent much of the 1961 race at the front before a rock hit his face and slowed his pace, dropping him to 12th place finish. He took pole position the following year, becoming the first driver to break the 150 MPH barrier. In the race, he led 120 laps, but fading brakes took him out of contention in the final 200 miles and he still finished seventh.

The battle with Clark started with Jones on pole position for another year and Jones again controlled the race until another mechanical issue appeared to take down his hopes of victory. An oil leak threatened to force Jones to serve a penalty after pre-race warnings from Harlan Fengler that anyone leaking oil would be black flagged. While Colin Chapman and J.C. Agajanian pleaded each side, the oil dipped below the crack and the officials decided not to penalize Jones. In the clear from race control, Jones took the victory with 167 laps led.

The most memorable drive of Jones' career was the 1967 race in the STP-Paxton Turbocar, the turbine. Andy Granatelli's secret weapon caught everyone's attention from the start, though it was not blowing the doors off everyone from day one. After sandbagging the entire month, the true potential of the car was not unleashed until race day. Jones started sixth but took the lead immediately on lap one. Outside of pit stops, Jones went unchallenged and was headed for certain victory until a $6 bearing failed with four laps to go. Jones had led 171 laps up to that point and the failure dropped him to a sixth-place finish while A.J. Foyt took his third Indianapolis 500 victory. It was Jones' final Indianapolis 500 start at 33 years old.

In seven years, Jones started fifth, first, first, fourth, fifth, fourth and sixth. His qualifying speed was never slower than seventh best. He led 492 laps in seven races and is still ranked seventh all-time in that department. While Clark led 43.69% of the laps he completed, Jones is right behind him at 43.54%.

It is definitely a career that should have had at least one more Indianapolis 500 victory, if not two. He had two slip from him due to mechanical issue and another taken on sheer error. Life isn't fair but Jones did more in seven years than many do 12 or 13 years at Indianapolis.

Most surprising statistic?
I think it is Jones' final Indianapolis 500 start was at 33 years old. He could have continued into the late 1970s, perhaps even gone into the 1980s if he wanted to. He could have taken another two or three Indianapolis 500 victories for himself and completely re-shaped the history book. Would Mario Andretti have ever won the Indianapolis 500? Would Al Unser have won back-to-back years? Does Foyt have four? Does either Bobby Unser or Johnny Rutherford have three? We will never know but everything would look different.

Row 4:
12. Mauri Rose
2011 Position: 13th
Starts: 15
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 7
Races Led: 7
Laps Led: 256
Laps Completed: 2,198
Average Finish: 11.5625
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Rose won three of four Indianapolis 500s, but you do not win without a little bit of a guiding hand.

His 1941 victory came after Lou Moore pulled Floyd Davis from the #16 Wetteroth-Offenhauser on lap 73 of the race. Rose had started on pole position and led six laps but retired due to a spark plug failure. Wilbur Shaw had this race in hand before a tire failure after leading 107 of 151 laps ended his race while leading. Cliff Bergere led for ten laps, but Rose went on to lead the final 38 and took the victory, over a minute and a half over Rex Mays.

Rose seized on Bill Holland's brain fade in the 1947 race, handing Rose his second victory but Rose had to charge down Holland in that race. The following year, Rose led 81 laps in a race where Ted Horn was his biggest challenger, but Rose came out on top and again had teammate Holland finishing second.

With a chance for three straight victories and to become the first four-time winner, Rose disobeyed team orders in 1949 but unlike two years prior it backfired, the car broke with eight laps to go and fired on the spot.

Outside of a marvelous career with Lou Moore, Rose nearly won in his sophomore year, leading 68 laps only to fall just over 27 seconds shy of victory behind Bill Cummings. He had top five finishes in 1936, 1940 and 1950. He remains 24th in lap led. When he won the 1948 race, he was the oldest winner at 42 years and five days old. He remains the tenth oldest winner in Indianapolis 500 history.

Most surprising statistic?
It is not a statistic, but the fact Rose was fired for disobeying team orders and over 70 years later people still cannot wrap their heads around that motorsports is a team sport and sometimes that means taking second whether a driver likes it or not. This wasn't some young but unaccomplished driver ignoring orders. This was a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and the reigning winner at that. No one is bigger than the team.

11. Louis Meyer
2011 Position: 12th
Starts: 12
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 6
Races Led: 6
Laps Led: 332
Laps Completed: 1,916
Average Finish: 11.5
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Meyer wasted no time getting busy at Indianapolis. He won in his first start, the 1928 race, where about five guys could have won it but attrition led to Meyer coming out on top. He ended up second to Ray Keech the following year and was fourth in year three.

