Alex Palou, Patricio O’Ward earn top-fives for Young Guns in the 105th Indy 500


Alex Palou, 24, finished second in his second Indy 500 while Helio Castroneves, 45, became the fourth driver to win his fourth Borg Warner trophy.

Cameras were focused on the tight battle between Castroneves, Palou, Patricio O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, and Ed Carpenter as one of the top storylines of the weekend played out. All week, questions have centered on whether the 105th Running of the Indy 500 would be dominated by youth or experience.

“Oh man, it hurts around here,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee while pointing to his heart. “This is the Indy 500. I cannot be angry about finishing second. But we had the car to win. We had the best car. It was amazing. And Honda, man, Honda gave us a lot of speed today.

“Super proud of finishing second. It hurts a lot, as I said, but it was a good battle with Helio. It’s better when you lose to the best in the business.”

The Indy 500 pays double points, so this was a great time for Palou to score a podium finish. He entered the Indy 500 third in the points with a 26-point deficit, but with Scott Dixon’s troubled race week, when he ran out of gas in the pits and settled for 17th, Palou left with a 36-point advantage and the championship lead.

Experience took the top spot and three positions in the top five, but Palou and O’Ward, 22, represented the Young Guns well.

The difference between Palou’s two Indy 500s could not have been greater. Last year he qualified seventh, but crashed and failed to finish on Lap 121.

O’Ward was the 2020 Rookie of the Race with a sixth-place finish after starting 15th. He was the only rookie driver to finish on the lead lap.

In 2021, he improved across the board. O’Ward qualified 12th and led 17 laps. Those were the first laps he’s led at the Brickyard.

He improved his race finish to fourth, and gave up the final spot on the podium on the last lap when he was passed by Simon Pagenaud, 37.

“I really think we did a perfect race,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “I really don’t think we could have done anything better. We just needed to be faster at the end. The balance of the car was pretty phenomenal the whole way.

“I would have loved to get this win for everyone, but we didn’t have enough speed. When they let me loose, I knew they were going to let the guys in front of me loose – and I didn’t have enough to catch them.”

O’Ward’s race strategy and setup were helped by his third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the first of a double header. He won the second race.

O’Ward dropped to third in the points’ standings, but trails second-place Dixon by only one point.

“I’m kind of bummed that we lost third to Simon at the end, but I took a risk to try and get a mega run on the leaders and it didn’t work out.” O’Ward said.

Rinus VeeKay and Colton Herta also had solid runs for the Young Guns.

VeeKay started on the outside of the third row and finished ninth.

Herta started second and raced with the leaders for most of the event until fell off the pace near the end and finished 16th.

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.”