INDIANAPOLIS — A social media post designed to introduce drivers in the Indianapolis 500 to the general public put Josef Newgarden in an awkward light when the reigning race winner was asked a simple question.

“Which IndyCar driver would you take on a road trip?” asked the questionnaire.

“Solo” Newgarden responded.

An odd answer for a driver who a year ago was practically inseparable from Scott McLaughlin, his Team Penske teammate. The “Bus Bros.” had a media company, a YouTube show and merchandise. They appeared to be the best of friends, and McLaughlin celebrated Newgarden when the Tennessean finally broke through to win his first Indianapolis 500.

Twelve months later, the Bus Bros. are no more, the friendship apparently unraveled after Newgarden went solo and unfollowed everyone on social media – including his wife – in a bid to rebuild his love of racing. Winning the Indy 500 wasn’t as fulfilling as he had expected; for the two-time IndyCar Series champion, racing had become a grind of too many failures and not enough successes.

Insulated but re-energized when he returned for this season, Newgarden scored an emphatic victory in the opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida. Six weeks later, IndyCar discovered illegal push-to-pass software on the three Team Penske cars and threw out both Newgarden’s win and McLaughlin’s third-place finish.


Newgarden returns to the speedway for Sunday’s race as the defending Indy 500 winner, but caught in a cheating scandal that has damaged his pristine reputation and that of Team Penske. A deeply embarrassed Roger Penske suspended four team members, including team President Tim Cindric, Newgarden’s strategist.

If the drama is distracting Newgarden, he’s not letting on.

He qualified third to complete Team Penske’s first front row lockout in Indy 500 qualifying since 1988. McLaughlin won the pole and Will Power qualified second.

Asked how different this year has felt from last season, when Newgarden won in his 12th try, he said nothing much has changed.

“Feels really similar to me in a lot of ways. I feel a lot of respect for this facility and this race, this track,” Newgarden said before turning the topic to how good his Chevrolet was a year ago. “We were fortunate enough as a team, as a group, where it just fell into place for us. We had a great car. … it was our day.

“I feel the same in that regard. I think I’ve got another great race car,” he continued. “I had sort of let go of the fact that I was ever going to win this race. It’s such a tough race to win, I think you had to be comfortable with that. I think that rings true for a second. I’m happy to be here, happy to have a shot.”



There remains dissatisfaction about the scandal, particularly from teams who simply don’t believe the Team Penske explanations as to how Newgarden, his engineers and McLaughlin found nothing to be amiss when their horsepower boosts worked when they should not have. IndyCar said Penske drivers had manipulated the push-to-pass software system on their cars; Penske and Cindric called it a miscommunication and breakdown in process.

Zak Brown, head of Arrow McLaren Racing, said the Penske punishments were too light; he called Cindric’s presence at Penske’s sports car win at Laguna Seca two weeks ago while under suspension “a bad look.”

There is skepticism that Cindric won’t be involved in some form in the race. IndyCar set no parameters on what the suspended team members can or can’t do, leaving the discipline to Penske to dole out. Penske owns not only the race team, but IndyCar itself, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.

“Do I think Tim Cindric is engaged during the Month of May? Yes. In what way, I don’t know the rules they set out, I don’t know that,” Brown said. “But do I believe that Tim Cindric is sitting on his couch, turning on the race and watching it as 5 of 6 million other people are? No.”

Newgarden can win a $440,000 bonus from trophy-maker BorgWarner if he becomes the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500s since the award was established in 1995. It’s been claimed only once – by Helio Castroneves after 2001 and 2002 victories – and only five drivers in 107 runnings have won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in consecutive years.


Newgarden is the race favorite, followed by McLaughlin and Kyle Larson, according to BetMGM Sportsbook. The odds made McLaughlin a little nervous, and same for Larson, who couldn’t understand why anyone would “waste their money betting on me.”

Said McLaughlin: “My first Indy 500, I was headed out to driver intros and some guy screamed at me he’d bet $20,000 on me to win. And all I could think was ‘Why?’”


This year’s race has NASCAR star Kyle Larson in the field as he attempts to become the fifth driver in history to complete “The Double” and race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

The 2021 Cup Series champion is the first driver to attempt the 1,100 miles of racing since Kurt Busch in 2014. Weather is not in his favor, with the Indy forecast calling for rain on Sunday.

Larson qualified fifth for his debut Indy 500, and a year’s worth of prep has gone into his joint effort between Arrow McLaren Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. Rick Hendrick, his boss, now seems to be having second thoughts about pulling Larson from Indy to get him to Charlotte Motor Speedway in time for the evening’s NASCAR race.

McLaren boss Zak Brown said the decision would be solely for Hendrick to make.

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