After finishes of 34th and 33rd the next two years, Meyer won the 1933 in comfortable fashion, with 71 laps led and a margin of victory of over six-and-a-half minutes. Three years later, Meyer became the first three-time winner, leading 96 of 200 laps, from 28th on the grid, matching Ray Harroun's record for furthest starting position of an Indianapolis 500 winner.

Meyer came close to a fourth victory, battling with Wilbur Shaw in the closing laps of the 1939, only to have an accident on the backstretch with three laps to go. He had led 79 laps up to that point, the most in the race. It was Meyer's final start.

At the time, Meyer had led 332 laps in his career, third most in Indianapolis 500 history behind Ralph DePalma and Billy Arnold. He was the only three-time winner up to that point.

Most surprising statistic?
Meyer made 12 starts but raced in 13 Indianapolis 500s. In 1927, he ran in relief for rookie Wilbur Shaw from lap 77-129. Shaw would end up finishing fourth.

10. Johnny Rutherford
2011 Position: 6th
Starts: 24
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 8
Races Led: 5
Laps Led: 296
Laps Completed: 2,792
Average Finish: 17.0416
Pole Positions: 3

Why the change?
It took Rutherford nearly a decade to get his bearings at Indianapolis. He started outside the top ten in seven of his first nine starts. His best result was 18th on three occasions.

Once in the McLaren camp, Rutherford shot through the roof, winning pole position and finishing ninth in 1973. If it wasn't for an engine failure on pole day, he wouldn't have had to start 25th for the 1974 race. He posted the second-best qualifying time of the month and ended up leading 122 laps, first taking the lead on lap 65 and lapping all but Bobby Unser.

After flipping finishing positions with Unser in a rain-shortened 1975 race, Rutherford was Mother Nature's favorite in 1976, the shortest Indianapolis 500 on record with only 255 miles completed, 102 of 200 laps. He had led 48 laps up to that point but there was plenty of race to go and A.J. Foyt was second if the weather had decided to cooperate.

Rutherford's most complete month of May was 1980, in the Chaparral 2K. It started with pole position, over a mile per hour faster than the next best car. He led 118 laps and won by nearly half a minute over Tom Sneva. He would go on to pick up two more top ten finishes in his final seven starts but never went a full 500 miles again after his 1980 victory.

Most surprising statistic?
Rutherford's three pole positions are his only three times starting on the front row. He only started in the top nine on six other occasions.

Row 3:
9. Mario Andretti
2011 Position: 7th
Starts: 29
Wins: 1
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 11
Races Led: 11
Laps Led: 556
Laps Completed: 3,040
Average Finish: 18.25
Pole Positions: 3

Why the change?
Many have suffered crushing defeats in the Indianapolis 500. Andretti set the bar for crushing defeats.

Andretti rolled into Indianapolis, started fourth and finished third as a rookie. He started on pole position the next two years only for mechanical issues to end both races before he could even complete 150 miles. He started fourth and made it two laps before a piston issue ended his 1968 race.

Lloyd Ruby may have been able to give Andretti a run in the 1969 race before his pit error ended his race at halfway distance. Andretti dominated the second half of that race, virtually untouched for the final 238.5 miles. The speed had always been there, he already had two national championships in the bag and had been vice-champion the previous two years. Indianapolis glory came after a trying month that saw Andretti suffer burns from a practice accident and forced him to use the Brawner Hawk chassis instead of the Lotus 64.

The man made 29 starts, I am not going to go through each year, but I am going to try and summarize this legendary career in snippets.

What do 1975, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1983 and 1986 have in common? Those are the only years Andretti didn't start in one of the first three rows. Four of those years were because of Formula One duties. The 1975 Monaco Grand Prix clashed with the first qualifying weekend and on the third day of qualifying, Andretti put down the eighth best time but started 27th. Andretti was the fastest qualifier in 1976, qualifying on the second weekend because he ran the Belgian Grand Prix, and started 19th. He started on the final row in 1978 and 1981 because Mike Hiss and Wally Dallenbach respectively qualified the car when Andretti had Formula One races.

Andretti had qualified fifth in 1986 but a practice accident forced him to a back-up car and sent him to the rear of the grid. On pure speed, the only time Andretti qualified outside the top nine was 1983 when he started 11th.

