INDIANAPOLIS — All week long, the major storyline for this year’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) was if Helio Castroneves can win a record setting 5th Indy 500 crown and the Indy oval debuts of Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean. However, as we sit here going into qualifying to set the field for next Sunday’s race, one storyline flying under the radar is of one David Malukas.
The rookie driver is turning heads this week but I feel like it’s not enough. Malukas has been in the top 10 in all three practice sessions run and doing so in treacherous conditions.
“For me the struggle is you get this setup and whatever you have once you go out, and you hit the wind, one lap in there might not be any wind, the next lap there is, and then you kind of have to guess, well was that the setup dropping off, was that the tire dropping off, or was it just a gust of wind,” said Malukas on Fast Friday.
“So the hard part is trying to guess going into the next corner how the car is going to react. That’s to me what I’ve been struggling with this wind here.”
Malukas started the week off being 7th fastest on opening day on Tuesday. After a washout on Wednesday he was an impressive 3rd on Thursday. The youngster then backed that up with being 7th on Fast Friday but was an eye opening 2nd on the 4-lap average list.
If he could win the pole on Sunday then he’d become the first rookie pole sitter here since Teo Fabi in 1983.
“Yeah, I mean, definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this well, but as soon as I got into the car for the first time and saw how quick it was, then my expectations started to go up,” Malukas told me.
“It all just comes down to the team. They’ve prepped it so well, and as soon as we went off I did some bad laps and they were like, well, it’s still very good; it’s still high on the charts.
“It’s kind of been like that throughout the whole week, and it’s just given me a lot of confidence to try different things and build my way up to it nice and slow, and now we’re still there.
“Yeah, overall I’m just very happy.”
This run is like the one in 2017 of Ed Jones who flew under the radar all month and drove his Dale Coyne Racing entry home to a third place finish in the event. Despite that, it was all about Fernando Alonso that year with AlonsoMania taking Indy by storm. Alonso was named Rookie of the Year for the 2017 race and not Jones.
“Yeah, I think a little bit under the radar,” said Malukas to me on that. “I don’t think people were expecting a result like this. I mean, I wasn’t really expecting anything like this.
“Whatever way it goes, I’m just happy. I have Takuma Sato as my teammate and I’m driving an INDYCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and at the same time we’re quick. If you were to tell me this when I was a kid I would just think you were lying or I’d be pinching myself to wake up.”
Now we get Johnson and Grosjean stealing the rookie headlines with over Malukas who’s been equally as strong if not stronger than both.