What to know about Indy 500 qualifying: Plenum events, Penske domination, heroic late runs

INDIANAPOLIS – Day 1 of qualifying for the 108th Indianapolis 500 had Team Penske domination, crashes, 'plenum events' and heroic last-second runs.

In short, it had all the drama longtime fans crave from May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Here were the biggest storylines that helped set a bulk of the grid, decide the 12 cars running Sunday for pole and determined the four who will fight for spots on the final row:

Penske puts push to pass scandal behind it, take top 3 spots

Will Power all but guaranteed it a month ago: After several years of frustration on qualifying weekend – including Power himself nearly missing the field in 2021 – Team Penske would be back on pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After Saturday’s nearly seven hours of running, there’s little reason to think he won’t be right. With the Fast 12 and Fast 6 yet to run to set the order of the front-runners, Team Penske’s Will Power (233.758 mph), Scott McLaughlin (233.332 mph) and Josef Newgarden (233.293 mph) have locked out the provisional front row, with just Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi (233.069 mph) able to break the 233-mph barrier on four-lap average.

And on a day where other Chevy teams deal with a slew of engine blips throughout the afternoon and early evening, Team Penske finished their runs minutes after noon and could sit easy in their garages, meeting rooms and motorhomes and casually and calmly prepare for Sunday.

“It’s not surprising, not surprising at all. I told you we had worked hard, and Chevy had worked hard, and I’d be shocked not if one of our cars wasn’t on pole,” Power told IndyStar on Saturday after his run. “That was my prediction, and I still believe that.”

For Power, pole on Sunday would be the culmination of a career’s work, as IndyCar’s career pole leader at 70. The two-time champion has started on the front row for the 500 four times, but not on pole.

“That would be a nice box to tick, let me tell you. It’s not the end of the world (that I haven’t), but obviously, that would be fantastic to get pole here,” Power said.

What is a Plenum event?

Other Chevy teams saw no such luck Saturday. ‘Plenum event’ became a buzzword across the paddock, a term first made mainstream when Pato O’Ward lost the lead and the win late on the streets of St. Pete in 2023. The issue cropped up across several Chevy-powered teams Saturday afternoon, from Arrow McLaren’s O’Ward and Kyle Larson, to Ed Carpenter Racing’s Ed Carpenter and Christian Rasmussen, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing’s Conor Daly and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino.

Essentially, the issue comes at some point when drivers are shifting up and down between gears, and when that shift doesn’t go properly – easier to happen when the engines are tuned up to the limit – the engine loses power until the driver lets off the gas briefly to let things reset.

Even if a plenum event is caught quickly, and a driver properly lifts, that lift can make all the difference between a Fast 12 run and a qualifying effort slotted in the midfield or lower. And if they aren’t caught and dealt with immediately, a car can lose significant speed and ruin it altogether.

The issue first flared up during Larson’s late-morning run with a half-lap to go. Not well-versed in IndyCar technical glitches, he drove the car onto the cooldown lane and into the pits, thinking that was necessary to help preserve the engine. It cropped up again a few hours later during O’Ward’s first run of the day. Both, though, recovered in future runs and slotted themselves into the Fast 12 for Sunday.

Others that experienced the glitch late in the afternoon – Daly, Carpenter, Rasmussen and Canapino – all looked to be tracking towards potential Top 12 appearances when the hiccups caught them off-guard. They’ll start 29th, 17th, 24th and 22nd, respectively

What happened to Chip Ganassi Racing in Indy 500 qualifying?

After three consecutive 500 poles, Chip Ganassi Racing’s stronghold on qualifying weekend at IMS will end for one year, at least, with Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and company all missing out on the fastest 12 runs on Saturday. Late into the day, Palou seemed most likely to have a shot, sitting 12th on the timing sheets with less than an hour to go, in hopes of holding onto a shot to defend his 500 pole from a year ago.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s heroic late-day run, leaping from 22nd to 11th on the scoring pylon, bumped the IndyCar points leader below the cutline with 50 minutes left. The No. 10 Honda crew hopped into the non-priority lane, in hopes of poking their way back into the top 12, but was forced to sit as the day’s closing minutes ticked away as drivers outside the top 30 rolled through the priority lane for attempts to secure their spot on next weekend’s grid.

In the end, Palou will start 13th, followed by 500 rookies Marcus Armstrong (16th), Kyffin Simpson (18th) and Linus Lundqvist (27th) and 2008 500-winner and five-time 500 polesitter Scott Dixon (21st).

“We’re used to being the best Honda, and we’re not even the fastest Honda right now,” team owner Chip Ganassi told the NBC broadcast Saturday morning. “We have some work to do. We feel good about our race cars, but I don’t think we’re going to be setting any qualifying records this weekend.

“We’re not happy just to make the field, I can tell you that. You work in the offseason to be here today and this weekend. Obviously, we’ve had some engine issues, and we’re a little perplexed by that.”

Rinus VeeKay rebounds from crash to make Fast 12

Rinus VeeKay drew an opportune spot in line Friday evening for Saturday morning’s first run through the field. That luck was dashed with the snap of his steering wheel less than a lap into that initial run, leading to the fourth crash at IMS this week.

The young Dutch driver, who hasn’t started below the second row in four previous 500 starts, clawed his way back into the field with one of the more heroic – and gutsy – qualifying attempts IMS has seen in some time, with ECR pulling out his guaranteed spot in the field with under five minutes remaining Saturday. Now essentially out of the field and needing to again secure a certain starting spot, VeeKay did more than just guard others from bumping him into the Last Chance qualifier on Sunday.

Instead, VeeKay did the bumping, nudging Colton Herta out of the Fast 12 with a four-lap run of 232.419 mph to make the Fast 12 by just over 0.1 mph. He’s joined in the Fast 12 Sunday by the Penske trio, three cars from Arrow McLaren (Rossi, O’Ward and Larson), Kyle Kirkwood, Felix Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci, Takuma Sato and Hunter-Reay.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Everything to know about Indy 500 qualifying, plenum, Penske and VeeKay