IndyCar: Reigning Indy 500 winner sends major early warning shot

Josef Newgarden topped the speed chart in the opening test session for the 108th running of the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Josef Newgarden, Indy 500, IndyCar
Josef Newgarden, Indy 500, IndyCar / SOPA Images/GettyImages

It's hard to take the results of an early April open test session for the Indy 500 with much more than a grain of salt, but when the reigning race winner finishes on the top of the speed chart on the opening day, perhaps it's a little bit more than just a way-too-early indication that he is once again slated to be the driver to beat on Memorial Day Weekend next month.

Team Penske's Josef Newgarden finished Wednesday's test with a top lap speed of 228.811 miles per hour around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway behind the wheel of his No. 2 Chevrolet.

Newgarden won last year's Indy 500 after starting in 17th place, the lowest starting position for a winner since Ryan Hunter-Reay won it from 19th in 2014. Newgarden led just five of the 200 laps around the Speedway, Indiana oval, but the fifth was lap number 200 after pulling off just the third last-lap pass for the win in the history of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing".

Indy 500 season has officially begun

The day itself was shortened due to weather, but the current championship leader posted his top speed in the first practice session.

Of the 35 expected Indy 500 entries, 34 took part in Wednesday's test, with the lone exception being Abel Motorsports and their No. 50 Chevrolet. The 34 drivers who participated combined for 1,327 laps. Rookies Christian Rasmussen of Ed Carpenter Racing and Kyffin Simpson of Chip Ganassi Racing led all drivers with 80 laps run.

Behind Newgarden, who ran 46 laps, the next fastest driver was rookie Kyle Larson of Arrow McLaren. Larson, who ran 47 laps, posted a top speed of 226.384 miles per hour behind the wheel of his No. 17 Chevrolet, which was nearly two and a half miles per hour slower than Newgarden's pace.

Larson is attempting to become just the fifth driver -- and the first since 2014 -- to run the Memorial Day Double, competing in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day. He is competing for Arrow McLaren with support from his Cup Series team, Hendrick Motorsports.

DraftKings Sportsbook, which is giving fans an instant $150 bonus just for betting $5, lists Newgarden as the third favorite to win this year's Indy 500 at +850. Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou, the +550 favorite, finished in fourth place on the speed chart on Wednesday.

Full odds can be found at DraftKings and are subject to change.

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Thursday is set to feature another Indy 500 test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, weather permitting, from 10:00 a.m. ET to 4:00 p.m. ET. Indy 500 practice is officially scheduled to begin on Tuesday, May 14, followed by qualifying on Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19 and the race itself on Sunday, May 26 (11:00 a.m. ET, NBC).