There are four years that standout as missed opportunities for Andretti, 1981, 1985, 1987 and 1993.

Bobby Unser dominated the 1981 race and if the one-lap penalty had stood for passing cars under caution, I think it sours Andretti's career a little bit. Andretti would be a two-time winner, but everyone would be saying the second came on a technicality. It would not be a massive blemish, but it would be a sticking point.

The 1985 is the race where Andretti did nothing wrong and still didn't win. Danny Sullivan spins, keeps it out of the wall and the rest is history. If Sullivan grazes the wall enough to damage the car and force extra time for repairs, it leaves Andretti leading with only Emerson Fittipaldi and Tom Sneva on the lead lap. Sneva gets caught in an accident on the immediate restart and Fittipaldi drops out with a fuel line issue. This race was tailor-made for Andretti. He led 107 laps and every other challenger had an issue. The one problem is Sullivan kept it out of the wall when 99 times out of 100 his race is over then and there. If Sullivan gets in the wall, he is Kevin Cogan, Andretti has two victories and it makes up for being hard done four years earlier.

Andretti thrashed the field in 1987. He led 170 of 177 laps form pole position. The only other drivers to lead up to that point were Danny Sullivan for four laps during a pit cycle and Roberto Guerrero leading one lap on three separate occasions during pit cycles. Andretti was a lap up on Guerrero and two laps up on Al Unser in third. Of all things to derail his day, a broken value spring because of a harmonic imbalance in the engine while saving fuel. What the fuck? Who has that end their race after leading 425 miles? If everything goes as planned, he leads at 190 laps and takes one of the most dominating victories in Indianapolis 500 victory.

Six years after his harmonic imbalance, Andretti led the most laps, 72, in a field that featured reigning World Drivers' champion Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Al Unser and Arie Luyendyk. It was one of the closest races for the era. Ten guys completed all 500 miles and the most to go the distance in the prior 15 years was four. The way pit stops and cautions fell dropped Andretti to fifth.

It is a career with two or three races meeting a winner's standard and Andretti only came away with one.

Most surprising statistic?
Andretti has the second worst average finish among Indianapolis 500 winners at 18.25. The only winner with a worse average finish is Joe Boyer at 19.2.

Fourteen times Andretti failed to complete 200 miles.

8. Hélio Castroneves
2011 Position: 5th
Starts: 19
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 14
Races Led: 12
Laps Led: 305
Laps Completed: 3,598
Average Finish: 8.63
Pole Positions: 4

Why the change?
Castroneves' career is an optical illusion.

Castroneves is a remarkable talent, burgeoning at the birth of the 21st century but all his successes and all his shortcoming come with a hairline margin of error.

No one came into Indianapolis and accomplished what Castroneves did, winning two off the crack of the bat and finishing second in year three. He had the best car in 2001 and benefitted from circumstances in 2002. Was he fortunate the caution had not come out five seconds later? Yes, but plenty of other events starting with Tony Kanaan spinning in oil, Tomas Scheckter throwing the race away, Castroneves winning the race off the pit lane over Felipe Giaffone, the ensuing 18 laps and jockeying between Castroneves and Giaffone that allowed Paul Tracy into the battle and set up Castroneves and Tracy to be side-by-side in turn three while Laurent Rédon and Buddy Lazier wrecked in turn two.

Nothing that happened after that moment left anyone with a satisfying feeling, from the officials' explanation and protest process, and a cloud hangs over Castroneves' second Indianapolis 500 victory.

At times, 2002 seems to cast too large of a shadow on Castroneves' career, one that consists of three Indianapolis 500 victories and three runner-up finishes. In each runner-up finish, he had a shout at victory. Arguably, he was the best car in 2003 when Gil de Ferran bested his teammate. He traded the lead on numerous occasions in the final laps of the 2014 race with Ryan Hunter-Reay and only fell 0.0600 seconds shy of his fourth victory, the second-closest finish in event history. Three years later, he had another battle to the wire, but Takuma Sato held him off.

Between all those runner-up finishes, Castroneves won his third Indianapolis 500 only months after it appeared his career would end prematurely due to tax evasion charges. Acquitted, only on April 10, Castroneves took pole position and battle with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti throughout the 2009 race with Castroneves winning the tussle.

The fourth victory escaped Castroneves for over a decade and he might get one more shot in 2020 in what would be his 20th Indianapolis 500 start. He has gone the distance 13 times, an event record. He has four pole positions, tied for second most, and he has started in the top nine 14 times. His 14 top ten finishes are third most. He is one of 18 drivers to lead at least 300 laps.

