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Pato O'Ward

Source: James Black/Penske Entertainment / other

SPEEDWAY, Ind — Hypothetical: You’re racing in the Indianapolis 500 and you are among the top three cars battling for the win. You see a slight opening to make a pass, but it’s risky. Do you send it?

That was the question posed to Pato O’Ward during a Carb Day news conference on Friday. The reason the question is significant, at least in regard to O’Ward, is that he found himself in that same situation last year.

Be battled hard for the second position with Marcus Ericsson going into Turn 3 with inside ten laps left to go, but lost it after making contact with Ericsson and smashed the outside wall ending his day with a 24th place result.

The year before he was the runner-up to Ericsson. Though he gave Ericsson a fight, O’Ward admits that he was also prioritizing the season championship and with double points in mind at that time, a second-place finish was significant. He was seventh in the championship when the end of the season came in 2022. Fourth in 2023.

So if put in the same situation again, the question is: will he send it?

“It’s hard to say. Depends on the situation I would say,” O’Ward said. “You know, it’s just so hard to plan what it can be like or are we going to be in that position. I feel confident that I’ve learned enough in the past few years and I feel like the guys behind me and the strategy on the pit stops are going to allow me to be in that window of opportunity to try and get it done.”

With a Penske lockout of the front row to keep in mind for the start of the race, O’Ward was also asked how aggressive he might be in the race’s opening stanza.

“Honestly, I’m fine to chill behind them for a bit,” he said. “All I care about is just being the lead car whenever the checkered flag comes, so honestly, for me I don’t care if they lead the whole race. I think if anything it kind of opens your options.”

O’Ward said with this particular car it can be almost a detriment to lead the race for a long period of time.

“When you’re leading, your options are narrowed down quite a bit as I’ve experienced in the past few years,” he continued. “I’m obviously starting a bit further back than where all the Penskes are, but not so far back I think I have a lot of options available, and we kind of just can be the guide of our own race.”

Starting eighth in the Middle of Row Three, O’Ward has never started worse than 15th (his rookie year in 2020). Only three drivers have ever won starting the race eighth (Danny Sullivan ’85, Kenny Brack ’99, Helio Castroneves ’21). O’Ward is looking to become the first driver born in Mexico to win the Indianapolis 500.