26 May 2024

Storylines surround star-studded Indy 500

9:14 am on 26 May 2024
Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet.

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet. Photo: Photosport

Preparation for the 108th Indianapolis 500 certainly has been a high-profile work - from a Penske Racing sweep of the top starting positions to the impressive IndyCar debut of NASCAR star Kyle Larson to the possibilities that the great race could produce its all-time winningest driver in Helio Castroneves.

When the 33 cars roll off the grid, there will be no lack of intrigue. Storylines fill the rows. Famous names are primed to show their skill and young, newcomers are eager to prove themselves.

New Zealander Scott McLaughlin edged his Penske Racing teammate, Australian Will Power, for the lead position on the grid. They will start alongside defending race winner, American Josef Newgarden, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

McLaughlin, 30, a former Australian Supercars champion, has never led a lap in the Indianapolis 500, but the winner at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park race last month is hoping to win a second trophy in the season's most high-profile event.

Power is the 2018 Indy 500 champion and a former series champ. Newgarden, a two-time series champion, is hoping to become the first back-to-back winner of the race since Castroneves in 2001-02.

"Being fastest here for qualifying, obviously it's the first box you want to tick,'' McLaughlin said.

"But ultimately, you want to win on Sunday [Monday New Zealand time]. It's still been a really cool week and I've really enjoyed it. I've really tried to soak it in as much as I can, but at the end of the day, the job is this weekend."

Castroneves, 49, meanwhile, is making his only scheduled start of the season, hoping to earn a second win for his Meyer-Shank Racing team and that historic fifth Indy trophy for himself - breaking a tie with legends AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr.

Castroneves will start his No. 06 MSR Honda 20th but showed more promise than that indicates. He was second fastest in the traditional "Carburetion Day" final practice and has a chance, come race day.

Arguably, the biggest story of Indy's famous Month of May has been the amazing work of Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and current points leader who is hoping to complete the Memorial Day "Double" - racing in the Indianapolis 500 by day and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway later in the evening.

Weather will play a big role in his opportunity, with a 50 percent chance of rain forecast for Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.

Larson would need to be on a plane bound for North Carolina by 4.15pm ET (8.15am NZ) to make that Charlotte green flag. Should the Indy race be held Monday, he would fly back to North Carolina, then back to Indiana to compete in it.

But Larson, 31, has been hopeful about both Sunday's weather and his chances in his IndyCar Series debut.

He has consistently been among the top-10 quickest drivers during this month's practice sessions and his fifth-place qualifying position is best among the seven Indy rookies.

His participation and success, so far, have earned him high praise from both his open-wheel competitors and those among the stock car set.

"I've had so much advice throughout the last year I feel like,'' Larson said of his opportunity.

"I've had lots of people just telling me to enjoy the experience, enjoy the event and I've really tried - I feel like I've done a good job of that.

"I don't know how often I'm going to run this race,'' he added. "I don't know if this is the only year I'm running it. Just trying to enjoy it and I have. It's been the coolest experience, for sure, to this point and we haven't even run the race yet.''

- Field Level Media

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