Most surprising statistic?
The only time Castroneves led the most laps in the Indianapolis 500 was his debut in 2001.

7. Dario Franchitti
2011 Position: 19th
Starts: 10
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 6
Races Led: 7
Laps Led: 329
Laps Completed: 1,940
Average Finish: 9.1
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
After watching them compete head-to-head, I give Franchitti the edge over Castroneves.

They both have three victories, Castroneves has more in top five finishes and top ten finishes but Franchitti led more laps than Castroneves and he hasn't run since 2013. Franchitti led 16.96% of the laps he completed to Castroneves' 8.47%. Franchitti completed 1,940 of a possible 1,946 in his ten starts, 99.69%. In the ten races both competed in, Franchitti finished the better of the two in six of them though Castroneves holds an average finish of ninth in those races compared to Franchitti's 9.1.

Franchitti was a throwback driver in the modern time and it led to three Indianapolis 500 victories. One was in a rain-shortened race, but he bossed the field in 2010 and he overcame a spin in the pit lane to win in 2012. If it wasn't for that hiccup, he would have been at the front when teammate Scott Dixon got there in the earlier in the race. He still led 23 laps, all coming in the final 47 laps of the race.

There is a consistency and comfort in Franchitti. You never went out there worrying he was going to overstep the line. Everything he did was in ten years. He won 30% of his starts. He only retired once, his final start. When you look at his contemporaries, many have surpassed 15 starts. Of the 33 drivers on this list, the average number of starts is 14.333, so Franchitti is four starts below the average in this set. Four more starts would only make him look better.

Most surprising statistic?
Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500 three times and three times he took the checkered flag with the yellow flag.

Row 2:
6. Wilbur Shaw
2011 Position: 8th
Starts: 13
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 8
Races Led: 7
Laps Led: 508
Laps Completed: 2,019
Average Finish: 9.5
Pole Positions: 0

Why the change?
Shaw had a stellar career from the first time he rolled into Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He finished fourth as a rookie. In the 1932 race, Shaw was in contention before a broken axle ended his race with just over a hundred miles to go. In his final nine starts, Shaw had six top five finishes. After a pair of runner-up finishes, both to Louis Meyer, who he shared a car with in 1927, Shaw won three of four with a second in-between from 1937 to 1940.

The first victory nearly wasn't meant to be. Having already led over 100 laps, Shaw experienced an oil leak with less than 20 laps to go in 1937. He had a lap on Ralph Hepburn, but Hepburn went on the chase, uncapped himself and began running down Shaw while he nursed the car around. Despite a history of late mechanical failures derailing certain victories, Shaw managed the car to get the car to an end. Hepburn closed within seconds of Shaw on the final lap but coming down the homestretch, Shaw gunned it, winning by 2.16 seconds over Hepburn, taking 25 seconds off the previous record for closest finish and the record stood until 1982.

Shaw won the final two races in the same Maserati 8CTF. His second victory was after leading 51 laps and a tough battle with Meyer, the rival that loomed over his career, until Meyer's accident on the backstretch. The 1940 victory came with much more comfort, no oil leaks, no daunting challengers, a complete victory, with 136 laps led from second on the grid and Shaw became the first driver to win consecutive Indianapolis 500s.

It could have been three consecutive and four in five years. In his final Indianapolis 500, he led 107 of 151 laps before an accident in turn one after a faulty wheel was put on the car on the preceding pit stop.

Shaw retired with the second most laps led, the second to reach 500 laps led, and he is still fifth all-time in that category. He was the first driver to complete all 500 miles in six consecutive races. He went the distance eight times, something only four drivers have exceeded.

Most surprising statistic?
Despite five times starting on the front row, Shaw never won pole position.

5. Bobby Unser
2011 Position: 4th
Starts: 19
Wins: 3
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 10
Races Led: 10
Laps Led: 440
Laps Completed: 2,611
Average Finish: 12.263
Pole Positions: 2

Why the change?
Mmm...mmm...mmm... how great was Uncle Bobby?

A three-time winner notably succeeded with Dan Gurney and the Eagle program. His first victory came in 1968, leading 127 of 200 laps and benefiting when main challengers of Lloyd Ruby and Joe Leonard dropped back due to mechanical issues. Unser was in the right place at the right time when the rain fell in 1975, giving him his second victory having led only 11 laps but spent much in the top five.

