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The ‘Field of 33’ for the Indianapolis 500 returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS – After a weekend of tension, frenzy, exhilaration and fear, when several drivers experienced the highest peaks and a few others endured the lowest valley, Monday was “The Morning After” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With a two-hour practice scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday morning at the Indianapolis 500 was a time for the front row photo shoot, where for the second time in the history of the race, all three cars in the front row are from the same team – Team Penske.

The last time that happened was in 1988 and it was also Team Penske.

Back then, it was Rick Mears on the pole, Danny Sullivan in the middle and Al Unser on the outside of Row 1. In 1988, Mears drove a yellow Pennzoil-sponsored car, Sullivan was a one-time Indy 500 winner in the middle of the first row and Unser was the defending winner of the 500-Mile Race.

This year, it’s Scott McLaughlin driving the yellow Pennzoil-sponsored Chevrolet. Power drives the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet and is a one-time winner of the Indy 500 in 2018. Newgarden drives the Shell Chevrolet and is the defending winner of the Indy 500.

History repeats itself, 36 years later.

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Team Penske is hoping history repeats itself on Race Day, Sunday May 26. In 1988, Mears won this third of our Indy 500s in the Pennzoil car. McLaughlin is attempting to win the Indy 500 for the first time in his career.

If successful, it would extend team owner Roger Penske’s record to 20 Indianapolis 500 victories.

After the front row photo shoot, individual teams had their own photo opportunities.

A tour through Gasoline Alley on Monday saw Arrow McLaren wheel out all four of its Indy 500 qualifiers with the entire crew lined up behind the cars outside of the garage and the drivers of each entry in the front.

From left to right was Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Chevrolet, Callum Ilott in the No. 6, Alexander Rossi in the No. 7 and Kyle Larson, fresh off his fourth-place finish in NASCAR’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, in the No. 17.

Afterwards, the entire field of 33 drivers posed the traditional starting lineup photo at the “Yard of Bricks” with the Borg-Warner Trophy.

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Once the formalities concluded, each driver headed to their respective pit area to prepare for the two-hour practice before the track goes silent until Friday’s “Carb Day” final practice session for the 108th Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske and defending Indy 500 winner Newgarden was the fastest driver with a lap at 226.238 miles per hour. He completed 89 laps in the No. 2 Shell Chevrolet and is attempting to become the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500 wins since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“The car feels good,” Newgarden said after his run. “I’ve been happy with it since we showed up. There’s been a lot of work put into this race car all year from everybody. I’m excited to go racing.

“It’s exciting to have Shell back on board, trying to have another solid day this Sunday coming up. The team has done a great job. We’re excited to be here, like I’ve talked about all week. I love this place. We’re going to see how things shape up.”

Newgarden has a great starting position to make his bid for back-to-back Indy 500 wins and that included the next step on that journey in Monday’s practice session.

“You’ve just got to be ready for everything,” Newgarden said. “I think we’re going to make a plan, and might follow the plan, or we might change the plan. You never know with the Indianapolis 500.

“Just be ready for Sunday.

“I think we checked (the box) pretty early in the week. Our race car and what we showed up with is very much intact. It’s there. The car is capable of racing and doing well. That’s kind of a box of its own. There’s a lot of other things you’ve got to be able to do in the race to tackle any challenges, but I think the car is very raceable and it’s got speed. You have that box check. You can kind of make anything else work, in my opinion.”

Colton Herta of Andretti Global was second in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda at 226.222 mph. He ran 96 laps. Power was third at 226.137 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.

“No massive changes, which is a good thing,” Herta said afterward. “Car was in a nice kind of window. Tried out some small things, found some stuff that was a little bit better, some stuff that was worse, and overall was just happy with it for most of the time out there.

“When you get a few changes in a row, it does get frustrating. You're trying to solve one thing and nothing is really working.

“But you've got to expect most of the changes that you make aren't going to be the ones that you'll keep, unfortunately.”

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Herta believes he has one of the best cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it comes to the race.

“I definitely felt very good,” he said. “I felt very confident in the car and what it was able to do, especially with the tailwind where you usually get big understeers. Out of Turn 2 today, the car today just felt solid, was right underneath me. So, I was happy with that.

“I think the guys you would expect to look good -- like Newgarden looked good, most of the Penske’s. Scott was okay, but I didn't really run around him that much. I thought my teammate Kyle looked good, and then there are some guys that seemed to be struggling, too.

“It's going to be a big kind of difference in the field, especially -- but who knows when it cools down. In the heat it's usually like that where guys will struggle a lot more than maybe they actually will.”

Agustin Canapino of Juncos Hollinger Racing was fourth at 225.747 mph in the No. 78 Chevrolet followed by Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Chevrolet at 225.738 mph.

The driver from Monterrey, Mexico did not believe his car was in the zone.

“Definitely hasn't been the best of the days of the month,” O’Ward said. “We're just -- we've had some annoying issue that we just can't seem to perfect. I just hope we can fix it. If not, we're going to be in handicapped mode for the race.

“But in terms of balance, I think we're pretty sporty if we fix that.

“We're slow. We know what it is, but it's a lot easier said than done to fix it or not have the issue.

“It just sucks when you're not fast enough around here. You feel helpless.”

Tom Blomqvist of Meyer Shank Racing completed the most laps in the two-hour session with 106. He was 16th out of 33 on the speed list at 224.600 mph. Christian Rasmussen of Ed Carpenter Racing ran 100 laps and was sixth at 225.718 mph.

It was also a chance for three of the drivers that had to endure Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifying to shake off the bitter disappointment of nearly missing the Indy 500 and focus ahead on race day.

Those three drivers including Katherine Legge of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Andretti Global, and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Legge’s four-lap average was 230.092 mph in the No. 51 Honda, Ericsson’s four-lap run averaged 230.027 mph in the No. 28 Honda and Rahal was 229.974 mph – the only driver in the field that did not qualifying at 230 mph.

On Monday, Rahal had the 11th-fastest speed at 225.205 mph in the No. 15 Honda. He ran 86 laps. Ericsson was 25th at 223.643 mph in the No. 28 Andretti Global Honda and Legge was the slowest out of the 33 drivers on Monday at 222.100 mph in the No. 51 Honda.

But for each of them, it represented the “Morning After” because as former driver Jimmy Vasser used to say about the Indy 500, “You can’t win it, if you’re not in it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500