Indianapolis — One by one, Roger Penske’s four drivers took their shots during Indianapolis 500 qualifying Saturday.
Each time, they returned frustrated or flummoxed, futilely searching for answers.
And when the gun finally sounded, the most successful team in race history found itself shut out of Indy’s nine-car pole shootout for the first time since the format debuted in 2010. It’s also the first time Team Penske hasn’t had a car start in the first three rows since 2002.
“Not a chance, not a chance,” Will Power said disgustedly after posting a four-lap average of 229.701 on his four-lap run. “One of the slowest cars ever. We ran less down force than Josef (Newgarden) and it was slower. So that’s it, man, that’s what we’ve got. At least we can focus on the race now.”
The 2018 Indy winner made two more attempts but wasn’t any faster. Penske’s other drivers – three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves, defending Indy champion Simon Pagenaud and two-time series champ Josef Newgarden – continued making attempts, too.
Newgarden qualified 11th on the three-car, 11-row grid. He’ll start on the inside of Row 5 next Sunday. Power wound up 22nd with a 229.701, Pagenaud was 25th at 228.836 and Castroneves will be 28th – the worst starting position in his 20-year career at the Brickyard. He posted a 228.373
But unlike 25 years ago, when Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi did not qualify for the race, this was not just Penske’s problem.
The Chevrolet-powered cars struggled all day, with Honda engines claiming the top five seeds and eight of nine shootout spots. Marco Andretti had the fastest car at 231.351.
Rinus Veeky, the 19-year-old Dutch rookie, was the only driver standing in the way of a Honda sweep. He was sixth at 231.114.
“It was my fastest lap ever at Indy,” he said. “I haven’t done too many laps as a rookie, but I feel really happy. I had a good car at high speeds, so I already knew what the car was going to do. It just felt great and I didn’t have any problems at all.”
That was a rarity for the Chevy drivers.
VeeKay’s teammates, three-time pole winner Ed Carpenter and Conor Daly, qualified 16th and 18th. Carpenter also owns the team.
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy winner, is starting 23rd, and JR Hildebrand, the 500 runner-up in 2011, qualified 32nd after avoiding the wall during his only attempt of the day. Two-time world champ Fernando Alonso never had a chance, either.
“I was happy with the run and I think it’s what we have at the moment,” the Spaniard said after qualifying 20th at 228.768 in his Chevy. “We knew this morning or maybe yesterday, we were not going to be real good with the boost. So we said let’s focus on the race car.””
The obstacles for Penske’s team kept getting worse.
“Obviously, we are working on it,” Castroneves said after making the first of three qualifying runs. “We’ve got to see if we can find something, just to find it. However it’s going to take at least two to 21/2 hours to cool down this car to see if that’s possible. We’re going to try. Otherwise, we have a very good car for the race.”
Things went so poorly, Newgarden and Power were back in line when Hildebrand, the last driver to make an attempt, finished his run.
When that didn’t work, Team Penske returned to its garage where crew members and engineers watched television coverage, looking for a glimmer of hope.
That moment came when points leader and 2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon improved his morning time during a mid-afternoon run, sending he Penske crew back back to pit road. They tried everything, at one point even attempting to time a run under cloud cover.
Castroneves told NBC he finally figured out what was wrong on his ensuing run. But in a seemingly fitting conclusion to the day, Castroneves was still in line when time exprired.
“At least we can focus on the race now,” Power said. “We’ll work on the race car and then we’ll see.”
Strong qualifying run puts rookie VeeKay in Indy shootout: Rinus VeeKay made quite an impression with his first qualifying lap for the Indianapolis 500 – posting a career- best 231.789 mph.
He thinks he can go even faster.
The 19-year-old Dutch rookie took over the top qualifying spot briefly Saturday with a four-lap average of 231.114 before settling for the No. 6 seed in Sunday’s nine-car pole shootout.
“It doesn’t feel quick enough,” VeeKay said when asked about driving at such high speeds. “You always want to go quicker. The only thing you kind of feel speed wise is you can hear the revs being higher than they are normally.”
Indy is quickly becoming one of VeeKay’s favorite venues, too.
After team owner Ed Carpenter scolded the teenager for crashing twice in seven hours at Texas, VeeKay rebounded at the next race by driving from 18th to fifth in the Indianapolis Grand Prix, his best finish this season.
And with his top practice lap, 230.331, VeeKay wasn’t expected to be in the shootout mix Saturday.
But he took advantage of the No. 4 qualifying spot, strung together the first consecutive laps at 231 and bumped IndyCar veteran Graham Rahal out of the No. 1 spot on the grid. He wound up as the fastest Chevrolet in qualifications and will be the only Chevy-powered car in the first three rows.
And with a little luck, VeeKay could become the second rookie to win Indy’s pole since 1952. Teo Fabi was the pole-winner in 1983. Tony Stewart, also a rookie, started from the pole in 1996 after pole-winner Scott Brayton was killed in practice. Stewart qualified second that year.
“That first lap was kind of a shocker,” VeeKay said. “This morning I woke up, I said to my trainer, ‘My fast lap is going to be 231.8 and my average was going to be 231.3.’ It was pretty close. I’m really happy, I think the drop from the first to second lap was a little too big but as for the other laps, I think it was my best qualifying ever.”
Team owners Dale Coyne and Rick Ware were wrestling with a decision about where to send English driver James Davison on Sunday.
Following qualifications, Ware announced Davison was headed to Daytona for a Cup race on the road course.
“It’s official, @JD33Davison is heading to @DISupdates to compete in tomorrow’s @NASCAR Cup Series,” Ware posted on Twitter. “He got the (thumbs up) from his entire @IndyCar team to go and kick some butt tomorrow!”
