First place in points meant going last for Josef Newgarden in Friday night’s qualifying session at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Team Penske driver made the wait work to his advantage to claim pole position for Saturday night’s Bommarito 500 with his No. 2 PPG Chevrolet.
“I’m glad we got this one finished off. It was kind of an Iowa situation where I’d said, ‘This is the car that can win the pole,’ and we just missed it by a little bit,” said Newgarden, who along with his teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will be trying to complete a sweep of the year’s five oval race wins for Penske. “I would have been so mad at us as a unit if we did that again.”
No worries this time — his two-lap average of 186.508 mph was more than half an mph clear of the next-fastest qualifier, and his second pole of the season extended Newgarden’s championship lead to 36 points over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
The final oval qualifying session of the year got underway in sunny weather but less than ideal track conditions after some parading vintage Indy cars dropped oil on the racing line into Turns 1 and 2 before qualifying. This required a heavy application of quick-dry that made things extra difficult for the early runners on the shallow-banked, 1.25-mile oval.
“It’s just sad ’cause you can’t go anywhere else here, and it’s literally like an ice-skating rink,” fumed first qualifier Conor Daly, who wound up 18th.
Power, though, insisted that Gateway’s oval doesn’t have to be a one-lane track, if the drivers would just make it so.
“I really wish guys would start using that second lane. It’s there, it’s fine; it’s just that people don’t use it,” said Power, who will start third in tomorrow night’s race. “So if everyone just started using it at the beginning of the race, there’d be a second lane and there’d be passing. I just wish people would know that — that you can pass people on the outside in (Turn) 1 early in the race. And if you kept doing it, you’d have passing.”
Power’s championship-leading teammate indicated that he, too, intends to get after it rather than play it cool, even though his nearest championship rival, Rossi, qualified a disappointing 11th.
“You’ve gotta be smart… but you can’t just race for points,” said Newgarden.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci, who set the pace in the opening practice session, admitted he’d been a bit cautious on his first qualifying lap due to the tricky-looking surface conditions and felt there was a lot more speed in the car…which teammate Bourdais was able to demonstrate on his subsequent run.
“I guess I took his word for it and gave it a big leap of faith, and the guys gave me a great car,” said Bourdais, whose impressive two-lap average of 185.927 mph on the 12th run of the day held up for pole until the last of the 22 qualifiers. “It was a lot of sliding around but Santino’s word was definitely reassuring.
“The qualifying on superspeedways and qualifying on short ovals is just completely different,” added the Frenchman. “It’s full commitment. You’ve got to trust, but you’ve really gotta send it — and consequences are pretty high, too. It’s not like you’re going around at 120 (mph); averaging 185, 186, we’re going down into Turn 1 at 200-something. So it’s substantial, but I really enjoyed Phoenix last year and I had a really good time this time around.”
The third Penske of Pagenaud joins Power on Row 2 ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato and Ferrucci, while the fourth title contender, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, flanks Arrow SPM’s James Hinchcliffe on Row 4.
UP NEXT: Practice 2 under the lights at 9:15 p.m. ET.