If you’ll be in Charlotte for Sprint All-Star Race or Coke 600, hang out with some of NASCAR’s biggest stars

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One of the best parts of having the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 on back-to-back weekends in the Charlotte area are the numerous opportunities for interaction between NASCAR drivers and their fans.

If you’re going to be in the area during that time, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the appearances, many of which are free to attend.

Courtesy of our good friends at Jayski.com, here’s a partial list of which drivers will be doing what and where they’ll be doing it (all times Eastern):

May 15, 3 to 6 pm: Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, LiftMaster Community Day at Chip Ganassi Racing, 8500 Westmoreland Drive, Concord, N.C.

May 16, 2 pm: Marvin Panch at Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 16, 4 pm: Autograph session, featuring Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers. Located at Sprint Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). Fans must acquire a wristband by participating in an activity at The Sprint Experience between noon and 3:00 PM on May 16. Wristbands will be limited to 100 per driver pairing.

May 17, Sprint Experience at CMS: Renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass (1 pm), Jamie McMurray (3:45), David Ragan (4:15), Kyle Busch (4:45).

May 17, 3:40 pm: Ryan Newman at RCR merchandise hauler at CMS.

May 17, time TBA: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick to appear at Hunt Brothers Pizza Party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Hunt Brothers Pizza Party Pass. For more information, see charlottemotorspeedway.com/huntbrothers/.

May 18, all day: Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Marvin Panch, Neil Castles, Geoff Bodine to appear at Memory Lane Museum, 769 River Hwy Mooresville NC. Admission (includes access to museum) $10.00 for adults, $6.00 for kids 6-12 years old.

May 19, time TBA: Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Matt Crafton, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Tyler Young, Ryan Preece, Corey Lajoie, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Daniel Suarez and Mackena Bell will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C., as part of the First Annual Veteran Kart Challenge to Benefit Service Disabled Veterans. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 20, time TBA: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Drew Herring, Timmy Hill, Scott Speed, Landon Cassill, Blake Koch, Kevin Swindell, Dylan Kwasniewski, Johanna Long, Joey Coulter, Shane Stewart will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C. The Little 600 is a FREE fan event with a $10 parking fee. The event night will also feature the Lady 600, a 10-lap rental kart race among some of the most well-known females in the racing industry, including NASCAR driver’s wives and girlfriends. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 21, 11 am to 3 pm, Michael Waltrip Racing Fan Fest, featuring Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Live SiriusXM radio broadcast from site. Autograph schedule: Burton 11:00 to noon, Bowyer noon to 1:00, Waltrip 1:00 to 2:00. MWR is at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive off exit 28 on I-77 in Cornelius, N.C.

May 21, 6 pm: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, and Richard Childress at Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, N.C.

May 21, time TBA: J.J. Yeley, Jimmy Elledge and Tyler Reddick at Millbridge Speedway 6670 Mooresville Road Salisbury, N.C. More info: minioutlawseries.com

May 22, 10 am: Richard Petty Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day, 7065 Zephyr Place NW, Concord, N.C. Slated to appear: Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola, Dakoda Armstrong and Corey LaJoie. Note: wristbands for autographs to be handed out at 8 a.m.

May 22, 8 am to 5 pm: Roush Fenway Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 4600 Roush Place, Concord, N.C. Appearing: Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Jack Roush. Autograph session tickets first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 8:00 AM with distribution lines opening at 5:00 AM. Autograph session schedule: 10 am – Roush, Bayne, Buescher and Reed.  11 am – Biffle and Stenhouse. Noon – Edwards.

May 22, 10 a.m.: Kasey Kahne Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 265 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C. Kahne will be signing autographs with his team’s open wheel drivers, Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet and Cody Darrah. Autographs begin at 10 am, followed by a Q&A. Must obtain wristband at store between May 19-21, from 9:30 am to 5 pm. More info: kaseykahneracing.com.