The final victory is the most famous, winning from pole position in 1981, having led 89 laps but overshadowed with the pit exit controversy that led to him being handed a one-lap penalty, dropping him to second. A little over four months later, USAC rescinded the penalty and reinstated the victory to Unser. It would be Unser's final start at Indianapolis.

Victories aside, Unser had nine front row starts! He started in the top nine on 14 occasions. He is one of seven drivers to lead in at least ten Indianapolis 500s. He ranks tenth all-time in laps led. He led 16.85% of laps completed.

Most surprising statistic?
Unser started his career with a 33rd place finish and ended with a first-place finish.

4. Bill Vukovich
2011 Position: 9th
Starts: 5
Wins: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 2
Races Led: 4
Laps Led: 485
Laps Completed: 676
Average Finish: 14.6
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Not many men could have had three consecutive victories in two different situations but Vukovich fits that criteria and, in another universe, he could have won four consecutive Indianapolis 500s.

Vukovich had the 1952 race won, leading 150 of 191 laps when his steering broke with nine laps to go. He qualified on pole position for the 1953 race, one of the hottest on record, and he led 195 of 200 laps on his way to victory. Vukovich didn't use a relief driver and also picked up fastest lap. The next year, he won from 19th on the grid, leading 90 laps, including the last 51 laps.

He started fifth in the 1955 race and took the lead on lap four and would lead 50 of the first 56 laps. On lap 57, Rodger Ward had suffered an accident and his car was parked in the middle of the racetrack. Al Keller made contact with Johnny Boyd attempting to miss the Ward's stationary vehicle. Vukovich avoided Ward's car but was caught in the path of Boyd's vehicle. The contact sent Vukovich flipping over the backstretch barrier, being fatally injured the in process.

In five Indianapolis 500s, Vukovich ended up third all-time in laps led and he led 71.75% of the laps he completed. He is still ranked eighth all-time in laps led. He is the only driver to lead the most laps in three consecutive years.

Though the final results don't show it, the most dominant stranglehold on the Indianapolis 500 might be Vukovich from 1952 through 1956. He crushed the field, only for an untimely mechanical failure and tragically positioned accident to keep him from three consecutive victories and possibly four.

Most surprising statistic?
All of it. These are numbers we are never going to see again. It never receives the deserved attention.

Row 1:
3. A.J. Foyt
2011 Position: 1st
Starts: 35
Wins: 4
Top Fives: 10
Top Tens: 17
Races Led: 13
Laps Led: 555
Laps Completed: 4,845
Average Finish: 13.428
Pole Positions: 4

Why the change?
When it comes to the four-time winners, it is really splitting hairs. A fingernail covers the three in the history book. It is so damn close you cannot tell them apart.

A.J. Foyt was the Baby Boomer's idol. He won the 50th anniversary race held in 1961 after a spirited battle with Eddie Sachs that ended when Sachs made a stop with three laps to go due to worn tires. Foyt continued as a regular front runner and after Jim Clark and Parnelli Jones both retired from the 1964 race, Foyt led the final 146 laps on his way to his second victory.

Foyt's third victory is his most fortunate of all. Though he had led through pit cycles, Foyt was a full lap behind Jones when the turbine suffered its bearing failure. Foyt was two laps clear of Al Unser in third and in his tenth start took a comfortable victory, tying him with Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw and Mauri Rose for most victories all-time.

Over the next decade, Foyt continued to be a force at Indianapolis, regularly showing he would be a threat but like his contemporaries he would have his off years. He started on pole position in 1974 and led 70 laps before an oil leak ended this race about 60 laps from the finish. He took another pole position in 1975 but was third when the rain halted the race. He was second the following year when the race ended after 102 laps.

An ailing Gordon Johncock controlled the 1977 race but Foyt pressured the Patrick Racing driver and turned up his turbo boost, risking his own engine in hopes of winning that race. Foyt gained second after second in the closing stages before Johncock's engine expired with 15 laps to go. From there, Foyt set sail into the history books, becoming the first four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

Foyt's closest chance at a fifth victory was in 1979, when he was second to Rick Mears. He led 32 laps in the 1982 race after the infamous start where contact with Kevin Cogan damaged his suspension. A transmission issue ended that race after 95 laps. His final top five finish would come in 1989, seven laps down in fifth.

He continued until 1992 when he finished five laps down in ninth. Almost 30 years after he saw his final checkered flag, Foyt remains tied in victories, fourth in laps led, second in top five finishes, first in top ten finishes, tied for second in pole positions and first in miles completed.

