Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

McLaughlin Rockets to Indy 500 Pole in Team Penske Front Row Sweep

By Kirby Arnold, Special Contributor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Scott McLaughlin led a historic performance by Team Penske on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 with an effort that hadn’t been accomplished in 36 years. 

McLaughlin, Will Power and Josef Newgarden swept all three front-row spots for Team Penske, repeating what had only been done once in the history of the race, in 1988 when Penske drivers Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser Sr. qualified 1-2-3. 

Running last among six drivers who advanced to the final round of qualifying, McLaughlin posted a record four-lap average of 234.220 mph. In 1988, Mears won the pole with a 219.198 average. 

“I knew that going last would be an advantage, and we used it,” McLaughlin said. 

He posted the fastest speed of the day on his first lap – 234.526 mph — and followed it with two more above 234 mph before a final lap at 233.816 mph. 

“You see the (first-lap) time and then it’s all about executing after that,” McLaughlin said. “Playing with bars and weight jacker, trying to hold onto it.” 

Power, IndyCar’s all-time leader with 70 poles, posted a speed of 233.917 mph and climbed from his car hoping it would be fast enough to win his first Indy 500 pole. Moments later, McLaughlin posted his monster first lap. 

“As soon as I saw that first lap, I knew it was over,” Power said. 

McLaughlin recorded the 19th Indy 500 pole for Team Penske, and the front-row sweep gives team owner Roger Penske a chance for his 20th Indy 500 victory. 

“This is what Indianapolis is all about — showcasing the talent of a team as a whole,” Newgarden said. “It’s a badge of pride for everyone at Team Penske.” 

It also was a strong recovery for a team that had struggled in qualifying in recent years. 

Since Simon Pagenaud won the pole (and the 500) in 2019, the highest-qualified Penske driver in the next four years was Power, 11th in 2022. Newgarden drove to victory from the 17th starting spot last year. 

“We’ve been working on this the last four years,” Newgarden said. “When you go that many offseasons combing over every detail, they’re bound to add up. It’s not one magic bullet.” 

Power agreed, but also credited Chevrolet for finding more power from its engines. Chevy cars swept the first eight starting spots. 

“Hundreds of little details add up to speed around this place,” Power said. “The engine was a big upgrade from last year. It just blows my mind how many things you have to do to be fast here.” 

Alexander Rossi, driving for Team McLaren, made the biggest threat to the Team Penske blockade at the top, qualifying fourth at 233.090. 

“I’m annoyed,” Rossi said. “It’s a lot of motivation for next weekend.” 

Felix Rosenqvist was the fastest Honda-powered driver, qualifying ninth at 232.305 for Meyer Shank Racing. 

NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson will start in the middle of the second row after qualifying fifth fastest at 232.846 in his Arrow McLaren Chevy. Larson, who will attempt the Indy 500-Coca Cola 600 double, left Indy in a hurry and flew to North Wilkesboro, N.C., to drive in the NASCAR All-Star race. 

“Qualifying went a lot better than I could have anticipated,” Larson said. “Now I’ve got to switch the mindset to the heavy stock car and try to figure out North Wilkesboro.”

Katherine Legge, Marcus Ericsson and Graham Rahal emerged from a four-driver last-chance shootout to secure the final three spots in the 33-car lineup. It wasn’t decided until 19-year-old rookie Nolan Siegel crashed on the second lap of his attempt to bump Rahal from the lineup. 

Siegel, needing to beat Rahal’s four-lap average speed of 229.974 mph, fell more than a half mph short after his first lap, then lost the car. He drifted high and brushed the wall out of Turn 1, wiggled through the short chute and spun into the Turn 2 wall. He wasn’t hurt. 

Siegel suffered a crash in practice that destroyed his primary Dale Coyne Racing Honda and couldn’t get enough speed out of the backup. 

“I had to (take a) swing at it,” Siegel said. “I wasn’t going to go home because I lifted on my last run. Going flat was going to lead me to the grid or to the wall.” 

Ericsson, who also struggled to get speed out of his Andretti Global Honda backup after crashing his primary car last week, had a solid qualifying run going Sunday before he inexplicably backed off the throttle after taking the white flag. He simply lost track of the laps. 

“I can’t believe I did that,” he said. “It was all on me. I messed that up and I shouldn’t do that with my experience.” 

Ericsson came back with a speed of 230.027 and will start in the middle of the 11th row. 

Rahal found himself in the same nerve-wracking spot he was in last year after again struggling for speed. Last year, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Jack Harvey bumped him from the 500 (although he drove the race for another team in place of injured Stefan Wilson). Sunday, his spot in this year’s race wasn’t secure until Siegel hit the wall. 

“There are a lot of questions to be answered,” Rahal said. “We put our road-course gearbox in it, we put random uprights on it. At least we’re in the field and we’re going to go racing.” 

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