Indianapolis 500 expected to start Sunday afternoon after strong storm prompts delays

The Indianapolis 500 is expected to start about 4:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday after a strong band of thunderstorms that swept through Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought pre-race festivities to a halt and forced the evacuation of about 125,000 fans who had already arrived for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Track president J. Douglas Boles said it would take track drying equipment about two hours to dry the 2.5-mile oval, but the expectation is that the race would begin roughly four hours late and all 200 laps would be completed before dark.

"Our plan all along has been to get the Indianapolis 500 in today and I believe we are on track to do that," Boles said.

Heavy storms had been expected all week, and they arrived about 12:45 p.m., just when the green flag was supposed to drop. Along with heavy rain, the band brought wind gusts up to 45 mph and dangerous lightning, and video boards inside the race track advised fans who had already made their way into the speedway to seek shelter.

Boles said that pre-race festivities, such as the military salutes in honor of Memorial Day and the traditional performance of "Back Home Again in Indiana," would take place. He also said the television blackout that prevents the race from airing live in the Indianapolis area would be lifted so that fans who needed to leave early could watch from home.

Kyle Larson also plans to stick around, choosing to run the Indianapolis 500 at the expense of the Coca-Cola 600.

The NASCAR star was attempting to become the fifth driver in history to complete "The Double" by running both races in the same day; he last to do it was Kurt Busch in 2014, and the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles was Tony Stewart in 2001. But the delay in Indianapolis meant that it would be impossible for Larson to get to Charlotte in time for the Cup Series race.

Justin Allgaier was on standby there and planned to drive the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports in his place.

"I think our plan is to keep this as a priority," said Larson, who qualified fifth for his debut Indy 500 in a joint effort between Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports.

His publicist later confirmed that Larson would indeed remain in Indy.

The defending winner of the Indy 500 is Josef Newgarden, whose Team Penske teammates Will Power and pole sitter Scott McLaughlin join him on the front row. McLaughlin broke the four-lap qualifying record with an average of 234.220 mph.

Newgarden has been trying to rebuild his reputation in the paddock after 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 in the season opener. President Tim Cindric, Newgarden’s strategist, is one of several team employees suspended for the race.

Only five drivers in 107 runnings have won "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in consecutive years.

Chevrolet clearly had the speed advantage in qualifying when the engine maker claimed the first eight spots in on the grid. But Honda showed it can hold its own in race trim, which means there was no obvious favorite when the green flag drops.

As rain fell at the speedway, most of the drivers retreated to their garages or motorhomes. Power was hunkered down in his garage in Gasoline Alley alongside buddy Flavor Fav, who rode with him in the 500 Festival parade on Saturday.