Most surprising statistic?
Foyt holds the records for most Indianapolis 500 starts at 35 and those were 35 consecutive starts. Despite all the accidents and injuries, from burned hands to broken legs, Foyt never missed a year at the Speedway from 1958 to 1992. He never had to sweat out a bump day. He never failed to secure the funding. He never stepped away and then ended up sitting around the garage hoping for a ride to materialize. Children grew up, graduated high school and college, married and had children of their own in the time between Indianapolis 500s without A.J. Foyt.

2. Al Unser
2011 Position: 3rd
Starts: 27
Wins: 4
Top Fives: 13
Top Tens: 15
Races Led: 11
Laps Led: 644
Laps Completed: 4,356
Average Finish: 10.222
Pole Positions: 1

Why the change?
Over 25 years since Al Unser's final Indianapolis 500 start he is still ranked tied for most victories, first in top five finishes, second in top ten finishes, first in laps led and second in miles completed.

It started with a ninth-place finish from 32nd on the grid on debut in 1965. He was runner-up to Foyt in 1967. Three years later, Unser started on pole position and led 190 laps on his way to his first victory. He led 103 laps the following year and became the fourth driver to win in consecutive years. He fell a position short of the three-peat, completing 500 miles over three minutes after Mark Donohue.

A few down years followed but after a third in 1977, Unser led 121 laps in 1978, defeating Tom Sneva, giving him his third victory. Unser lost out to Sneva five years later, though he led 61 laps on his way to a runner-up finish. Combined with a fifth in 1982, a third in 1984 and a fourth in 1985, Unser had four consecutive top five finishes.

After a retirement in 1986, Unser was not going to be at the 1987 but after Danny Ongais' practice accident, Team Penske pulled a year-old car from a Reading, Pennsylvania Sheraton Hotel and put Unser 20th on the grid. He worked his way to fourth by lap 90 but spent much of the race two laps behind Mario Andretti. When Andretti broke while leading, Roberto Guerrero inherited the lead with almost a lap over Unser but with one more pit stop to come and with a missing third gear. Guerrero made his final stop with 18 laps to go but stalled twice, not only handing the lead to Unser but falling a lap behind him as well.

Unser ran conservatively while Guerrero got back on the lead lap. Andretti tried to nurse his car home, but he brought out the final caution with eight laps to go and allowed Guerrero to close up to Unser for the final restart. While the gap was erased, Unser had no trouble over the final four laps, taking his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory over four seconds clear of Guerrero.

Unser made five more starts with third place finishes in 1988 and 1992, the latter making him the only driver with top five finishes in the Indianapolis 500 in four different decades.

Most surprising statistic?
I think it is Unser only had one pole position, though he made the most of it.

1. Rick Mears
2011 Position: 2nd
Starts: 15
Wins: 4
Top Fives: 9
Top Tens: 9
Races Led: 9
Laps Led: 429
Laps Completed: 2,342
Average Finish: 10.357
Pole Positions: 6

Why the change?
Rick Mears' career is clinically precision at its finest.

He won in his sophomore year from pole position, though his teammate Bobby Unser commanded the race until a gearbox issue in the final 20 laps. Mears lost then the closest "500" to Johncock but fought lap after lap to close in on the Patrick Racing Wildcat to have a shot at it coming to the line. He followed up the second with a third in 1983 and a thrashing in 1984, dominating from third on the grid and winning by over two laps.

The third victory came in 1988, another one from pole position, but like 1979, perhaps it should not have been his day. Danny Sullivan led 92 of 101 laps before a front wing issue caused an accident in turn one. After sharing the lead with Jim Crawford and Al Unser for a handful of laps, Mears took the top spot on lap 123 and kept it to the finish with Emerson Fittipaldi being the only other driver to complete all 500 miles.

Mears won three races from pole position but none of them were easy days and the 1991 race matches what happened in 1979 and 1988. Michael Andretti had the best car in 1991 and led nearly half the race but the caution for Sullivan's turbo failure set up a head-to-head battle in the final 15 laps. Andretti made his famous pass on the outside of turn one only for Mears to counter with the same move on the next lap. Through Andretti had one more chance with a late restart, Mears prevailed, becoming the third four-time winner.

In 15 starts, he had four victories, tied for the most all-time; six pole positions, the all-time record; nine top five finishes, tied for third; he is 12th in laps led and he started on the front row 11 times and in the first three rows 13 times.

