Power leads Penske 1-2-3 on Indy 500 opening day of practice

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Team Penske topped Sunday’s opening practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 with a 1-2-3 sweep of the top three positions, led by Will Power at a tow-assisted 223.057 mph lap in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. Power clocked in 82 laps, second most on the day.

“Apart from the speed it was great,” Power said, since he focused on race setups. “I did quite a few laps. We anticipated it might be wet. It’s only practice the first day, but it’s always handy to be on top.”

He added, of the shift to practice today after racing Saturday, “It’s weird having to wake up and get back straight in the car on a different style of track. As soon as I got into it, it felt normal.”

Power’s two teammates, who also had help on their fliers, were next up. Juan Pablo Montoya was second in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet with Helio Castroneves third in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium “Yellow Submarine” Chevrolet. They were both over 222 mph; Castroneves had the most with 83.

Best of the rest was JR Hildebrand in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter, as the 2011 ‘500 Rookie-of-the-Year turned his first laps of the month and posted a late flier of 222.200 in a tow to end P4. Fellow American Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport rounded out the top five.

EJ Viso filled in for James Hinchcliffe, with the Canadian not yet cleared to drive the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport, with a late best speed of 222.105 run in a three-car team draft.

That netted him P6 on the day, and Viso said the car felt stable, planted and with a solid baseline on his first day back in an IndyCar since the round at Houston last October. Viso withdrew ahead of the season finale at Fontana.

Twenty-four drivers took times. Of note, Kurt Busch made it to the Speedway after the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Kansas last night and ended 12th with 31 laps completed and a best speed of 220.352 mph, and rookie Sage Karam completed the third and final phase of his Rookie Orientation Program in the morning in the No. 22 DRR Kingdom Racing Chevrolet.

IT WAS SUNDAY? OR IT WAS JUST A RACE-DAY HANGOVER?

Overall, the day had a bit of a weird vibe to it as it felt like not just the day changed from Saturday to Sunday, but the month changed from really “any other month” to “the Month of May.”

Crews, staff and media alike were all drained from full on “race day mode” on Saturday to then changing engines, pit positions, and doing rebuilds on cars ahead of the first day of practice on Sunday.

And with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis a Thursday-Friday-Saturday affair, if anything, today felt like a Monday at the track, rather than a Sunday. At least the vibe was one of a “Case of the Mondays.”

ADDITIONAL NEWS AND NOTES 

  • Ryan Briscoe, of NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing, said his sixth place Saturday could have been better had it not been for a penalty for a pit safety infraction, hitting an air hose. He said the CGR team is improving, but still has a bit to do to catch the leaders.
  • Oriol Servia turned laps for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing today, but his time didn’t register on timing & scoring.
  • Kyle O’Gara, who was set to run the Indy Lights Freedom 100 in a second Fan Force United entry, has withdrawn from the race. O’Gara tested at the series’ open test at IMS, but despite a trimmed out setup and max throttle, was more than one second off the pace.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.