Photo: Stephen King/INDYCAR

INDYCAR Title Contenders Make Firestone Fast Six at Laguna Seca

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

MONTEREY, California – Four of the best NTT IndyCar Series drivers this season will have excellent starting positions for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as they’ll start in the top-six.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon leads the group as he’ll start alongside pole sitter Colton Herta.

Considered the long shot out of the group, Dixon trails points leader Josef Newgarden by 85 points.

After qualifying, Dixon felt his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda has gradually improved. Notably, finding a way of making his used Firestone tires work well.

“It was definitely a good recovery for us,” Dixon said. “We’d been struggling a little bit all weekend. I’d just been struggling to get the time out of the new tires.

“I think we did a good job. I know our second run pace on used tires had been really good all weekend, it was just I hadn’t been able to get the speed out of the new ones. It was a nice surprise, and you know, in a good position. We’ll just have to see how it rolls tomorrow.”

From struggling most of Friday to slowly finding reasonable consistency is Alexander Rossi, who will start third as he has a 41-point deficit over trailing Newgarden.

Rossi said having his three title rivals all around his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda isn’t good for his bid of capturing the series title but he knows it’ll make a for a good show at the 2.238-mile circuit.

“We go on and on about how tight the NTT IndyCar Series is,” Rossi said. “We knew it was going to be a tall order to put laps in today just with how challenging it’s been for the past couple days. So yeah, I mean, it’s always difficult every qualifying session.”

Looking for his second title in three years is Newgarden, who’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet was only good enough for the fourth starting spot.

He commented that to capture the championship, he’s going to need a clean day after having an adventure during the Firestone Fast Six that perhaps kept him from having an even better lap.

“We’ve got to have a good clean run tomorrow,” Newgarden said. “You’d like to win every race and maybe we’ve got a race-winning car tomorrow. It certainly feels like we have the capability of it. But we need to have a good clean day, try and not get caught up in anything, and just run our race like we normally would. I think that’s what we’ll try and focus on.”

In the bottom of the totem pole is perhaps the strongest out of the four in terms of speed all week. That man is the Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, the only man who’s led the points standings besides Newgarden and currently trailing him by 42 points.

His qualifying run too was adventurous as he went off into the gravel on his last qualifying lap, pushing his No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet to its limit in order to beat Herta’s pole time of 1:10.1405.

Pagenaud down played the last lap, saying it’s the least adventurous of them all considering he had to deal with Sebastien Bourdais in the first round of qualifying and trying hard to nail down a pole winning run.

“It was definitely an intense qualifying. We pushed as hard as we could to try to be ahead. Very exciting,” Pagenaud said. “I mean, a little too exciting for my taste, especially Q1. The problem is we were back there on pit lane, and it’s very difficult to get your tires up to temperature when everybody is trying to get themselves up front. So it’s an accordion effect, and Q1 was complicated. Our first lap was going to be my fastest and I caught Sebastien.”

“To make sure I was going to get a good lap I had to abort to get a second. It was a very stressful situation, but overall I wanted to be on the pole. I think we all wanted to be on the pole. But it was very tight. It was very important to at least transfer to the Fast Six, and I think we tried everything we could. I was attacking everywhere, maybe a little too much at times, but that was the time to go. Absolutely no regrets, and we did the best we could.”

All the talk is finally over. Four drivers will go on a chaotic 90-lap quest at Laguna Seca on a warm Sunday afternoon. Once the journey ends, only one will hoist the coveted Astor Cup and forever be known as the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

Live coverage of the 17th and final round will begin at 2:30 pm EST on NBC.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.