I put Mears number one because of how much he accomplished in fewer starts than Unser and Foyt. He made eight fewer starts and 20 fewer starts than those two respectively. Even if he had only made five more starts, based on his track record, he would have exceeded those two in multiple categories.

Most surprising statistic?
It is 15 starts. That is still a lengthy Indianapolis 500 career but when you consider he won nearly a third of them and was in the top five for 60% of them and then see Foyt, Unser, Mario Andretti and Gordon Johncock all exceeded 20 starts, it just makes Mears look better.

View From the Starter's Stand
You could put the top four in any order and I would not complain.

Initially, I had four to one as Unser, Vukovich, Mears and Foyt. Vukovich is something we have not seen since. Vukovich could be the greatest in Indianapolis 500 history. There is no driver comparable to him in the history of the event.

Foyt and Unser not only put up similar numbers but ran in the same era. They are very comparable. Mario Andretti went as long as they did and, outside of victories, was on point in every other category. Mears joined in the middle of those three careers, faced the same competition and was level to them. Shaw, Meyer, Rose and Horn were all contemporaries. The first three all won three times, all had dominant days and stinkers. Horn was pinpoint consistent for longer than anyone else but outside of one race never flexed his muscle over the rest of the field. Castroneves, Franchitti, Kanaan, Wheldon and Dixon are all faces of the 21st century contingent.

Vukovich doesn't have a foil. He is the only driver in the 1950s to win multiple years. Rose won twice after the war, but his final year was Vukovich's first and it only lasted 29 laps before an oil leak ended his debut. Ward debuted the same year as Vukovich but Ward didn't hold a candle in the five years they shared the track with Ward's best finish being 16th. All of Ward's success comes after years of lackluster results at the start of his career.

Vukovich led 485 laps in four years. The next most laps led in that four-year period was Bob Sweikert's 86 laps led and all those came after Vukovich's accident in the 1955 race. If you include Vukovich's rookie year of 1951, Vukovich still has the most laps led by 326 laps over Lee Wallard.

It is difficult to split the four-time winners, mostly because they are equal almost across the board in the major statistical categories.

I had Unser fourth, but he is tied for first in victories, is first in top five finishes, second in top ten finishes, first in laps led, tied for fifth in races led and second in miles completed. Unser is worse than fourth in only one of those categories and I had him as the fourth greatest. That doesn't make any sense. There is nuance when looking over drivers, hence why Vukovich is in the top four and Andretti with one victory is ahead of three three-time winners but when someone has the length of career Unser has these numbers are not a fluke.

With the four-time winners and Vukovich, I found I could not put Vukovich ahead of only one of them. It shows a greater gap between the three than there actually is. Vukovich had to either be behind all of them, ahead of two of them or ahead of all of them and be the greatest of all-time. If Vukovich is ahead of two of them, it shows less separation and Vukovich is squeezed into the group instead of one four-time winner significantly off the other two. If Vukovich is number one, the trio remains together but then 99.999% of people are angry a driver with two victories is ahead of all three four-time winners and I didn't want to deal with that. I had consternation over who I dropped and added already. I wasn't going to add any more.

How does Foyt go from first to third? One, where Unser ranks in all these categories and the fact Unser and Foyt are competitors for almost the entirety of their careers. Foyt had seven starts and two victories under his belt before Unser's debut but they are pretty much on the grid together every year from 1965 until 1992, minus a few years. The deciding factor in this case is Foyt has a larger drop-off in results at the end of his career than Unser. The most starts between top five finishes for Unser is four. He was in the top five for almost half his starts. The final 12 years of Foyt's career are rough in comparison to the rest of his career. He has a few flashes in the pan but after 1982 he really isn't a perennial contender.

When looking at Foyt's numbers and looking at Mears' numbers, Mears is within touching distance in everything and did it with 20 fewer starts. Mears made his final Indianapolis 500 start at 40 years old. If he had gone another 20 years, he would have raced until 2012. That would not have happened. The split happens in 1996, Penske stays in CART and doesn't return to the Speedway until 2001 so that complicates any alternate reality where Mears doesn't retire after 1992. Even if Mears doesn't retire and split still happens, he likely gets only three more shots at it and then runs another year or two in CART without trips to Indianapolis. I don't think he would have broken with Penske to get his fifth Indianapolis victory in IRL machinery.