May 22, 1 pm: Brendan Gaughan, Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 22, 1 pm: Patrick Staropoli and Tyler Young at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 22, 7 pm: Donnie Allison, Justin Allison, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements, Jamie Dick, Brennan Newberry, Taylor Stricklin, Robert Yates, Grant Enfinger at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, Noon: Michael Annett at Team Chevy display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, all day: J.R. Motorsports Fan Days. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott will sign autographs from 1 to 2 pm. Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Karsyn Elledge and JRM Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron will sign autographs from 11:45 to 12:45 PM. Fans must have a wristband to receive an autograph. There will be no photos taken with drivers. To enter for your chance to win a wristband, visit JRMRacing.com. JRM is at 349 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C.

May 23, all day: Hendrick Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chad Knaus, Kenny Francis, Alan Gustafason, Steve Letarte, and Rick Hendrick to appear in fan Q&A sessions throughout the day. No autographs will take place during the event. Sessions are as follows: 3:05-3:30 — Francis (No. 5 crew chief), Gustafson (No. 24 crew chief). 3:35-4:00 — Knaus (No. 48 crew chief), Letarte (No. 88 crew chief). 4:05-4:30 – Gordon. 4:35-5:00 – Kahne. 5:05-5:30 – Earnhardt. 5:35-6:00 Johnson. 6:05-6:30 — Rick Hendrick. More info: hendrickmotorsports.com.

May 23, 6:45 pm: Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, 7 pm: Ross Chastain, Jamie Dick, Ernie Irvan, Jared Irvan, Blake Koch, Brennan Newberry, Jimmy Weller at Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 24, 6:45 pm: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle at Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 25, time TBA: Ryan Newman at Sprint Experience at CMS.

May 25, time TBA: Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart at Coca-Cola pre-race party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Coke Party Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/cokepartypass/.

May 25, time TBA: Carl Edwards, Eric Almirola, Jimmy Fennig at Ford Racing Hospitality at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase Ford Racing VIP Hospitality Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/fordracing/.

For more appearances or changes, click here to visit Jayski.com’s Driver Appearances page.

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Castroneves is second in Indy 500, but jumps to No. 1 in IndyCar standings

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Second-place may be the first loser, but for Helio Castroneves, finishing second in Sunday’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 left him with a very nice consolation prize:

He’s now No. 1 in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Castroneves took over the top spot in the IndyCar rankings from Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who dropped to a three-way tie for second place with Sunday’s 500 race winner Takuma Sato and 500 pole-sitter Scott Dixon, who was involved in a terrible crash about one-fourth of the way through the race.

Castroneves has 249 points, while Pagenaud, Sato and Dixon are all 15 points back with 234 points each.

Last year’s Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, is fifth in the standings with 190 points.

Tony Kanaan, who finished fifth in Sunday’s race, is sixth in the IndyCar standings with 188 points. Rounding out the top-10 are teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who are both tied with 186 points.

IndyCar rookie Ed Jones, who finished a very strong third in the 500, is ninth in the rankings with 185 points, and James Hinchcliffe is 10th with 170 points.

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With third-place showing, Ed Jones is highest-finishing Indy 500 rookie

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Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Ed Jones had been overshadowed much of the Month of May by Fernando Alonso, a fellow rookie at the 101st Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. With Alonso garnering much of the media attention, Jones was somewhat of a forgotten man.

However, he had been impressive in the opening rounds of the 2017 season, scoring consecutive top tens to begin the year, and he was quick during practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before eventually qualifying 11th.

He was then vaulted into the role of team leader on the driving front after Sebastien Bourdais’ accident and subsequent injury, but Jones remained overshadowed in the rookie battle by the aforementioned Alonso.

And, while Alonso led laps and ran amongst the leaders for most of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, it was Jones who emerged as the best-finishing rookie at race’s end, with strategy and timely cautions putting him in position to do so even before Alonso fell out with an engine failure.

However, the race took a turn for the chaotic for the Dale Coyne Racing driver on lap 52 following Scott Dixon’s horrifying crash, one which saw Jones hit debris and suffer damage. “It damaged the floor and also the rear wing. We had to change the rear wing. That sent me to the back of the field. We had to claw our way back up again,” he said of the incident.

He also revealed that the car had wing damage in the final stint, which created several issues for the 22-year-old driver. “I actually damaged my front wing, had a big hole in it. My legs got pretty cold, to be honest. I had wind blowing into them like crazy. (It) also created a lot of drag,” he explained.

