One of many giant-killing performances in qualifying for the 2010 Indy 500 came from Ed Carpenter. That isn't to denigrate the skills of himself or his team: they've shone on ovals several times before, most recently at Kentucky last year. But both team and driver had been out of the game since the end of last season. Even given the sharing of technical information and personnel with Panther Racing, sticking the car into the middle of the third row was a startling achievement. Carpenter doesn't tend to make many errors on race days, either, so if the team has blown off the rust in pit stop practice, there's no reason Ed can't at least hold his position to the checker.
NHR has inevitably taken a lot of criticism from Graham Rahal fans for its picking of a pay driver over a young American and there have been times when one wondered what Graham could do with the No. 06. Based on last year, you'd have to say “better than Hideki Mutoh” – but only on road and street courses. On ovals, Mutoh can deliver on race days and he was very unfortunate to be eliminated in Kansas by a wayward backmarker. After some of the heartbreaking near-misses Newman/Haas has endured at the Brickyard with Mario and Michael Andretti and Nigel Mansell, it would be a miracle if the unheralded Mutoh delivered the milk, but a top five is feasible.
DREYER & REINBOLD RACING
What an achievement already: four cars in on Pole Day, including one part-timer (Tomas Scheckter) and one rookie (Ana Beatriz). As for Justin Wilson, he was another star of qualifying, wheeling the No. 22 car around to a time that reflected how different Indianapolis Motor Speedway is from any other oval on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar after a hopeless race in Kansas, his description of Indy's turns as being more like exceptionally fast road course corners helps explain why this ace has been so fast here this month. Full-time teammate Mike Conway is no less committed and, unlike in 2009 when a shunt in practice dented his confidence, he looks strong. Scheckter, too, is an excellent oval racer, while Beatriz is as capable and mature as you'd expect of someone who was strong on any type of course that the Firestone Indy Lights threw at her. A top-15 finish and Rookie of the Year award (she's highest-placed rookie on the grid) should be achievable goals.
DE FERRAN DRAGON RACING
Give Raphael Matos a teammate to share ideas and information, and suddenly this team starts to show its teeth. Flying solo since he graduated from Indy Lights as 2008 champ, Matos shows much talent and dedication but Davey Hamilton's presence in a second car has benefited the team this month. Hamilton's race savvy will be a fine example for Matos to follow on Sunday, although Rafa himself will be desperate to prove himself after last year's clash with Vitor Meira. Top-10 finishes for both would be a satisfying day's work for this team.
Paul Tracy's failure to make the grid was an embarrassment for the team, but after the three full-time drivers crashed their cars to a lesser (Mario Moraes) and greater (Takuma Sato) extent over the course of practice week, team co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser will have been relieved to have at least gotten Moraes and EJ Viso through on Pole Day. In fact, Moraes' crash damage was relatively light and his 13th-place time showed it hadn't affected his bravery, but he needs to remember, even in the heat of battle, his curious rim-riding line around the Brickyard won't be negotiable once the tire marbles have built up.
Viso could be KV's strongest challenger if he keeps his head together. He's a tough competitor when it comes to dicing, which can work for or against. KV cars are strong in race trim if the weather is cool, and Viso also has Bill Pappas as his engineer. Sato, as a rookie, is going to be on a huge voyage of discovery, and if he can survive lap one, in the turbulent air of 30 cars, he should be smart enough to reach the end of the race.
This team has garnered a lot of negative press in the last seven days, with Tony Kanaan throwing his car at the wall twice, and Danica Patrick throwing her team under the bus immediately after getting spooked by her car's handling. Both stories were big news because of who they were and because of their track records at Indy. Come race day, both should shine, though, as could their teammates Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and John Andretti. Marco and Kanaan shone fairly consistently in race trim through practice, and although you'd bet on a Castroneves or a Dixon before a TK or a Marco given their relative performances in practice and qualifying – and histories at Indy! – they should be close enough to pounce on any Penske or Ganassi screw-ups. As for John, he looks sharp enough to gain a top-eight finish. Hunter-Reay, as the man whose ride is only guaranteed up to Texas next weekend, is the one most under pressure, but he's also the man most able to handle that. For that reason alone, there will be many people rooting for RH-R on race day.