Race Weekend Central

2024 Indianapolis 500 Driver-by-Driver Preview

It’s almost that time. A year of anticipation is culminating into motorsport’s pinnacle event. The Indianapolis 500 is nigh upon the racing scene, as 33 drivers await the magical words to start engines and battle for the Borg-Warner Trophy. 

No more waiting. This is it. Drivers, crews and machines will be on the edge of control for 500 miles of competition on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s asphalt surface. 

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Who will be first to cross the Yard of Bricks on Sunday (May 26) and join racing’s elite on the Borg-Warner Trophy? 

Let’s take a look at the 11 rows of three to see how each driver and team stacks up in the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Row 11

If Graham Rahal’s car takes the green flag in his 33rd starting spot, then his race will already be an improvement over 2023 when his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car didn’t start, leaving him two laps down before the car finally got rolling. His best finish was in the 2020 race when he finished third. Time is ticking on a possible win to match his old man, and I’m not sure it will be this year.

Can Marcus Ericsson get a third straight top-two finish, this time from the last row? He’s been exceptional, and a bit surprising, in his last two Indy 500 attempts. If he takes a patient approach, works traffic methodically and dials in the car, he’ll be up there by race’s end. 

The Brit Katherine Legge put her car the field comfortably during the Last Chance Qualifier. Hopefully that bodes well for her confidence as she tackles Sunday. 

Row 10 

It’s really cool to have a Fittipaldi in the Indy 500 again. While he doesn’t carry the acclaim of his grandfather, Pietro Fittipaldi is only embarking on his second attempt in the Greatest Spectacle, so give him time. 

The American and IMS fanboy Conor Daly is a local hero. His passion for this track is unmatched and his desire to win is equal to that of the front runners. This is his first race with Indy-only DRR, and they put his teammate in the top 12. Expect a good run. 

If the Indy 500 was run on the road course, then Christian Lundgaard would be a top choice for a win. But the Dane who jumped over from Europe doesn’t quite have ovals figured out, with a 10th at Iowa Speedway Race 1 in 2022 serving as his only top-10. A top-15 will be his best finish at Indianapolis. 

Row 9

Rookie Linus Lundqvist is racing his first Indy 500 this weekend as well as just his second oval in the big cars. He will need to drive smart and keep it out of trouble to make it out of his inaugural 500 with a complete car. 

The Chevy power that Romain Grosjean has this year may be the better package. His two prior Indy 500s have been DNFs, so just making it to the end will be an accomplishment. But he’s shown a remarkable bravery in oval racing, so a top 10 is in the cards. 

The second rookie in this row, Tom Blomqvist, is making Indianapolis his first oval race ever. He will learn a lot in 500 miles in hopes of learning how to wear a winner’s wreath by day’s end.

Row 8

The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been hit or miss in recent years at the 500. Rookie Christian Rasmussen‘s first year in IndyCar has not gone smoothly, and if his team makes mistakes he could be looking at a long day. Hopefully he sticks around to the finish. 

AJ Foyt’s two car operation has established a streak of back-to-back Indy 500s with fast cars. Unfortunately for their second year driver, Sting Ray Robb, he didn’t get a great qualifying draw and thus starts deep in the field. But he has the speed to work his way forward. 

Agustin Canapino is still learning this oval thing after jumping over from Turismo Carretera, Argentina’s highest level of stock car racing. But he could have a good finish if luck holds out on Sunday. 

Row 7

It’s such an oddity to put him here, but that’s how things sorted out. Scott Dixon is starting the deepest in his career at Indy and will have a lot of ground to make up. It’s more than likely the 2008 winner will go on an alternate strategy, make three less pit stops then everyone else and win his second Indy 500 by two laps. That can’t happen, right? Right?!

And look who is right next to Dixon, only his long-time competitor and four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Hopefully those two wave before the green. The Brazilian’s “Drive for Five” will require a lot of work to get to the front, not to mention dislodging the rust from not racing since last year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. 

Indy-only stalwart Marco Andretti has quietly had a promising month. He hasn’t appeared too frustrated with his car through practice. Maybe his luck will turn around. Or maybe the Andretti Curse at IMS will add another chapter to its already obscenely long history.

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Row 6

Kyffin Simpson was able to qualify in front of two of his teammates – Dixon and Lundqvist. The rookie hasn’t been exceptional over the last week so completing the race would be a good result. 

Ed Carpenter eliminated his third car for his team at all ovals except Indy. This is hopefully going to help them refocus efforts on getting good results. He has finished as high as fifth just three years ago. Carpenter will be up front as long as the mechanical gremlins stay away. 

Last year’s IndyCar Rookie of the Year Marcus Armstrong is getting an opportunity to race in his first Indy 500. Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t set the field on fire with great speed in qualifying, but their cars have been some of the best in the last three Memorial Day Classics. 

Row 5

Callum Ilott is a lucky man. He has landed in perhaps the best team as far as Indy 500 cars go. Last year the Arrow McLaren team led 76 laps, so the ride is good. Now he needs to perform. 

How tight is the IndyCar field year to year? Well 2023 Indy 500 polesitter Alex Palou didn’t even make the top 12 to defend his previous starting spot. Instead, he’s starting 14th. He had one of the best cars last year, and he will be a challenger for the win regardless of his starting spot. 