Dating back to his days in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Jones now has five podium finishes on ovals. But, victory continues to allude him, a fact that disappointed him in spite of an otherwise strong performance. “I’ve had five podiums or five top 3’s on ovals now and I haven’t won one. It’s really frustrating not to get one. I’m working my hardest to get it the next time,” he asserted.

However, Jones earned the praise of his peers, most notably from Helio Castroneves, who was sure to compliment him during the post-race press conference. “I have to say he did a very good job. When we ran side-by-side, he was very smart,” Castroneves said of Jones’ performance.

Jones’ third place is his best career IndyCar finish to date and his first career podium in the series. His prior best was a sixth-place finish in April’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

 

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Team Penske has bittersweet overall finish in Indianapolis 500

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Even though it had five drivers – just under one-seventh of the 33 cars in the field – Team Penske had a bittersweet overall showing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Celebrating its 51st season in motorsports, Team Penske was searching to extend its record 16 wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, but came up real short — as well as not so short.

The good aspect was Helio Castroneves finishing a close second to race winner Takuma Sato. Castroneves came so close to winning a fourth time at Indianapolis, which would have tied one of the most elite records in motorsports history shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Instead, Castroneves finished second for the third time in his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s tough to accept,” Castroneves said. “I did my best. I really pushed it. The guys did a phenomenal job. We drove our heart, no question.

“The good news, sounds like we’re leading the points (he leads teammate Simon Pagenaud — who is also tied with 500 winner Takuma Sato and 500 polesitter Scott Dixon — by a 245 to 234 point margin. Hey, there is always a positive note. I think that it is very positive.

“Yes, finishing second again sucks. So close to get the fourth. I really am trying. I will not give up this dream. I know it’s going to happen.”

Castroneves almost ran head-on into disaster on Lap 53, when Jay Howard and Scott Dixon crashed. Somehow, Castroneves was able to sail under Dixon, whose car went airborne after contact with Howard’s car, and continued on.

“What can I say? My race was pretty adventurous,” Castroneves said with a smile. “We have a lot of things. We started from the back. I knew I had a good balance. Then we went to the front about lap 50, then were in the top 10.

“Unfortunately with the accident with Dixon and (Howard), we broke a winglet and broke the front wing because it went off the track. I don’t know how to be honest. It was a good save, I have to say that. This place brings the best out of me. It was pretty good.”

Sato passed Castroneves for the lead heading into Lap 196. Castroneves rallied to pull even with Sato with three laps to go, but couldn’t complete the pass.

“I tried everything I could with three laps to go, two laps to go,” Castroneves said. “I went outside. Unfortunately my tires were overshot a little bit. I would have ended up in the wall. I thought it was good timing because I would try to make a move again. Man, he just took off and that’s it. That was my last chance.

“Really disappointed for the fans, for obviously my team. They gave me a great car. I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could. Unfortunately, second place is the best for us today.”

Castroneves said he’ll once again go for No. 4 in 2018: “Sorry, next year, then.”

Also having a good day was former 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished sixth in a one-off Verizon IndyCar Series start.

“Our Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy was good,” Montoya said. “We had a problem there in the beginning when we ran out of gas in Turn 3. We should have had another half-gallon in the car. It put is in a tough position because we lost a lot of positions there. From there to come back to where we finished was great. We ran 12th or 13th most of the day and then the car was really good at the end of the race. The balance just wasn’t there. Then I told the guys on the last stop, let’s take swing and we did and the car came to life. I would have liked to have had some more laps at the end.”

Defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.

“It wasn’t the finish we wanted today for the Menards Chevrolet team,” Pageaud said. “But for the big picture it was a decent day. We’re still in that top group in points as we head to Detroit. That’s a place that suits us pretty well. The (Indianapolis) 500 remains a goal and we’ll take another shot at it next year.”

Then came the bittersweet aspect. Two drivers that many felt would win Sunday – Will Power and the latest addition to Team Penske, Josef Newgarden – were involved in the same wreck late in the race that ended their days.

Newgarden finished 20th, while Power finished 23rd, both collected in a late race wreck.