Would Mears have needed more than three chances to get a fifth victory? Penske wins in 1993 and 1994. It is not crazy to think one of those could have been Mears.

Other Admissions:
I nearly had Mario Andretti at ten behind Rutherford but after looking at Andretti's starting record and then considering all the races he lost, the fact he has two more top five finishes, three more top ten finishes and he is third all-time in laps led, I had to put him ninth.

I was also wondering if Mario Andretti is a tad overrated because he made 29 starts and finished in the top ten only 11 times. There are a lot of heartbreaking days and plenty of finishes that do not do justice for how Andretti ran but there are 15 races where he doesn't complete 200 miles, eight of those he doesn't complete 100 miles. We can't forget those.

I gradually knocked Al Unser, Jr. down the order. At first, he at 22nd ahead of Johncock, Ward and Milton but the more I looked at the numbers and circumstances, the more unimpressed I was in comparison with those three. Then, he was 25th, just ahead of Michael Andretti and Andretti led nearly four times the number of laps Unser, Jr. did in three fewer starts.

If you take away 1992 from Unser, Jr. and gave it to Michael Andretti, because it is really Andretti's race, those drivers are leveled on victories, Unser, Jr. has one more top five finish but they are level on top ten finishes and Andretti would have 442 laps led while Unser, Jr. would be on 99 laps led and he is just as fortunate for his second victory as well. If Fittipaldi keeps it out of the wall, Unser, Jr. only has 83 laps led in his Indianapolis 500 career and no victories.

It is insane to think in 2011 Al Unser, Jr. was ranked 11th all-time. He was good and for the first half of his Indianapolis 500 career he was damn strong. Even if Andretti doesn't break down and Fittipaldi doesn't get in the wall, Unser, Jr. would still have finished runner-up and he would be tied for the most runner-up finishes. He would still make the Greatest 33 but just as one of the best drivers never to win the race. If you take the two victories away, Unser, Jr. is probably still 26th all-time, maybe 27th behind Luyendyk. But what were people thinking putting him 11th?

Michael Andretti's career at Indianapolis is a guy who not only was kicked in the groin but then had someone repeatedly stomp his groin into mush. At least it has worked out as a car owner.

I know I mentioned this in the Did Not Qualify rundown yesterday, but it was agonizing making the final decisions. It almost felt like a bump day where you are in the final ten minutes and looking at where everyone positioned and realize a certain driver isn't going to make it. Keep in mind that The Greatest 33 covers the top 4.247% of participating drivers. Even if Bobby Rahal is 34th all-time, he is still in the top 4.375%. The top ten percent covers the top 77 drivers. We are looking at the very tip of the mountain and how little separates everyone.

Every driver included in this Greatest 33 had multiple top five finishes and every driver had at least one victory or one runner-up finish. Thirty-one of 33 drivers led 100 laps or more and they all led in multiple races. Twenty-one of 33 drivers won a pole position and the other 12 drivers all started on the front row at least once.

Looking to the Future:
I am not doing this for another ten years. This isn't a yearly thing to do. We got to give it time. We can't be prone to knee-jerk reactions. We can't be too much of a prisoner to the moment. This is done and we will revisit it in 2030.

In the next decade, we could see some significant changes and some of which you might not be comfortable with.

If Scott Dixon wins one more Indianapolis 500, he is going to be knocking on the door of the top ten. He is within 200 laps of most laps led. Five-hundred laps led is probably going to happen. There is a good chance he could end up ahead of Mario Andretti and there is a good chance Mario Andretti falls out of the top ten.

Time is running out on Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan but a victory for either driver will elevate them.

Alexander Rossi has been close to flawless in four Indianapolis 500 starts. If he keeps up his track record, he is going to be in the top 33. The same can be said for Simon Pagenaud.

Victories carry the most weight and a second victory likely puts Ryan Hunter-Reay in the top 33. It is hard to keep out a two-time winner and the next ten years are a mystery. Franchitti was the only driver to win multiple Indianapolis 500s in the 2010s. We are entering the 2020s with nine different winners over the last nine years. Someone we are not thinking of today could go on a run and win three in four years. That would shakeup the top 33 considerably.

Nine years ago, I would not have pegged Will Power to be in The Greatest 33 and yet I think he is 31st all-time and could definitely climb a few more spots. We don't know what is to come and that is the beauty of it. A driver who isn't on the grid today, might not even be in the Road to Indy system, could be in The Greatest 33 on May 21, 2030.

We cannot predict these things. History does not keep a schedule. It just happens.