Pato O’Ward leads final practice on Carb Day for the Indy 500

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Pato O’Ward became the first Chevrolet driver atop the speed chart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, pacing Friday’s final Carb Day practice for the 104th Indy 500.

O’Ward’s No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet recorded a 225.355 mph lap to lead the two-hour session, which was an hour longer than the traditional final Carb Day warmup. Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda was second at 224.646 mph, followed by Alexander Rossi (224.599) and Takuma Sato (224.580).

Oliver Askew, O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP teammate, was next at 224.128, giving Chevrolet two cars in the top five after Hondas had led the previous six practice sessions on the 2.5-mile oval and took eight of the top nine spots in qualifying.

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“It’s just been really important to try to get the best car we can under us for race day,” said O’Ward, who will start 15th in his Indy 500 debut. “Traffic running is going to be key, and it’s my first 500, so it’s important to have a car that’s able to follow closely and get runs on people and ultimately move forward. Today was a good step forward. We’ll have to go with our gut and hope this works like it did today on race day Sunday.”

Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner who finished second last year to Simon Pagenaud after trading the lead several times in the last 15 laps, was the leading driver Friday for Andretti Autosport, which has had four of its six cars starting in the top nine and has been the team to beat so far.

“This whole team has really showed up this week,” Rossi told NBCSN pit reporter Marty Snider near the end of practice. “I’m really proud of everyone, Honda’s done a phenomenal job. Everything is trending in the right direction. We struggled a lot in the beginning week to find a balance in traffic we were happy with, but right now I think we’ve got it, and we’ll just rub on it and pray all the stars align on Sunday.

“Ultimately, I think it’ll come down to the last 10 laps and be a dogfight between a couple of drivers, and we just hope to be one of them.”

There were no incidents in the practice, and drivers seemed stable in traffic, which defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden attributed to improved grip from cooler track temperatures.

“I feel cautiously optimistic we have a car to fight with and challenge the frontrunners,” the Team Penske driver, who was seven fastest in the final practice after qualifying 13th, told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “I think we’ve got a good shot. It’d be amazing to win at this place.

“You can’t force this place. But to win one for ‘The Captain’ (track owner Roger Penske, who also owns Newgarden’s No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet), especially in these trying circumstances, we’re going to do our best to put on a great show for everyone. I still think it’s going to be a magical Indy 500. It’s obviously going to be different without fans, but to win it for Roger in this place, this year, would be really special.”