By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Two of the drivers on the verge of making it into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs were the fastest in the preliminaries to Sunday’s Verizon 200, with Daniel Suarez winning the pole and Michael McDowell posting the fastest time in practice.
Suarez, who comes into Indianapolis just five points out of the top-16 with just three races remaining in the regular season, was confident this could be a banner weekend for his team and he backed it up in qualifying. When all was said and done, his lap of one minute, 27.968 seconds was enough to earn him the pole over defending race winner Tyler Reddick.
“I think the mentality, honestly, on the 99 team hasn’t changed since the last couple months. We have to continue to focus one race at a time, trying to maximize the potential for the race car and trying to win a race if it’s possible,” Suarez said of the team’s mindset in the waning stages of the regular season.
“We had a couple weeks that were pretty rough on us and then we had Michigan that I was pretty happy with that result, especially with the car that my team was able to bring to the track. I told my team, I said, man, last week I told ’em this is exactly what we needed. Just a little bit of momentum heading into road course season, because we have two in a row. So, here we are right now.
“The energy has been great. The guys have been working very hard. I’ve been working very hard and it’s showing so, we have to continue to work and execute tomorrow.”
Another driver still looking to punch his way into the Playoffs, Chase Elliott, will start third, followed by McDowell, and Kyle Busch to round out the top-five.
McDowell was the fastest driver in practice to kick off the morning, and while he was happy with a top-five starting position, lamented the fact that they weren’t able to keep the speed rolling into qualifying.
“I feel good about our speed, just bummed we didn’t get the pole,” McDowell said. “Lead practice and we were obviously fastest in that first round there, just didn’t back it up. It’s good to be bummed with fourth. Thought we had a pole today.
“Our Horizon Hobby Ford Mustang is fast. It’s good in race trim. It’s good 10 laps into the run, so I feel good about tomorrow, but today was not what we wanted.”
The remainder of the top-10 starters will be Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Shane van Gisbergen, Alex Bowman, and Ty Gibbs.
While van Gisbergen was once again the fastest of the road course ringers, his fellow V8 Supercars colleague Brodie Kostecki timed in 11th fastest. However, that was prior to getting into the wall off Turn 11 and damaging his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Kostecki was unsure if the team would be able to get the damage repaired or if they would elect to instead go to a back-up car for Sunday.
Behind van Gisbergen and Kostecki, you have to look all the way back in 28th to see the next of the road course ringers, where Kamui Kobayashi rolls off in his 23XI Racing Toyota. Jenson Button starts in 31st and Mike Rockenfeller will fire off from the next to last row in 37th place.