Sunday’s spotlight will be on Josef Newgarden as he tries to win the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline for the fourth consecutive year and bids to sweep the five oval trophies offered in this NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
But for several unrelated reasons, a significant amount of attention at World Wide Technology Raceway will be on the other two Team Penske drivers in the 28-car field.
SEE: Qualifying Order
For starters, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin were involved in a major incident in Saturday’s evening practice, with Power forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting McLaughlin, whose No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet had slid through the grass on the low side approaching Turn 2. Power hit the wall and then spun into the path of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson, and their nose-to-nose contact incurred significant damage to each car.
Neither Power nor Ericsson will have tried their repaired cars before Sunday’s NTT P1 Award qualifying session (11 a.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). McLaughlin participated in the late-evening high-line practice after the 60-minute regular practice.
Power was animated by what transpired in Turn 2, saying he saw “some dumb--- down on the apron spinning.”
That driver was McLaughlin, his teammate.
“Unfortunately, I had to go off (line) and got into the wall,” Power said. “It just destroyed my car and got hit. Just really (mad). Got no option but to rebuild and then do my best. Just (mad) getting screwed by other people’s screw-ups. Same at Road America.”
McLaughlin said the spin “was my own fault” as he tried to gain as much speed as possible on his out lap.
“I was pushing the out lap on my brand-new set of tires, and I cut the inside just a little bit,” he said. “It must be still a little wet or something – that was very scary. My spotter said, ‘A car’s coming into (Turn) 1,’ and I tried to lock it down the best I could … it was a really dangerous situation.
“You try and look for every little bit on your in and out lap. I didn’t see whether it was damp; it was in the dark a little bit – that’s no excuse – but I was just trying to find that limit and two others paid for it, and I feel terrible, to be honest.”
Ericsson, who finished the session with the ninth-fastest lap (178.040 mph), said there was nothing he could do to avoid hitting Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“I saw he was going up to the wall and I tried to go low, but he was spinning down, so, yeah, really a shame,” said Ericsson, driver of the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda.
Power won this event in 2018, and he will hope to win Sunday’s race to extend his streak of 16 consecutive seasons with at least one race victory. Two weeks ago, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon extended his record-holding streak of winning seasons to 19.
And then there is McLaughlin’s motivation to win Sunday’s race. He is in his third full season in the series, and all four of his race wins have come on road courses (three) and street circuits (one). He is 0-for-13 on ovals, but don’t let that fool you: He has been strong on the roundies.
McLaughlin has finished second three times with a pair of third-place finishes. In all, he has seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s while leading 200 laps, including 186 laps in 2022 at Texas Motor Speedway where Newgarden overhauled him in the final few hundred laps of the last lap. They were 1-2 in Saturday’s session.
Could Sunday be McLaughlin’s day on an oval?
Meanwhile, all three Team Penske drivers were in the top four of Saturday’s primary practice. Newgarden led the way in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet at 180.040 mph. McLaughlin was second at 179.953 mph with Power fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 178.703 mph.
Newgarden has won the past five series races on oval tracks and eight of the past 10 such races.
Odds and Ends
- Saturday’s one hour of practice offered the first chance for most of the drivers to experience World Wide Technology Raceway this season. The only teams that tested were Andretti Autosport, Juncos Hollinger Racing and Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing (with the car of rookie Sting Ray Robb). Robb had the 15th-fastest lap in Saturday’s practice.
- The practice gave drivers the first chance to use the alternate red-sidewall Firestone tire used on an oval for the first time in this event. Teams got one new set of the alternates to use in Saturday’s practice, and they will get another new set for the 260-lap race. Drivers must start the race on primary tires, and they must use the alternates for at least two laps.
- Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian) had a big save in the practice, crossing up the steering wheel in Turn 4. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Takuma Sato (No. 11 Deloitte Honda) drifted dangerously close to the outside wall at the same end of the track. Sato won here in 2019, and he posted the third-fastest lap in Saturday’s practice (179.206 mph).
- Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) and Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) got especially close to one another in Turn 1.
- NBC noticed that Team Penske has a pit box countdown on the steering wheels of its cars that is animated and likely serves as a backup in case radio communication is out.
- Conor Daly will make his first career start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, driving the No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and he posted the eighth-fastest lap in Saturday’s practice (178.046 mph). This will be the ninth team he has driven for in this series. The only current ones he hasn’t: Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Juncos Hollinger Racing, although he drove for Ricardo Juncos’ team in Pro Mazda, winning the series championship in 2010.
- Rookie Linus Lundqvist is again subbing for Simon Pagenaud in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, and he posted the 17th-fastest lap in Saturday’s practice (176.625 mph). This will be Lundqvist’s third race of the season.
- Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal had a difficult practice session Saturday, finishing with the slowest of the 28 speeds, and he did not get to run a hot lap on the alternate tires. He intends to watch what Daly, his weekend teammate, does in qualifying and then follow his lead.