Photo: Karl Zemlin/Penske Entertainment

Barber Qualifying Notebook

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The field is set. Time to go race.

Barber Motorsports Park showed no mercy to the NTT IndyCar Series field during qualifying for Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix, with every driver having to give their all to be able to advance through the rounds to fight for the pole at the end of the day.

Team Penske came out on top when the dust settled as defending race winner Scott McLaughlin banked the pole, with his teammate Will Power starting alongside, but behind them there were plenty of other stories to follow.

Newgarden: “I’m ready to rock.”

While his Team Penske teammates were celebrating a front row lockout for Sunday’s race, Josef Newgarden will have a little work to do, rolling off from eighth place after not getting quite enough to transfer into the Firestone Fast Six.

Newgarden leads all active drivers at the track, with three wins under his belt, along with being fastest in Friday’s opening practice session, so he knows how to get around this track.

“Just a better lap,” Newgarden said of what he was missing to advance. “I didn’t do a very good job, so we’re going to roll off eighth. The team did a good job though. We’ve had great car this weekend. Wish we could have gotten a bit more out of it there, but PPG and Chevrolet support has been great as always. Just excited to race.”

Asked about his readiness for Sunday’s race given the week he and Team Penske have had on the back of their St. Pete disqualification, Newgarden responded like a man on a mission.

“I’m here with my team, man. I’m ready to rock.”

Rahal’s Rage

When opportunity knocks, you have to take it and Graham Rahal was in prime position to do just that in qualifying, with both he and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Christian Lundgaard among the Fast 12.

While Lundgaard was at the top of the pylon when the second round ended, Rahal was left on the outside looking in, as his seventh fastest time was not quite enough to allow him to advance.

But there’s the wrinkle, Rahal’s team called in for him to make another run, but the communication came too late as he had already started slowing his No. 15 Honda to come into the pits.

After pulling into his pit box, Rahal climbed from his car and traded verbal jabs with his crew for the miscue, knowing they had a shot, but instead threw it away.

“What I was upset about was a little communications stuff that we had enough fuel to do one more [lap] and I would have used it for sure, but I wasn’t told until I had already lifted to come in,” Rahal said.

“Unfortunately, it’s really tight here. It’s really fast here, so obviously there’s frustration because I think we’ve got a car that’s definitely capable and to not see it through is super disappointing. But we’ll see what happens tomorrow. I guess if you take anything out of it, we’re seventh and we’re the best of the rest in the sense that our tires, our reds, only have one lap on them each and we’ve got a new set.

“We’ll see, man. When you get an opportunity like this, it really is frustrating when you don’t see it all come together.”

VeeKay: “It’s race cars, they break sometimes.”

Barber Motorsports Park is statistically the best track on the circuit for Rinus VeeKay, with both his last pole and last podium finish coming at the track in 2022, so when he was fastest in Saturday’s second practice session, there was hope that a turnaround weekend was in the making for the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing team.

However, those hopes were dashed in qualifying when a mechanical issue sidelined him in the opening round, leaving him to start shotgun on the field in 27th.

If he is going to still make something out of this weekend, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

“Looks like an electrical issue,” VeeKay said. “I was out there first, my build laps were fine. Car felt good to be honest. Just lost power on the straightaway. We didn’t have the right fix here on pit lane, so the best thing to do was fix it overnight and save a set of tires for in the race….

“Nothing’s lost. We’ll go for a great comeback, but it just really sucks [after] being fastest in practice. Liking this track, I know we were going to be fast in qualifying. We would have definitely made in through here. I would have just loved it so much for the guys to make it through and give them something back for their hard work.

“We’ll have to do that tomorrow. Still proud of them. It’s nothing they did wrong. It’s race cars, they break sometimes. It’s unfortunate.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.