ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will Power moved one step closer to IndyCar’s all-time pole record and Scott Dixon moved one position closer to clinching his sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship in Saturday’s qualifications for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Power ran a near record lap of 1:01.0369 around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course at St. Petersburg for a speed of 106.165 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske.
It was Power’s fifth pole of the season, his ninth in the last 11 races at St. Petersburg and the 62nd pole of his career. That leaves him just five poles behind Mario Andretti’s all-time record of 67 IndyCar poles.
“I just absolutely nailed it, man,” Power said. “It was a really, really good lap. I had to work the wheel hard for that one. I’m so stoked to get the Verizon car on pole again. Hopefully we can get Chevy in Victory Lane tomorrow. That would be fantastic.”
Dixon qualified 11th and did not make the Firestone “Fast Six” after his best lap was 1:01.0283 (106.180 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
But Dixon gained by Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden also missing the pole.
Newgarden did not make the Fast Six, either. The defending IndyCar Series champion will start eighth after his No. 1 Chevrolet recorded a fast time of 1:00.8676 (106.461 mph).
“We took a swing at it for Q2, and it wasn’t the right direction,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job. It makes our program a little harder for tomorrow, but we’ve still got to go for the win with the Hitachi Chevy boys.
“Yeah, we can win from there. We just made it a little harder.”
Newgarden enters Sunday’s final race of the season 32 points behind Dixon, but he will not claim the bonus point for winning the pole.
If Newgarden had won the pole, led the most laps and won the race, Dixon would have had to finish ninth or better to clinch the championship.
Now, all Dixon has to do is finish 11th or better to become only the second six-time champion in Indy car history.
“We’re starting 11th and Josef (Newgarden) is eighth, so that definitely helps us a lot, them not qualifying on pole and getting an extra point,” Dixon said. “We’ll keep working hard.
“It was a little bit strange. Our first qualifying session, the car felt really good. We just didn’t really piece it together very well. Then we kind of flip-flopped on how we did it. The first run we did three (laps) on black and then four (laps) on red. And we thought the reds came in quick enough. But right then, with how the traffic was and having to slow down, it was really only two laps. Each corner I was making, the car was getting more grip. But I just needed another lap.
“It is what it is. Our mistake.”
It could be a race of two different strategies for the championship contenders. All Dixon needs to do is play it safe, while Newgarden will have to go with a much more aggressive race strategy.
“It’s hard to say with Dixon what they’ll do,” Newgarden said. “For us, I think we’ll treat it as normal when we’re trying to win a race. We try to win every race. I don’t know how to spin it differently. We do the same thing every time.
“We’re going to focus on what’s the best strategy for us with where we’re sitting in eighth. How can we manage the race better than the people around us with the fuel usage, all that. When is the right time to push and not push.
“I don’t think it will be more aggressive or less aggressive than what we normally are. We’re just going to try to charge the front. It would have been nice to be in the top three, top five. Top eight, we’re not too far back. It just makes it a little bit harder.”
Dixon is closing in on Andretti for second on the victory list. Andretti has 52 wins and Dixon has 51. A.J. Foyt is IndyCar’s all-time winner with 67 victories.
Power is closing in on Andretti’s pole record and is just five away after his latest NTT P1 Award at St. Petersburg.
“That would mean a lot,” Power said. “That would be a great achievement for me personally, to be up there with a name like Mario Andretti. It’s something that I just love about racing, is when you get to absolutely get the most out of the car in one lap. That’s qualifying.
“To be at the top of the list for that would almost sum up my career, I guess, as far as being the speed that I have, maybe not the championships. Certainly, a lot of race wins, as well.”
As for Dixon, if he gets championship No. 6 on Sunday, he will be just one title behind Foyt’s record of seven.
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