Listen Live
Josef Newgarden and Will Power on Fast Firday

Source: Amber Pietz/Penske Entertainment / other

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Josef Newgarden wasted no time when the green flag dropped for Fast Friday practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

All week it had been up in the air whether we’d even have a Fast Friday with how much the rain has changed things this week, but it ended up being an uninterrupted (in terms of the weather) practice session as drivers dialed in their cars for what is expected to be an entertaining opening day of Indy 500 qualifying on Saturday.

Newgarden flexed not only the Penske muscle in completing the first qualifying simulation (qual sim) of the day, but he did it with a 4-lap average that stayed at the top of the scoring pylon for four hours. It would get knocked off by Newgarden’s even quicker 4-lap average of 234.063 mph. Newgarden also had the fastest single-lap without the help of an aerodynamic tow for the day at 234.260 mph.

Friday is one deal, and then tomorrow is going to be where it really comes together and you’re going to see where the field truly stacks up,” Newgarden said. “But I think today is a good indicator, and we feel like we’re in a decent spot. We’re definitely in the mix, which is great to see.”

What will certainly help Newgarden and his team is a decent draw in the qualifying order for Saturday. Drawing tenth, he will get the benefit of what are typically cooler and faster conditions to start the day.

Team Penske drivers were top three four-lap averages that led a bevy of Chevy drivers who left the day with seven of the top ten fastest four-lap average speeds. Among them were Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren.

Honda Struggles

Honda drivers struggled for pace, namely Chip Ganassi Racing drivers.

Gannasi drivers have held each of the last two poles in the Indianapolis 500 (Scott Dixon-2022 and Alex Palou-2023), but this year they were among the many Honda drivers who had a tough time competing with Chevy teams like Penske and Arrow McLaren.

The outlier was Colton Herta of Andretti Global who turned the fastest overall lap on the day at 234.974 mph with the help of a tow.

“Yeah, the Ganassis were a weird thing. Not too sure what happened there,” Herta said. “But it does seem like the Chevys are a little bit stronger but not too much stronger.”

Alex Palou and Pietro Fittipaldi dealt with a lot of engine issues throughout the day, both machines puffing smoke at one point causing significant losses in power.

Bad Luck For Coyne, Clock Tick For Ericsson

The day was not without some dramatics as Nolan Siegel, a rookie to the Indy 500 and a current full-time driver in the Indy NXT Series, struggled to find any sort of speed. Siegel’s best single-lap speed managed to get up to 228.826, well off the pace needed to make the field.

But the strife would turn from trying to find speed to simply trying to find parts for the car as Siegel, in the middle of a qualifying sim, had something break on the rear of the car sending his backend around and into the outside wall of Turn 2. His car went airborne, flipped, and landed on its sidepod and aeroscreen.

The wreck caused significant damage to the No. 18-car which ended the day for Siegel and left tons of valuable track time on the table.

His teammate Katherine Legge made it through the day without any major incidents, but the pace in her No. 51 machine left much to be desired. She is one of the bubble drivers entering qualifying turning a best four-lapo run at 229.943.

Below Legge is Marcus Ericsson, the Andretti Global driver whom you might think would be mixing it up at the top of the speed chart. However, a crash in practice yesterday forced his team to bring out the back-up car and it was a chore to find pace for it.

Still, there was some promise in the end for Ericsson who went from turning laps at just 225 mph to start the day, to flirting with the low 230’s but the end of it.

Larson A Serious Contender

Finally, the driver who will attempt “The Double” next Sunday proved once again that he can acclimate to anything with an engine and four wheels. Kyle Larson was the top rookie on the day with a best four-lap average of  232.550 mph.

Larson said he could feel the extra boost for qualifying trim, but that it was not as drastic of a change in speed as he had expected.

“It’s obviously different. You can tell you’re going faster and you’re a little bit more on the limit of things,” he said. “But I was expecting like from what I’ve heard or just from watching Indianapolis stuff in the past, the commentators do such a great job of making it seem like it’s like, boom, you’re going 100 miles an hour faster. It didn’t feel way different, so I was happy about that.”

At one point Larson had the fastest overall lap on the day of 234.271 mph, but that would be usurped by Herta later in the day.

Nevertheless, Larson will be a candidate for the pole position in the eyes of this reporter, especially since he drew sixth in the qualifying order, giving him the faster cooler condition that he will share with Newgarden on Saturday.

On To Qualifying

Drivers will have one hour, no more, no less, starting at 8:30 a.m. to get some last-minute practice runs ahead of the start of qualifying on Saturday. That will be the last time for the likes of Siegel and Ericsson to shake out their cars after significant repairs.

The first round of qualifying will begin at 11:00 a.m. EDT with KLyle Kirkwood drawing the honors to take the first attempt. Drivers will roll through qualifying attempts from there until each driver has taken at least one run.

The goal of the day will be to be among the “Fast 12” who will run for the pole on Sunday. It’s also not to be among the slowest four drivers, who will duke it out in the “Last Row Shootout” for the last three spots on the Final Row. The slowest of the four drivers will be bumped from the field.

Positions 13-30 will be etched in stone on Saturday.

Newgarden certainly has confidence, rightly so, in his machine ahead of qualifying.

“The race is one deal, but qualifying really shows the true nature of the build quality,” said Newgarden. “I think everybody at our shop should be really proud. They’ve done a good job over the off-season, and we’re excited for tomorrow.”