By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama– Team Penske broke a nearly five year old streak during Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The NTT IndyCar Series stalwarts failed to make it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying for the first time since the 2014 race at Long Beach as Will Power could only manage seventh fastest while Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden qualified 14th and 16th, respectively.
For Power, the weekend has been less than perfect for the defending Indianapolis 500 winner. The highest up on the time sheet that the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet managed was 11th in the second practice session on Friday. Power has won at the 2.3 mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course twice but will be looking for more on Sunday after aborting what could’ve been an extra lap in the second round of qualifying.
“I aborted the lap because I pushed wide in Turn 17, but I shouldn’t have,” said Power. “When I think about it, you’re only a tenth down on the eight-five (1:08.5) I did. If I just would have done an eight-seven, I would have been fine. That was my bad. We struggled all weekend. It’s a tough track to pass on, so it would have been nice to start in the Firestone Fast Six. There are some good guys out there and we’re going to have to work harder to beat them in the Verizon Chevy. It’s been a tough weekend with some of the practice sessions being so short. We’ll have a good think about it for the race and see what we can come up with.”
Pagenaud won at Barber in 2016 after a spirited battle with Graham Rahal in the closing stages of that year’s race but hasn’t won for Team Penske since the final race of the 2017 season at Sonoma Raceway. Pagenaud was the first driver among the group to nod advance out of the second group in round one of qualifying.
“It was definitely a tough qualifying session with a lot of champions in that second group,” said Pagenaud. “I felt like I gave it everything I had there, but we’re talking like five-hundredths of a second to try to transfer to the next round. We didn’t leave anything on the table, so we have a little bit more work to do to be ready for the race. Everyone on the Menards Chevrolet team will be focused on getting everything right tomorrow to get a good result.”
The biggest surprise was Newgarden. 16th marks his worst start at Barber Motorsports Park since joining Team Penske and the three-time winner in Alabama (2015, 2017 and 2018) has a lot of work to do to climb from 16th.
“We gave it all we had in the Fitzgerald USA Chevrolet but we just didn’t have enough to advance,” said Newgarden. “We are kind of scratching our heads as to why, but we just didn’t have enough speed overall to move on. I have all the confidence in the world in our Team Penske guys to figure it out. This is why you have a great team. We’ll work on it tonight and we’ll come back tomorrow and be ready to go in the race.”
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starts Sunday just after 3:00 with the race airing live on NBCSN.