The Key Contenders and Must-Know Drama for the 2024 Indy 500

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The Key Contenders and Drama for the 2024 Indy 500Caleb Miller - Car and Driver

Memorial Day weekend is nearly upon us. Along with marking the unofficial start of summer and being an excellent time for family barbecues, the holiday coincides with another American tradition: the Indianapolis 500.

This year will be the 108th running of the iconic oval race, and between a shocking scandal earlier in the IndyCar season, residual drama from last year's controversial finish, and a celebrity guest driver, this year's race looks to be one of the most exciting yet.

Drama at Team Penske

For the second time in its history, Team Penske locked out the front row of the grid with all three of its cars in qualifying; the last Penske front-row lockout occurred in 1988. A month earlier, however, the team was embroiled in a scandal when IndyCar discovered that Penske had illegally used the push-to-pass feature—a button on the steering wheel that gives the driver a horsepower boost—during restarts at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a period where it is normally turned off for all cars. Penske claims the software that allowed their drivers use push-to-pass on restarts resulted from a coding error introduced when testing the upcoming hybrid powertrain over the off-season.

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Scott McLaughlin driving at Indianapolis during the open test in April; he is using a yellow Pennzoil livery at the Indy 500. Caleb Miller - Car and Driver

While the bug was active on all three Penske cars, only two drivers pushed it. Scott McLaughlin, who secured pole position for the Indy 500 last weekend, illegally used the function once, arguing that he hit the button out of habit. Two-time champion Will Power, who lines up third for this weekend's race, never pressed it. McLaughlin was stripped of his third place result at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, while Power was docked 10 points.


The biggest offender was Josef Newgarden, who won the St. Pete race and is also the defending race winner of the Indy 500 after a controversial ending last year. Since his victory at the Brickyard in 2023, Newgarden—also a two-time champion—has taken on a sort of villain role in the paddock. He and McLaughlin had enjoyed a jovial relationship over McLaughlin's first few years in the series, even partnering on a silly YouTube show, but their friendship soured in the off-season. It was then revealed that Newgarden used push-to-pass three separate times on restarts in St. Pete, gaining the most of any Penske car. In a tearful press conference, Newgarden claimed he thought the rules had changed and that there was no malicious intent.

Since the incident, there have been reports that Newgarden has been effectively ostracized by the paddock. His lone-wolf status has been accentuated by a preseason decision to unfollow everyone on social media in a bid to refocus after a season where he won four races, yet finished a distant fifth in the championship.

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Josef Newgarden driving down pit lane at the open test; his car is running a red and yellow Shell livery at the Indy 500. Caleb Miller - Car and Driver

One of those wins was his first triumph at the 500, which came after a late crash brought out a red flag. The race was restarted with just one full lap remaining, breaking from the traditional procedure, during which Newgarden overtook 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson for the lead. While the decision to wave the green flag with just one lap left instead of at least two wasn't up to Newgarden, the change in protocol caused fury in Ericsson's camp and sparked doubt among fans over the legitimacy of Roger Penske's role as both owner of the series and one of the sport's biggest teams.

Newgarden, who sits in 17th in the standings after being disqualified from his win in St. Pete, has the most to prove this weekend, and probably the greatest number of people rooting for his misfortune. Power looks to collect his second 500 win and maintain a strong start that has put him second in the standings, while McLaughlin—who has bounced back to sixth overall thanks to a win at Barber—seeks to convert his first Indy 500 pole position into his first victory at the important race.

Guest Stars

The allure of the Borg-Warner trophy is so great that the Indy 500 brings in a handful of one-off drivers whose only time behind the wheel of an IndyCar this year will be during the month of May. Kyle Larson, who races in the NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and won the championship in 2021, is embarking on a journey into open-wheel racing at this year's Indy 500 with McLaren. The Californian driver has impressed out of the gate, posting rapid results in the week of practice before overcoming engine issues early in qualifying to earn himself a shocking fifth-place starting position on the grid.

Yet there's a chance that Larson, despite his excellent showing thus far, doesn't end up taking the grid. Along with his plans to race at Indy on Sunday, he is also scheduled to drive in his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stock car in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that same evening. If all goes to plan, Larson will immediately leave Indianapolis when the race ends to reach Charlotte just in time for the NASCAR race. But reports of rain on Sunday threaten to delay the Indy 500's start, and rules regarding eligibility for NASCAR's playoffs mean that NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick will likely pull Larson from the 500 to race at Charlotte if the two events end up overlapping.

It would be a real shame for Larson to not attempt to follow through on the hard work and impressive results he's put in so far and for fans to not see one of the world's best racers compete at the highest level in a new discipline.

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Two McLarens at the open test ahead of the Indy 500.Caleb Miller - Car and Driver

There are several other one-off entries in the race this year. Marco Andretti returns for his 19th attempt at the 500, where he has finished third three times but has struggled since ending his full-time IndyCar career. Andretti, driving for his father’s eponymous team, lines up on row seven alongside Hélio Castroneves, who aims to collect his sixth 500 win with Meyer Shank Racing. Another former winner looking to recapture 500 glory is Takuma Sato, who seeks his third win and placed his Rahal Letterman Lanigan car on the fourth row. Also on the same row is Ryan Hunter-Reay, another former winner in an entry run by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Cusick Motorsports.

Other Potential Winners

In a field of 33 cars, there are plenty of drivers who have a chance at victory. Larson's McLaren teammates have also looked quick, in particular 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who qualified fourth and looked fast all month. Pato O'Ward, who inherited the win at St. Pete earlier this year, lines up on the third row and has looked strong at Indianapolis in the past.

A.J. Foyt Racing's Santino Ferrucci also deserves praise. Despite driving for one of the sport's smaller teams, Ferrucci yet again proved he can perform at the Brickyard, qualifying in sixth and has a shot at victory after finishing third last year. Rinus VeeKay also put in a compelling performance for Ed Carpenter Racing. Despite suffering a massive crash early in qualifying, his small team was able to repair the car and get him through to qualify in seventh.

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Veekay overtakes Kyle Kirkwood during the open test in April.Caleb Miller - Car and Driver

Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the sport's powerhouse teams, has looked surprisingly lost so far this May, but you can never count out the team's top two drivers, six-time champion Scott Dixon and two-time champion Alex Palou. The two drivers, known for their consistent, measured approach and impressive fuel saving, are certainly still a threat, despite qualifying 21st and 14th, respectively.

How to Watch

The green flag will fly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, May 26. The race will be broadcast on NBC and available to stream on Peacock, with pre-race coverage kicking off at 11 o'clock. However, there's a high chance of rain currently forecast in Indianapolis on Sunday.

IndyCar will do its best to run the race on Sunday, even if it means delaying the start time, but will postpone the race to the next rain-free day if it becomes necessary. The race will become official once 101 laps—just over half of the 500-mile total distance—are run.

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