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Colton Herta shows speed as Honda fights back in penultimate Indy 500 practice session

INDIANAPOLIS — (AP) — Colton Herta and Andretti Global showed Monday that the Honda teams at the Indianapolis 500 just might have something for the mighty Chevrolet cars from Team Penske and Arrow McLaren when the green flag drops next weekend.

Herta spent about half of the penultimate 2-hour practice for Sunday's race at the top of the speed chart, ultimately finishing with the second-quickest lap behind Penske's defending race winner, Josef Newgarden. In fact, Herta was so pleased with how his car felt that he began practicing pit stops and ended the session early, rather than logging any more laps.

“I definitely felt very good. I felt very confident in the car and what I was able to do,” said Herta, who will start from the inside of fifth row on Sunday. “The car just felt solid. It was right underneath me. I was happy.”

So was the Andretti contingent, which landed only Kyle Kirkwood among the fast 12 in qualifying. He will roll off in the middle of the fourth row, while Marco Andretti will start 19th and Marcus Ericsson will be in the middle of the last row.

“At the moment we're happy,” admitted Rob Edwards, the race strategist on Herta's car, “but we still have some things to work through to make sure we are ready for race day.”

One thing nobody quite knows is how the weather will affect things going forward.

The sun was shining and temperatures approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) by the end of practice Monday, which translated to a track temp of more than 123 degrees. By the time cars are back out for final practice Friday, cooler weather — and potentially some rain — will have arrived, creating far different conditions ahead of race day.

The forecast for the Indy 500 calls for temperatures in the low 80s with a chance of scattered showers.

“A lot can change,” Herta said. “We're going to have a little bit cooler temperatures, but I think all that will happen to us is we'll feel even better. I think we feel really nice. There is stuff we can work on but I think we're there.”

The first practice following qualifying, when Scott McLaughlin set a four-lap record to put Penske on the pole, went off largely without a hitch Monday — unlike last year, when Stefan Wilson and Katherine Legge were involved in a massive wreck.

Kyle Larson, who had returned from the NASCAR All-Star Race in North Carolina on Sunday night, spent time running in traffic while also fine-tuning how to get into his pit stall. Several other rookies also turned a lot of laps, including Tom Blomqvist, who logged the most of the field with 106 in his car from Meyer Shank Racing.

Pato O'Ward, who will start in the middle of the third row for McLaren, had the fifth-fastest lap at 225.738 mph, but he came away from practice in a funk. O'Ward said the team discovered “an annoying issue that we can't seem to perfect.”

Asked to elaborate, O'Ward said there were “too many variables.”

“I just hope we can fix it. If not, we're going to be at a handicap going into the race,” said O'Ward, who was second to Ericsson two years ago. “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.”

Scott Dixon finally showed speed for Chip Ganassi Racing, turning a lap of 225.446 mph, after none of the five cars fielded by five-time winning team owner Chip Ganassi advanced to pole qualifying. Graham Rahal also showed a little speed after he was fortunate to survive bump day Sunday and claim the final spot on the starting grid.

Then there was the trio of Team Penske cars, who swept the front row in qualifying. Newgarden had the fastest single lap on Monday, but Will Power wasn't far off with the third-quickest lap and McLaughlin looked like a formidable pole sitter.

“We're going to see how things shape up. You have to be ready for everything,” Newgarden said. “We're going to make a plan and we might follow the plan, or change things up. You never know at the Indy 500.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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