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Munoz Is A Serious Contender In May

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Monday’s announcement that Andretti Autosport will enter a sixth car at the 102nd Indianapolis 500 for two-time race runner-up Carlos Munoz is a huge deal.

As opposed to the media hype surrounding who Danica Patrick will drive for in May, is a sign that Michael Andretti is determined to hold serve at one of the few venues where Team Penske is not the current king of the hill. Notably, Andretti has won three of the last five editions of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. 

Although the Captain’s men have the last two Verizon IndyCar Series championships, the lack of pace from the Chevrolet twin-turbo V-6 engine in comparison to rival Honda’s piece has left the perennial pacesetters in some limbo. Remember, it took a herculean effort just to put Helio Castroneves in position for a shot to win his fourth Indy 500 this past May and the reality could play itself out the same way, just not in the mode where Roger Penske’s quartet plays a significant role.

That shifts the concerns back to Andretti, who already have two regular Indy challengers in 2014 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2016 race winner Alexander Rossi. Marco Andretti has also come close to adding his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy as has Munoz, a chance now that seems to point more positively towards the latter option. While neither the third-generation pilot or the speedy Colombian have a lot of race wins in IndyCar action to date, they provide two more solid chances at glory, especially if team newcomers Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson are unable to offer a glimmer pointing to top class returns.

From day one, Carlos Munoz has been a Brickyard hotshot. Despite never having driven an IndyCar before May 2013, the then-rookie pilot quickly was among the fastest drivers in practice and managed to place his Andretti-backed machine on the center of the front row. Following a solid showing in week one, the freshman confirmed his potential even further on race day, despite never having performed in a race of more than 100 miles, nor having made a pit stop in his career.

If not for a caution flag that halted the race two laps before the conclusion, Tony Kanaan may not have earned his long-awaited triumph; Munoz might have taken that spot. The effort put the experts and fans on notice that the Colombian was legit and following a seventh-place result in 2014.

Now move ahead to 2016. In the 100th edition of IndyCar’s biggest show, Munoz was lost in the shuffle behind the other members of the Andretti Autosport squad in the first 300 miles. Then as issues eliminated those colleagues from contention, the Colombian took up the charge and appeared to the man to beat in the final moments. Unfortunately, a factor beyond his control (Alexander Rossi’s successful fuel mileage gamble) relegated the veteran to the bride’s maid role once again.

After suffering through a difficult 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing, an effort where not having a strong car and engine combination proved fatal, this new opportunity has suddenly thrust Munoz back into the victory conversation. While there are other candidates, such as Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and the Penske quartet to consider as roadblocks, the Colombian’s one-off could very well match other successful efforts. He could easily win like the late Dan Wheldon in 2011, and at worst be comparable to the runs shown by Townsend Bell in 2016 and this year by Fernando Alonso. Although neither of those attempts placed among the top finishers, they definitely were within range. Now couple that with a pilot with a proven high-speed oval resume and well the end product could be fun to watch.

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Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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