All-Penske Front Row at Indianapolis 500 Is 'A Good Problem' for Captain Roger Penske

indianapolis, in during indianapolis 500 practice in indianapolis, indiana photo by james black ims photo
All-Penske Front Row a 'Good Problem' for PenskePenske Entertainment/James Black
  • ‘Don’t take each other out, keep The Captain happy’ is No. 1 starter Scott McLaughlin’s motto.

  • Will Power anticipates ‘cruise-y’ start, aggressive push to checkered flag

  • Situation can take dramatic turns, Josef Newgarden warns.

Indianapolis 500 pole setter Scott McLaughlin, 2021’s Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, hasn’t finished the Indy 500 better than last year’s 14th-place showing.

Will Power never has started on the pole at the Indianapolis 500 in 17 appearances. This is his third time to begin from the middle of the front row, and he has qualified for the front row five times.

Perhaps also surprisingly, 2023 Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden never has won the pole position for 500, and Sunday’s edition is just his second time in 13 Indianapolis 500s that he has been on the front row.


But together, the Chevrolet-powered trio give Team Penske a 1-2-3 start, marking the first time since 1988 that one team has swept the front row at the Indianapolis 500. Thirty-six years ago, it was Team Penske, as well, with Rick Mears winning from the top spot and Danny Sullivan and Al Unser beside him on Row 1. (Unser finished third, and Sullivan was 23rd.)

indianapolis, in during practice for the indianapolis 500 at the indianapolis motor speedway in indianapolis, indiana photo by chris jones ims photo
Scott McLaughlin (left), Will Power (center) and Josef Newgarden will start the 108th Indy 500 1-2-3.Penske Entertainment/Chris Jones

Simon Pagenaud, who won the 500 in 2019, is the last driver to win the race from the pole. Power hopes to break the 23-year luckless fate for No. 2 qualifiers. Juan Pablo Montoya, in 2000, was the last to qualify second and improve one spot. Only four years ago, Takuma Sato won from starting slot No. 3.

“If you look at the current formula, you can win from anywhere,” Newgarden said as he seeks to be the first since Al Unser (1970-’71) to score consecutive victories. The only others to do that were Bill Vukovich Sr. (1953-54), Mauri Rose (1947-’48), and Wilbur Shaw (1939-’40).

“Anything can happen in this race. Can go great for the first 150 laps, then it turns. Vice versa. You can also have a terrible day until lap 150 and all of a sudden it turns. It is true that when you start up front, I think the opportunity to control the race is a little bit better. It's higher,” Newgarden said.

“Having said that, as well, you just don't want to hang your hat on that. I think that's getting ahead of yourself. I think you have to be prepared for any circumstance, any opportunity. It's great to have fast cars, be in position, but you have to be ready for that to change at any moment.”

indianapolis, in during indianapolis 500 practice in indianapolis, indiana photo by james black ims photo
Scott McLaughin will lead the Team Penske trio from the pole.Penske Entertainment/James Black

McLaughlin’s strategy is pretty simple. He said, “I think you control what you can control. I just race my race, and hopefully the cards fall my way. Pretty focused on just executing right now.”

Power said, “It's interesting because the race starts, in a way, slowly—not speed-wise, but as far as aggression. It really ramps up in the last 50. The further back you are, the more aggressive you have to be to put yourself in a position at the end. It's a pretty cruise-y start, in a way.”

For Newgarden, it’s about respect—and pragmatism. “I feel a lot of respect for this facility and this race, this track. It's a tough day to get right. Everything has to in a lot of ways go your way. I don't care how good you are, it's got to be perfect. We were fortunate enough as a team, as a group, where it just fell into place for us [last May]. We had a great car, one of the best cars I've ever driven around here. Made my job pretty easy. The way it all flowed, it was our day. I feel the same [now] in that regard. I think I've got another great race car. Really excited to be here.”

He did say, “I had sort of let go of [wondering if] I was ever going to win this race. It's such a tough race to win. I think you had to be comfortable with that. I think that rings true for a second [victory]. I'm happy to be here, happy to have a shot. There's nothing like the Indianapolis 500. Pleased to be here.”

Team owner Roger Penske has what Power called “a good problem,” with his drivers 1-2-3 on the grid. Power said, “I know they don't like that. It really is nerve-wracking for the higher ups like Roger and Tim [team president Cindric, who, among other team leaders, is not allowed to be at this race per a penalty for an earlier incident] to watch all three cars battle for a win. Tim has said it to me before: What can you do? You just hate to see an incident, but that he understands it's such a big event that it really is every man for [himself]. Coming down to the win, it is what it is.”

McLaughlin’s understanding is that “as long as we don't take each other out, the boss is happy. That's the main thing.”

And Power said the dreaded rain showers, which have made an impact on the race just 12 times in its storied history, could be a first for him: “That's actually something I've never experienced in all my times here since 2008. There hasn't been a rain delay. It's about time we got that. I mean, on the law of averages, it's going to happen at some point. Looking like that's going to be Sunday. I hope not. I hope we just get it in.”