Will Power on IndyCar pole again at St. Pete; Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden miss Fast Six
Will Power captured the pole position for the NTT IndyCar Series season finale as the championship race took an interesting turn Saturday in qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
It’s the 62nd career pole position and the record-extending ninth pole at St. Pete for Power, who has qualified first in a series-leading five races this season.
“I thought we had worse tires than the other guys, but I just absolutely nailed it, man,” the Team Penske driver, who is five short of tying Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record, told NBC Sports Gold reporter Marty Snider. “Really, really good lap. I had to work the wheel hard for that one.
QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for the full rundown
“I’m able always to take it to another level (in qualifying), and I can only do it once a weekend, I reckon. It’s something I love. I just absolutely love getting the most out of something and perfecting a craft I’ve been working at for 25 years.”
Points leader Scott Dixon’s struggles continued in qualifying as the No. 9 Dallara-Honda posted the 11th-fastest speed for Sunday’s race. It will be only the fourth time in 16 starts that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has started outside the top 10 at St. Pete.
Dixon caught a break as championship rival Josef Newgarden also failed to advance to the Fast Six.
“That definitely helps us a lot, , them not qualifying on pole and getting an extra point,” said Dixon, who leads Newgarden by 32 points.
It’s the fourth time in five races Dixon has qualified outside the top 10. The five-time series champion is in the worst four-race stretch in 15 years with finishes of 10th, 10th, ninth and eighth entering St. Pete.
“It’s gotta be exciting,” Dixon joked to NBC Sports Gold reporter Kevin Lee. “That was a little bit strange. The first session, the car felt good.”
CLINCH SCENARIOS: How the championship can be decided Sunday
Dixon needs to finish only 11th or better, regardless of where Newgarden finishes Sunday. Newgarden won this race last year after starting second, and his eight-place starting spot actually is his third best in nine starts on the street course.
We took a swing at it for Q2,” Newgarden told Snider. “It wasn’t the right direction, and I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job.
“We can win from (eighth). we just made it a little harder for ourselves.”
Alexander Rossi qualified second in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda, followed by Andretti Autosport teammates Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe. Jack Harvey and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top six.
There was much confusion from several penalties from the first round in Group 2 that affected the drivers who advanced. Most notable was Felix Rosenqvist, whose second-fastest lap was invalidated because the IndyCar stewards ruled that he interfered with Alex Palou.
Rosenqvist will start from the back while nursing a fractured right hand from a crash three weeks ago. He attributed the punishment to confusion from software supplied by IndyCar about whether drivers are on an in/out or a flying lap.
“I had a bit of traffic on my laps, but I put a decent lap together to get us through,” Rosenqvist said. “Then unfortunately we got penalized because we blocked (Palou), which our software told us that he was on his out lap, but he wasn’t. Obviously, we trust the software that IndyCar provides us, but it showed us the wrong thing, and we paid the price for it. It’s tough because the same thing happened to us last year at Laguna. It is what it is.”
Max Chilton (causing a local yellow), Rinus VeeKay (failure to reduce speed under yellow), Oliver Askew (failure to reduce speed under yellow) also initially were penalized.
But after a delay of more than 30 minutes in which it seemed Palou might be given a spot in the second round, IndyCar eventually allowed VeeKay to advance.
Other notables who failed to advance from the first round: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal and Scott McLaughlin, who will be making his IndyCar debut ahead of racing the full season next year for Team Penske. The New Zealand native will be starting 21st in the 24-car field.
Marco Andretti will start 23rd in Sunday’s race after his two fastest laps were disqualified by IndyCar officials, who ruled the Andretti Autosport driver interfered with Newgarden.
Click here for the full qualifying results.