Expect a familiar Indy 500 spectacle, veteran drivers say
Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou and Tony Kanaan believe the battle at the front of the field for this year’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 will look similar to that seen in 2022.
While it appears relatively easy for the cars to draft up and run close, the drivers suggest that four or five cars back in a pack, actually completing a passing maneuver is as difficult as before.
“If you’re not in the top five at the ending of the race, I don’t think you have a chance,” said 2013 winner Kanaan, looking ahead to his 390th and final IndyCar start. “Last year I was third and I couldn’t do anything. Especially with the new zig-zag model of racing that we created in the last two laps lately, it’s tough.”
Newgarden, still seeking his first top three in the 500 since switching from Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske in 2017, said: “I just don’t think it’s going to be that different from last year, outside of the very front.
“The first two cars, it is easier to follow. We have more downforce. But the effect behind the first two cars is sort of similar to where we’ve been, so I don’t think that’s going to be drastically different.”
Polesitter Palou, who finished runner-up to Helio Castroneves in 2021, said that he’s expecting to be swapping back and forth with other drivers for the lead of the race, in order to save fuel. But having previously cited Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay as his most likely drafting partner, given that he’s starting second, Palou suggested that may not be the case.
“I don’t really know because he didn’t want to pass today,” he commented. “He just wanted to save fuel on Carb Day and I didn’t really understand what he was doing on track.
“But if he drives normal, yeah, we’re going to be exchanging a lot. I don’t know if it’s going to be me or somebody else. But yeah, I think when you are second, it’s easy to pass, and when you are first, you cannot really do much [about it].
“I just hope that they don’t go crazy on the guy that is leading, trying to save fuel while you’re leading, because that doesn’t work and then it’s crazy behind. If I’m in control, if I’m leading, I’ll try and play with somebody, and if they don’t want to, like Rinus didn’t want to today… we’ll see what happens.”
Palou did say it would be a totally different story from the mid-pack back — as he discovered last year after his pit stop strategy was ruined by an untimely yellow.
“I think at the front it’s not going to be too aggressive,” he said, “but when you’re at the back, if you have a chance, you need to go for it, and then everybody is going to be diving in quite late. But I don’t think it’s very different to the past.
“Like last year, I remember when I dropped to the back … I was like, ‘Oh, wow, these guys are going for it really hard.’”
Newgarden will have a lot of passing to do to get up where he wants to be, but is confident he’ll have both the car and the time to do it. Michael Levitt/Lumen
That said, Newgarden insists that in climbing from his 17th grid slot, “there’s no rush with 500 miles.”
He went on: “When there’s an opportunity to make passes at the start or restart, those are your best opportunities so you’re going to try and maximize that. But there’s not a hurry, I think, starting 17th. I don’t think there would be a hurry if you’re starting 25th.
“You’ve just got to have a really good, consistent day and march your way forward. We started pretty far back last year and had the same trajectory going that I think you need to have. Then we had a bad pit stop in the middle of the race and it totally derailed the race for us. So, I don’t think there’s urgency.
“I’d much prefer to start up front next to my pickleball teammate [Palou], but we are where we are, and we’ve got to make the most of it. I think we’ve got plenty of time to get up there.”