“It was an OK day,” Newgarden said. “We just got caught up in that wreck there at the end. That hurt us. When we were up front we were good. We seemed to keep racing ourselves toward the front of the field. Then we would just get dropped back by a couple of issues. If we would have been up front the whole time, I think we could have finished in the top five. We performed really well today, things just didn’t go out way.”

Added Power, “I’m not sure what happened out there. All I know that I was sliding backward. It was an up and down day for the Verizon Chevy. We were able to stick our nose in there a few times and we were stuck back in the back other times. Then, we got caught up in that deal at the end that ended our day. We’ll move on to Detroit. The thing about this race is that we get to turn the page pretty quickly.”

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Takuma Sato captures 101st Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Similar to last year, an Andretti Autosport driver that wasn’t the most discussed or fastest has won the Indianapolis 500.

But like Alexander Rossi last year, Takuma Sato flew under-the-radar all month, then delivered the goods when it mattered most.

After his best month yet at Indianapolis, bravery and tenacity has won Sato the 2017 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, driving the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda for Andretti Autosport.

And for Helio Castroneves, finishing second leaves him again, one spot short of his elusive fourth victory with Team Penske in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet

Rookie Ed Jones was third ahead of Max Chilton, the former Carlin teammates in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires showing impressively well in their first and second ‘500s with Dale Coyne Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, respectively. Tony Kanaan completed the top five for Ganassi.

Meanwhile Fernando Alonso had an engine issue that took him out from a star drive, and Scott Dixon survived a crazy accident early on despite going airborne.

This was a crazy race because it had 11 yellow flag periods and 15 different leaders, a record.

Sato started fourth and was one of four Andretti Autosport cars that seemed poised to contend for the race win, as he, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Fernando Alonso all led – with Hunter-Reay 28 laps, Alonso 27, Rossi 23 and Sato 17 – for a total of 95 laps.

One of the race’s primary contenders was out early, when on Lap 53, polesitter Dixon was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time at Turn 1. After fighting an ill-handling race car in his first stint, Dixon came upon Jay Howard’s slowing and crashing car in Turn 1. Dixon dove low, but unfortunately went right into Howard’s path. That launched the New Zealander airborne in a terrifying accident. While he was seen limping later in the day, Dixon had been checked, cleared and released after the biggest crash of his career.

A red flag followed for repairs to the catch-fencing, which had a hole torn in it as a result of the impact. Alonso was leading at the time of the red flag, which lasted 19 minutes.

The crash set in motion a crazy chain of events that seemed to follow the rest of the day, and saw the phrase “yellows breed yellows” influence the race.

Alonso was clearly proving his race craft in his first oval race, racing against Rossi, Sato, Hunter-Reay and others – initially Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand for Ed Carpenter Racing – and later the Team Penske contingent, which was trying to move forward from poor qualifying positions.

A crash that took out both Conor Daly and Jack Harvey in separate incidents also brought out the third yellow, second actual yellow following a yellow continuation after the restart. A separate debris yellow from Laps 81 to 83 meant there were four within a 30-lap window on Laps 53 to 83 after going the first 53 laps at caution-free pace of more than 219 mph.

Within this segment, Castroneves had been issued a drive-through penalty on Lap 75 for jumping a restart, which knocked him back outside the top 20. It would also set the stage for his comeback.

Indeed by the halfway mark, Castroneves had the overall lead from Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Alonso, Kanaan and Graham Rahal, withle two different strategy plays emerging – Chilton in seventh and Will Power in ninth were not running the same strategy as the leaders.

There seemed a chance at the halfway mark that these two could run the final 100 laps on just two stops and not the three expected by others. But a rash of yellows from Lap 122 onwards changed that play.

After the stops near the halfway point of the race, on Lap 115, Hunter-Reay led Rossi, Alonso, Castroneves, Power, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Chilton and Sato.

However for the second straight year it was Buddy Lazier who caused a yellow – this time a crash on Lap 128 – that would change the complexion of the race. Lazier was the only driver transported to a hospital on the day, complaining of chest pains.

Chilton went for another off-strategy play here along with Hildebrand, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Jones, James Davison (started last as Sebastien Bourdais’ replacement) and Pippa Mann. It took the one fewer stop strategy out of play.

One thing that hadn’t yet entered the equation was reliability, the pre-race storyline, as Honda’s engines were under the microscope.

