Conor Daly earned himself and Carlin a first IndyCar pole position at Iowa on Friday, and it was only a late intervention from a couple of Penskes that prevented him from securing a clean sweep for this weekend’s double-header, with Josef Newgarden ultimately claiming the honor for race two.
Daly was the fifth car out and dusted those that had come before him with a first lap average of 175.188mph, and backed it up with a stout second lap of 174.960mph. Under this weekend’s unconventional qualifying procedure, whereby the first lap set the grid for race one and the second lap sorted the starting order for race two, that put him in a strong position for both races. But with most of the field still in the qualifying queue, it also made for a nervous wait.
On this occasion, the wait was less painful than it might have been: the field ticked down without anyone offering any real opposition until only the three Penskes, Colton Herta and Scott Dixon remained in the line. That shrunk further when Simon Pagenaud’s car suffered a fuel problem in pitlane, forcing the 2016 champion back to the garage to contemplate the prospect of two last-place starts.
There were no such problems for Will Power, who fell just short of knocking Daly off the top spot on his first lap but then jumped to provisional pole for race two. Newgarden was out immediately afterwards and ran Daly’s lap one time even closer – the pair were separated by about 0.08s – but the reigning champion found a little extra on his second lap to better both Power and Daly with 175.333mph.
That just left Dixon, who quickly made it apparent that the No.9 didn’t have enough to pose a threat. Daly’s fingernails were spared further torture.
“It’s just awesome,” Daly said. “So thankful to have a bit of a comeback. So thankful to be here. I hated this place the last few years, and now we’re on pole. This is hilarious. We have one more mission tonight, and that’s the race.”
There were other sorts of heroics to be found elsewhere. Zach Veach wasn’t the only Andretti Autosport driver to struggle – Alexander Rossi’s car was visibly loose pretty much all the way around the track – but a back-row starting spot is infinitely preferable to missing tonight’s race because the car is being rebuild, which would have been the case had the driver of the No.26 not made a phenomenal save when his car bobbled on his second flying lap.