Photo: Brandon K. Carter/ASP, Inc.

Newgarden Speeds to St. Pete Pole, Rosenqvist Captures Track Record

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Josef Newgarden will be starting the year with the best seat in the house after capturing the pole for Sunday’s 20th annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

With a lap of 59.571 seconds, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet jumped to the top of the board in the final round of qualifying and was able to hold off all comers to score his first St. Petersburg pole position and 17th overall in his NTT IndyCar Series career.

The pole also gives him his best start on a road/street course since winning the pole on the Detroit Belle Isle course in June 2022.

“Gosh, I get jacked up every time I show up for an IndyCar race,” Newgarden said. “Like it’s an elevated level when you start out the year, because you just don’t know. You have no idea if you’re going to keep coming back and producing results. It’s very difficult.

“You saw how tight it was and I didn’t know this would come today. I just thought, look, let’s get through Round 1, let’s get through Round 2, and then see what we can make happen in the Fast Six.

“So, just really proud of this team. This is a rock star team. I love everybody on it. So, I’m happy to be back. 2024 we start right with Team Chevy and PPG and we’re here to go after it every weekend.”

He will be joined on the front row by Felix Rosenqvist, who set the new track record in the second round of qualifying with a scorching lap of 59.2706 seconds. The Swede has been fast all weekend long, leading practice on Friday afternoon in his new ride with Meyer Shank Racing.

“Did we get it?” Rosenqvist asked inquisitively when told he had the new track record. “Okay, cool. That’s awesome.”

“It’s been a really solid start so far. Big thanks to SiriusXM, AutoNation, Meyer Shank Racing. It’s been an incredible start. Honestly, we’re still kind of biding ourselves a little bit. We don’t want to get carried away. Obviously, the race is a different challenge.

“We had a feeling from practice rolling off the truck and that’s great. It’s not often that you have that feeling the first weekend with a new team. Big thanks to everyone. We’ll see what we can do here.”

Pato O’Ward will roll off from third on Sunday, along with Colton Herta in fourth, Romain Grosjean in fifth, and Marcus Ericsson rounding out the Firestone Fast Six.

For Grosjean, it’s a continuation of the thrill ride he’s giving his little team that could – Juncos Hollinger Racing. In every session thus far, the Frenchman has been right in and amongst the big teams, showing that the JHR bunch is here to play this weekend in Florida.

“It is very satisfying,” Grosjean said. “This year, I was hoping we could get in the Fast Six after FP1, but I wasn’t quite sure about it. We made it into the Fast Six, but I double up-shifted on my lap, so that didn’t help. We didn’t have the speed of the guys in the front, but I thought we could be a bit closer.

“Anyway, I’m very proud of everything that’s been done. Chevy has been helping us a lot on the simulator and on track the team has come a long way since Sebring where I wasn’t sure we’d be top 10 in qualifying and here we are.

“Very happy with that. Obviously in the race is when it counts tomorrow, but we have a good baseline.”

Making it through to the second round, but just missing out advancing to the final round were Rinus VeeKay, Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Armstrong, Scott Dixon, and Christian Lundgaard starting seventh through 12th, respectively.

Other notables starting further back in the field will be defending series champion Alex Palou in 13th and Alexander Rossi in 15th.

“That was very disappointing, because we had a pretty strong car,” said Rossi. “I was happy with the changes that we’ve made from yesterday and through the day today.

“We didn’t get a clear run on the Firestone Alternates, and it is so close that you can’t afford that. So, it is very unfortunate that we are so far back, but I do think the car is pretty strong. We’ll see what we can make of it tomorrow.”

Callum Ilott rolls off from 16th in his relief drive for the injured David Malukas, while Kyle Kirkwood will start all the way back in 18th place following his crash in practice earlier in the day on Saturday.

Teams will have a short warm-up session on Sunday morning at 9:10 am ET before it’s down to business for the 100-lap Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at 12:30 pm ET on NBC.

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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.