And suddenly on Lap 137, the first blew. Hunter-Reay was the first one to go, after running second having just lost the lead to Alonso, and that took him out of the race.

On Lap 167, a second pivotal engine issue occurred – this time Kimball’s had some smoke, and it brought out the ninth caution of the race. Crucially, it put everyone on the same strategy to the end after a period when he, Chilton, Davison and Hildebrand all took turns leading, Davison having completed a 33rd-to-first run at that stage.

Chilton had pitted just before the yellow but didn’t lose a lap. As he had enough fuel to finish, he then leap-frogged back to the lead when others pitted under the caution, and he held off several advances from his competitors when racing resumed.

Alonso’s star debut came to an end on Lap 180, almost poetically, as a Honda-powered McLaren entry, with the traditionally star-crossed Andretti name at Indianapolis, slowed to a halt with smoke out of the back on the front straight. Gone too were his win chances, leaving him an unrepresentative 24th.

After this restart came another crash. This time, it saw Davison’s star run come to an end after contact with Servia, doing his typically under-the-radar drive through the field for Rahal – and second on the same strategy to Castroneves – while Power and Hinchcliffe were also caught up. Newgarden hit the wall but continued.

Sato, who’d been good but not quite delivered his standard “no attack, no chance” style, would restart second on Lap 189 before unleashing “vintage Takuma” from there.

A ballsy pass around the outside of Castroneves and Jones had moved Sato up to second and in position to attack Chilton on the final restart.

With a power advantage still to play in the Honda vs. Chevrolet battle, Castroneves’ car was no match for Sato’s, and the Japanese driver moved past Castroneves on the outside into Turn 1 on Lap 195.

The drama from there was whether Castroneves could counter. Castroneves had a run with two laps to go, but Sato defended against him on the inside.

From there his last best chance was gone, and Sato had his second career IndyCar win – albeit a slightly bigger one than his first and thus far only prior victory at Long Beach in 2013, then driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. He also started fourth in that race, as he did today.

Castroneves’ runner-up here after starting in 19th adds to past missed opportunities in 2014, losing to Hunter-Reay (who started 19th) and in 2003, losing to then-teammate Gil de Ferran. One wonders how many more opportunities he’ll have to get number four.

In finishing third, Jones actually didn’t lead a lap – he ran as high as second – and came up two spots short of emulating Rossi as a rookie winner from 11th on the grid in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. The Indy Lights champion capped off a roller coaster month for Dale Coyne Racing with the team’s best ever Indy 500 finish, which beat Alex Lloyd’s fourth place in 2010. Jones is the first driver from the United Arab Emirates to race at Indy, although he’s a Dubai-based Brit who now lives in Miami.

Chilton led the most laps – 50 – which were the first he led all year and his first since leading just two at Iowa Speedway last year, his only prior laps led in IndyCar. The driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Honda has now delivered back-to-back career best results after also coming seventh at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, although one must think this will sting after a career drive.

Kanaan was a somewhat under-the-radar fifth, leading 22 laps early but never making it back to the point in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after Lap 27.

In sixth and never really a factor was Juan Pablo Montoya, in the fifth Penske entry, ahead of Rossi, who fell back with a similar fuel hose issue that affected him last year too. Marco Andretti was an anonymous eighth, Gabby Chaves an excellent and career-best equaling ninth in his first start of 2017 and Harding Racing’s debut, after starting 25th, while Carlos Munoz avoided the trouble for Foyt and brought that car home in 10th after starting 24th.

A heavy day of attrition meant that only 18 of the 33 starters finished. The finishers through from 11 to 17 were Carpenter, Rahal, Mikhail Aleshin, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Saavedra, Hildebrand, Pippa Mann and Spencer Pigot. Carpenter lost a front wing late in the day. Hildebrand fell back late after a drive-through penalty for jumping the second-to-last restart. Both Juncos Racing entries finished their debuts (Saavedra in 15th and Pigot in 18th), and Mann finished her seventh straight 500-mile race start in IndyCar, dating to 2011 (she skipped the 2012 race, bu has raced in every Indy 500 since 2013).

Unofficial results are below.