Colton Herta and the Indy 500 haven’t really gotten along. In five starts he’s earned an eighth and ninth, with 16th or worse the other three results. However his Honda looked good on Monday (May 20) in practice deep in traffic, which he will need to make it up front. Expect him to be the best Andretti Global car. 

Row 4

The shocker in qualifying was 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. He put his Indy-only DRR car in the top 12, outperforming several full-time entries in doing so. This operation is very consistent in their lone IndyCar race each year, he will be in top-10 contention.

The highest starting Andretti Global car belongs to Kyle Kirkwood. His second Indy 500 last year was going really well until he was collected in a crash, which caused his car to flip and send a tire over the fence. He has only one top 10 on an oval so he’s overdue to collect his second. 

Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato just knows how to go fast at IMS. While his teammates at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are all deeper in the pack, he put his car safely in the top 12. This is his third different time running the race with the Rahal crew and his results have been impressive – a win in 2020 and a close call in 2012 when he wrecked trying to pass leader Dario Franchitti on the last lap. History says he has a chance. 

Row 3

Felix Rosenqvist was in the hunt last year until his wreck in the closing stages of the race. Now with Meyer Shank Racing, the Swede has been consistently fast in 2024. He has been a strong leader, consistently running up front. And he did just that for 33 laps in last year’s 500, so this could be an ever better effort for him. 

Pato O’Ward has been so close the last few years but hasn’t put it altogether. Since missing the show in 2019, O’Ward has racked up finishes of sixth, fourth and second. Then, last year, he was working to make a move for second when he wrecked while battling with Ericsson. While he wasn’t the fastest McLaren, he is by far the best choice to win. 

Rinus VeeKay would have had a great finish last year if not for a pit road accident. This year he hopes all bad luck is out of the way after an accident the morning of the first day qualifications put his team on the back foot. He was still fast, and will compete to win ECR’s first Indy 500 from seventh place.

Row 2

Heading into his second Indy 500 with A. J. Foyt Racing, Santino Ferrucci seems to have found a strong level of comfort and confidence with the team. His third place last year was Foyt’s best at Indianapolis since Eliseo Salizar finished in the same spot in 2000. The young American is brash and aggressive on track, and has the backing of the most famous personality in IndyCar. He will be a challenger.

The talk of the race will center around the man starting fifth, rookie-to-IndyCar Kyle Larson. His foray into the Indy 500 will bring a lot of attention and media coverage, but the man is still a racer, looking for a strong run in his inaugural IndyCar event. Working through traffic will be his Achilles’ heel, if he figures that out and is comfortable in making passes, then he will be in it for the win.

No one seemed more frustrated with Team Penske’s front row sweep than Alexander Rossi. The 2016 winner was left on the outside looking in as all three of Roger Penske’s cars took the top three spots. Starting fourth is a great effort, still, his second-best ever at Indy. Now to get back to leading laps, something he did last year for four laps. While he was the highest finishing McLaren, he wasn’t the most dominant, so he needs to change that this weekend.

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Row 1

It seems fitting the driver in the Team Penske trio to not be on the top spot – either after Saturday’s session or the Firestone Fast Six – was Josef Newgarden, who has been in the headlines plenty since his St. Petersburg penalty. The defending Indy 500 winner is looking to do something only one Penske driver has ever done before: repeat for the Captain. The win would be Penske’s 20th, a lovely number that any of the front row starters would love to give their owner.

The one pole in the entire IndyCar season that eludes Will Power is the one at Indy. He has been close on multiple occasions by starting on the front row five times. However, the pole will have to wait again until next year. Meanwhile, the 2018 winner has a race to look forward to. His 2024 has been a great, consistent season so far, and has every opportunity to continue with a win. But his biggest challengers might be the two drivers that will sandwich him into turn 1.

After several frustrating tries at Indianapolis, Scott McLaughlin is starting to figure it out. He earned his first pole at the Indy 500, and has been open about a new approach in figuring out how to run better at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. With his attitude heading in, there is something that is similar to how Power and Simon Pagenaud felt leading up to their individual Indy 500 triumphs. The man that will lead the field to the green is perhaps the best shot to win the race.

Frontstretch predictions

This is tough. First, there’s 33 choices to pick from, making me even more hesitant in my poor choices. But I’m truly leaning towards McLaughlin. His attitude just makes it seem like he will pull this out. Also, Penske has been tough all week, and when they show this type of speed, it’s hard to imagine them being upset. But those things do happen. It’s Indianapolis after all.

  1. McLaughlin
  2. O’Ward
  3. Rossi

The 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 starts Sunday at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

Tom Blackburn

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. Besides writing the IndyCar Previews and the occasional Inside Indycar, he will hop on as a fill-in guest on the Open Wheel podcast The Pit Straight. His full-time job is with the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Purdue University with a Creative Writing degree, he was commissioned in the Army and served a 15-month deployment as a tank platoon leader with the 3d ACR in Mosul, Iraq. A native Hoosier, he calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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Drew

I think Helio Castroneves will get his fifth Indy 500 win and Kyle Larson will finish 4th.

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