Indianapolis 500 front row

Chevrolet powered its way to a lockout of the first eight starting spots for Sunday’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

But the manufacturer could have some rival company up front on Race Day through Colton Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian.

Herta starts 13th but doesn’t expect to stay there long. He climbed to second on Monday’s practice speed charts with a top lap of 226.222 mph, splitting the pair of Team Penske drivers up front with defending “500” winner Josef Newgarden (226.238) and Will Power (226.137).

“I felt very confident in the car and what it was able to do, especially with the tailwind where you usually get big understeers,” Herta said following the two-hour NTT INDYCAR SERIES session. “Out of Turn 2 today, the car today just felt solid, was right underneath me. So, I was happy with that.”

With Monday’s ambient temperatures in the mid- to upper-80s being warmer than the Race Day forecast, Herta said speed on a hot, slick 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway track surface bodes well for cooler temperatures.

“If you have a good car in the heat, then it just tends to be easier once it cools down,” he said. “You gain more downforce and the balance might shift a little bit, but I think overall you just kind of get better.”

Herta flashed rapid pace last week. He was seventh, third and fourth, respectively, in last week’s three practice sessions before the boost was turned up to add approximately 100 horsepower for “Fast Friday” through PPG presents Armed Forces Qualifying.

That’s why Herta isn’t worried about starting in Row 5. Newgarden was victorious from Row 6 (17th) last year.

Four drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 from the 13th starting position, with Helio Castroneves the last to accomplish the feat in 2002. Four drivers were 24 at the time of their “500” victory too with Herta, 24, hoping to join Billy Arnold (1930), Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000) and former teammate Alexander Rossi (2016).

Herta has made five Indianapolis 500 starts, with a best finish of eighth in 2020.

Power Pleased to Have Points Back

Points awarded from PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying aren’t tallied for the 12 drivers in the Fast 12 until the checkered flag drops for Sunday’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Think of them like bonus points. The NTT P1 Award is 12 additional points down to the 12th qualifier out of the 12 in the Shootout getting one.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Alex Palou didn’t score any additional bonus points due to qualifying 14th in his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Will Power, second in points, trails Palou by 12 points and starts second in his No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet Sunday. The distinction of being a Middle of Row 1 starter awards Power 11 bonus points.

Power said the additional points are massive.

“It all counts in the end,” Power said. “Eleven points is a lot in the series. I got 10 taken off me so that’s my 11 back.”

Power was issued a 10-point penalty following Team Penske’s Push To Pass violation from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. Power’s qualifying points negate the penalty.

With the speed shown this season, three second-place starting spots in five races and three runner-up finishes in four points-paying races, Power said he has to take advantage of the track position for Sunday’s 200-lap race.

“All you can do is put yourself in the situation to attack,” he said. “Got to make the most of it this time.”

Since Power earned his only Indianapolis 500 victory in 2018, he’s finished sixth, 14th, 30th, 15th and 23rd, respectively. None of those results started from a grid position as high as Power has this Sunday.

O’Ward in Top Five but Wants More

Pato O’Ward turned the fifth fastest practice lap at 225.738 Monday in practice in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Despite that pace, O’Ward is not happy.

“Definitely hasn't been the best of the days of the month,” he said. “We've had some annoying issue that we just can't seem to perfect. I just hope we can fix it.”

O’Ward starts eighth in Sunday’s 200-lap race and said his car’s balance is pretty sporty. But the nagging area of concern is what creates his grim outlook.

“We're slow,” he said. “We know what it is, but it's a lot easier said than done to fix it or not have the issue. It just sucks when you're not fast enough around here. You feel helpless.”

Odds and Ends

  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced Ken Griffey Jr. as the honorary Pace Car driver for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26. Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Griffey, a 13-time MLB All-Star, will drive the 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray and lead the field of 33 drivers to the start of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
  • Herta said the lack of pace from Marcus Ericsson’s No. 28 Delaware Life Honda is down to his practice crash. “Because he tubbed his car in practice,” Herta said. “Had to roll out the backup car and didn't have a lot of time to get up to speed, so that was the big problem. I think his first car had speed, and in the wind tunnel it was similar to mine, so I think he probably would have been right around where I was, maybe ahead or right behind. Then you have to go to the backup tub and just kind of bolt on an underwing that you don't really know what it's going to do. It’s definitely a difficult situation. It's one I was in in '22 when I tubbed the car Friday on Carb Day and had to go into the race and could barely run 205. It's a difficult situation.”
  • The buzz in Gasoline Alley is that this year’s race could unfold like recent years. Last year’s race produced 52 lead changes. The previous two years’ lead changes were 36 in 2021 and 38 for 2022. “It'll 100 percent be like what we've had in the last few years where the top three will pass, and then beyond that it will be a little bit more difficult,” Herta said. “You'll need to have a little bit of a pace advantage, or a guy will have to make a little bit of a mistake. It's definitely not impossible to pass, but it is difficult in the back of the pack, but you'll still see the same kind of action in the top five.” He’s not alone in that assessment. Most drivers last week echoed that sentiment.
  • Since the post-qualifying practice session was added to the Indianapolis 500 schedule, Simon Pagenaud in 2019 is the only driver to be fastest driver on the speed charts in that session and win the “500” that year. Last year, Newgarden was 24th during this Monday session. Ericsson was fifth in 2022.