Alex Palou Has Dubious Distinction at 108th Indianapolis 500

indianapolis, in during indianapolis 500 practice in indianapolis, indiana photo by james black ims photo
Alex Palou Has Dubious Distinction at Indy 500Penske Entertainment/James Black
  • Ten-time IndyCar Series race winner and two-time series champion Alex Palou is winningest IndyCar driver in this year's field without a Indianapolis 500 win.

  • History indicates Palou easily could win Sunday, despite a rather sub-par performance in practice and qualifying.

  • This year's Indy 500 field includes eight winners, 25 looking for first triumph.

Four-time winner Helio Castroneves leads a group of eight race winners, nearly one-fourth of this year’s Indianapolis 500 field.

But among the remaining 25 drivers who haven’t mastered the mystique of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Alex Palou, of Chip Ganassi Racing, has the most NTT Indy Car Series victories (10).


Palou is a favorite to win Sunday’s 108th running of the Memorial Day Weekend classic. Already this year, he has won the $1 Million Thermal Challenge exhibition event and the early-May Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

However, last year’s pole sitter indicated the mystery lies not in the racetrack that rival Linus Lundqvist said “chooses its own winner” but rather in his own No. 10 DHL Honda.

Palou said this week, “We lost some speed if you look at the qualifying speeds we had last year and this year. We lost a little bit. Big difference, obviously, to last year. We don't know [why]. We don't know if that's that we lost or if we didn't really gain or everybody improved a lot. On race trim, it doesn't feel as different. We thought we did all the work we had to do to try and be a little bit better than last year, but maybe with the small changes that IndyCar had with the gear boxes, the housing, and all that stuff, that just didn't help us at all.

a race car on a track
Alex Palou has two NTT IndyCar Series championships, but has yet to conquer the Indy 500.Penske Entertainment/Karl Zemlin

“Last year, we were super-comfortable on race [day], and I would say it was pretty easy to pass. Otherwise dropping to 28th or something on lap 100. We were able to make passes and finish in the top five. I think this year, we still are able to pass, but it's not as easy. You need to work a lot more. You need to wait a lot more. So we're struggling a little bit more. That doesn't mean that we're completely off, and especially at this race,” Palou said.

But he conceded, “Yeah, we have some work to do.”

What plays in his favor is the truth that many an unlikely winner—not undeserving, but unlikely because the month of May had been beset with calamity, an uncooperative car, or poor luck—was in Palou’s current spot.

Andretti Global driver Colton Herta, who will start in Row 5, to Palou’s left on the inside in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, said, “I feel like [we have] 10 guys every year that can probably have a legit chance and then maybe another 10 guys that have an outside shot. It feels like that [this year]."

Palou agreed: “It's very different what we've seen on practice days and qualifying days to what the race actually is. Last year, I think, we had probably the best cars as a team, and the team didn't win. Josef [Newgarden, of team Penske], I think, was nowhere during all the practice sessions, race sessions, and qualifying, and he ended up winning. I think every car that is in the lead lap on the last stint of the race has a chance to win this race.”

Herta, who was fourth-fastest during Friday’s Carb Day practice, said, “it's so weather-dependent here all the time. Even a dip in five, six degrees can kind of turn the car upside down sometimes.” Both he and Palou said Friday’s exercise was not all that much time for an Indianapolis 500 tune-up.

“Two hours seems like a lot on other race weekends, but this weekend it's not much.” Herta, fourth-fastest on Carb Day Friday, said, “Even if the car isn't good, there's not much you can do at that point.”

Herta is second among non-winning qualifiers, with seven series victories. His most recent triumph was at Indianapolis, in the 2022 GMR Grand Prix. Last-place starter Graham Rahal is third with six wins, the most recent of which came in 2017 at Detroit.

Both Pato O’Ward and Scott McLaughlin have five victories apiece, Ed Carpenter has three, Marco Andretti has two, and Christian Lundgaard and Rinus VeeKay each have one.

That leaves 16 racers with a chance to record their first IndyCar win on the world’s biggest stage.

Other past Indy 500 winners in this year’s race besides Castroneves are Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato. Collectively, they represent 202 series victories. Sato has six IndyCar victories, with two of those coming in the 500.