Newgarden favourite for Indy 500, Power starts second

After securing the first front-row lockout in Indy 500 qualifying since 1988, Team Penske will be hoping to put aside their recent controversy by clinching victory in the great race this weekend.

Ex-Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, Australian Will Power and Josef Newgarden have Team Penske in pole position for the win.

Indycar threw out both Newgarden's win and McLaughlin's third-place finish in the opening race in St Petersburg, Florida, after recently discovering illegal push-to-pass software on the three Team Penske cars.

Team Penske now has the chance to make amends, with the focus of race defending champion Newgarden steely as ever.

A social media post designed to introduce drivers in the Indianapolis 500 to the general public put Newgarden in an awkward light when he was asked a simple question.

"Which IndyCar driver would you take on a road trip?" asked the questionnaire.

"Solo" Newgarden responded.

An odd answer for a driver who a year ago was practically inseparable from McLaughlin, his Team Penske teammate.

The "Bus Bros" had a media company, a YouTube show and merchandise. They appeared to be the best of friends and McLaughlin celebrated Newgarden when the Tennessean finally broke through to win his first Indianapolis 500.

Twelve months later, the Bus Bros are no more, the friendship apparently unravelled after Newgarden went solo and unfollowed everyone on social media - including his wife - in a bid to rebuild his love of racing.

Winning the Indy 500 wasn't as fulfilling as he had expected; for the two-time IndyCar Series champion, racing had become a grind of too many failures and not enough successes.

Now he is insulated and re-energised. He qualified third with McLaughlin winning pole and Power qualifying second.

Asked how different this year has felt from last season, when Newgarden won in his 12th try, he felt nothing much has changed.

"Feels really similar to me in a lot of ways. I feel a lot of respect for this facility and this race, this track," Newgarden said before turning the topic to how good his Chevrolet was a year ago.

"We were fortunate enough as a team, as a group, where it just fell into place for us. We had a great car. ... it was our day.

"I feel the same in that regard. I think I've got another great race car," he continued. "I had sort of let go of the fact that 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. I'm happy to be here, happy to have a shot."

This year's race has NASCAR star Kyle Larson in the field as he attempts to become the fifth driver in history to complete "The Double" and race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

The 2021 Cup Series champion, who qualified fifth, is the first driver to attempt the 1,100 miles of racing since Kurt Busch in 2014. But the weather is not in his favour with the forecast for rain on Sunday.

McLaren boss Zak Brown, meanwhile, has one eye on the weather and a plane ticket on hold for Saturday to take him to the Monaco Grand Prix if it appears the Indianapolis 500 will be rained out.

He would then attempt his own version of "The Double" and watch his F1 drivers Lando Norris and Australian Oscar Piastri on Sunday in Monaco, then return to Indianapolis for the 500 on Monday.