Scott Dixon paces Carb Day as Team Penske finally shows speed in final Indy 500 practice


INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon remained the favorite at the top of the board Friday in the final Carb Day practice before the 105th Indy 500 and called it a day with 45 minutes remaining in the session.

“Hopefully it runs this good in the race,” Dixon, who won the pole position last Sunday, said after his lap at 228.323 mph put the six-time IndyCar champion in control of Friday’s practice. “I was told we were done. We got through our list. I thought the car felt good.

“Also the conditions, I thought everyone was going to feel like King Kong out there.”

105TH INDY 500 INFO: Start times, schedules, TV, stats, historical details about the 2021 race

STARTING LINEUPThe 33-car starting grid for the 2021 Indy 500

Dixon packed his helmet and calmly headed back to the paddock, his rivals taking nervous notice of confident the pole-sitter is ahead of Sunday’s race.

It’s the fifth time in 10 days that Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda was the fastest at the end of a practice or qualifying session (also posting the fastest speed in Saturday’s qualifying opener and topping practice last Wednesday and Friday).

“We changed our plans when we saw that. We knew we were in trouble,” joked Will Power. “Completely changed the car. I thought I was safe, then I saw him get out. That’s it, it’s over.”

WHO WAS FAST: Click here for the speed chart from the final Indy 500 practice

Rain disrupted the traditional “Carb Day” practice but IndyCar was able to get cars on track for almost two hours later Friday afternoon. Indianapolis Motor Speedway leased “Air Titan” track dryers from NASCAR to get the 2-mile track dry for a practice session in which all 33 cars got on track.

The session was shortened for the final 10 minutes when it once again began to rain, but not before Team Penske showed its ready to race Sunday and the rest of the field indicated it should be a rather exciting show.

“The racing is amazing right now,” said Colton Herta, who will start second alongside Dixon. “I hope it stays this cool for the race because it is actually a lot of fun out there.”

The biggest surprise was Team Penske, which struggled in qualifying and nearly missed the race with Power. One of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history had to fight his way into the 33-car field and rookie Scott McLaughlin at 17th was the highest-qualifying Penske driver.

“I honestly felt bad for Will. Obviously, he’s a fierce competitor. Seeing the struggles, not him, but the team are going through for qualifying pace,” Dixon said. “He’s probably the greatest qualifier of our era if not all time. You definitely know it’s not him, it’s just one of those frustrating things.

“He handled it extremely well. Kudos for keeping his foot in it, too, which made for some great TV, some great Internet stuff, as well.”

Team owner Roger Penske said his four cars would be just fine come race day, and that seemed to be the case in final practice. Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 race winner, was second fastest and followed by Josef Newgarden in third. Power, the 2018 winner, was sixth while McLaughlin was seventh.

Conor Daly was fourth fastest on the day in yet another strong showing for Ed Carpenter Racing.

But the American said Friday was his worst day of the month, and he was furious after a near on-track miss with Santino Ferrucci.

Marco Andretti, meanwhile, was fifth fastest after rebuilding the floor of this car Saturday following a disappointing qualifying effort. The change had an immediate effect, and Andretti now believes he’s got a shot at winning the race.

“I’ve had a car to win this race a lot of times. I’ve said that before the race,” Andretti said. “We just have to see if the stars align, do our job, slowly get there, hopefully stay out of messes. But the field is pretty stacked, very talented, hopefully very smart.”

Andretti was the pole-sitter a year ago but the first since 2001 to fail to lead a single lap.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”