It was unclear whether Davison’s qualifying attempt was a factor in the decision. He topped 230 on his first two laps before the handling became an issue. He finished with a a 228.747 and will start 27th, the outside of Row 9.
POWER STREAK ENDS
On Friday, Will Power said he thought the No. 12 car needed some luck to make the shootout.
When that didn’t happen, Power’s streak of 11 consecutive starts in the first three rows came to an end.
Power’s average of 229.701, sent him to the No. 22 starting spot, easily the worst of his 500 career. His previous low, No. 13, came in 2008 when he was a rookie with KV Racing. Power moved to Team Penske the following years and qualified in the top six in nine of the previous 10 years.
HE’S COMING BACK?
Earlier this year, Tony Kanaan announced he would be making his farewell tour this season.
Those plans may soon be changing. The popular Brazilian driver, who won the 500 in 2013, started rethinking his position after COVID-19 forced fans out of the stands.
“After this year, I think anybody is allowed to change their mind, because when I announced ‘TK Last Lap,’ it was to enjoy it with the fans at the racetrack and have a good time with them and so on, and that didn’t happen,” he said. ”I want to pay back my fans and friends and IndyCar what made me. This is not a proper way to go. I will rethink and re-evaluate my opportunities and chances, as well, because obviously there aren’t many out there. It’s such a competitive series, and we have such a great group of young kids that deserve a ride. We’ll see, but I am rethinking maybe to do the ‘TK Last Last Lap.’
Andretti leads Honda rout over Chevy in Indy 500 qualifying: Marco Andretti led a Honda rout on the first day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying – a session dominated by Andretti Autosport and Honda as Team Penske was shut out of pole contention.
Andretti posted a four-lap average of 231.351 mph to top the speed chart Saturday ahead of teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe. The fastest nine advance to a Sunday shootout that determines the first three rows for the Indy 500.
The Andretti organization grabbed four of the slots and Honda drivers took eight of nine overall.
“Honda brought it this year,” Andretti said. “I was able to just go out and do my job and, man, when it all comes together, it is just beautiful.”
Hunter-Reay was second, Rossi third and Hinchcliffe fourth in the Andretti sweep.
“To be one-through-four is pretty unheard of,” Rossi acknowledged.
Andretti Autosport tried to get all six of its cars into the top nine but Colton Herta was 10th and Zach Veach 17th after multiple attempts.
It’s also not clear that the Andretti group has the fastest car – Scott Dixon logged the fastest lap of the day at 232.356 mph in an aborted qualifying run at the buzzer. Dixon said he wasn’t trying to bump the Andretti quartet off the top when he made the late run for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“We were just checking a few things for tomorrow, we wanted to get the right balance,” Dixon said.
It was a miserable effort for Chevrolet, which only placed 19-year-old rookie Rinus Veekay from Ed Carpenter Racing in the fast nine. The Chevy camp has struggled with straight speed since the Friday horsepower boost and all four of the flagship Team Penske entries will start deep in the field.
Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champion, was the highest-qualifying Penske driver at 13th. Will Power was 22nd, defending race winner Simon Pagenaud was 25th and three-time winner Helio Castroneves was 28th.
The race was originally scheduled for its traditional Memorial Day weekend date but pushed to Aug. 23 because of the pandemic. Teams are not accustomed to these temperatures and the heat has been one of Chevy’s biggest issues.
The manufacturer thought it caught a break when Newgarden and former race winner Power both drew early qualifying slots, giving them a shot to make their runs during cooler temperatures. It should have worked, but Newgarden was only the second-fastest Chevrolet.
Power had one of the worst qualifying efforts of his Indianapolis career and will start one spot higher than his career-worst 23rd starting position in his 2008 debut.
“Probably one of my slowest cars ever. It just blows my mind,” Power said. “We ran less downforce than Josef and we were slower.”
Power said the four-car Penske organization will now focus on race preparation and accept the sub-par starting spots.
“Now we can get back to race focus,” Power said. “We are better in race trim, for sure.”
The shootout for the pole will consist of the four Andretti drivers, Dixon, VeeKay, rookie Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing and Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Andretti likes his chances even as he initially worried his early speed wouldn’t hold. He’s winless in 14 previous attempts to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the famed Andretti family has just one win in the event, a 1969 Mario Andretti victory.
“The biggest hurdle when you come to Indy is speed,” Andretti said. “We had it. But then you start to wonder – is Chevy sandbagging? Is it too good to be true? Man, Honda brought it. We’ve got the speed down. We’ve just got to execute.”
Cindric wins roadie at Daytona, his 5th in last 6 races: Austin Cindric won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, his fifth victory in the last six events.
Cindric looked like the guy to beat early but had to escape a melee late to stay in contention. He passed leader Brandon Jones shortly after taking the green flag with five laps to go on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile layout and did what he’s done often lately – celebrate in victory lane.
“I wish our fans could see that race because obviously it was a thriller,” Cindric said.
It was Cindric’s second win in two weeks on a road course. He won at Road America in Wisconsin last week.
Much like that one, his toughest competition at Daytona was Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger. But Briscoe and Allmendinger sustained damage on another restart with seven to go. They got caught up in a wild and aggressive dive into the first turn. About a dozen drivers hit the brakes late and went off track, taking out Briscoe and doing enough damage to ruin Allmendinger’s chances.
Cindric escaped unscathed and drove away in the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske after passing Jones. Cindric opened a seven-second lead down the stretch and cruised to his seventh Xfinity Series victory in the last two years – four of them on road courses.
Jones was second, followed by Noah Gragson and Allmendinger.
Allmendinger said he had no chance at passing Cindric, who was “best in class.”
Briscoe challenged Cindric much of the afternoon. They exchanged stage wins, with Cindric winning the first and Briscoe claiming the second.
That second stage was the testiest of all. Cindric was 13th early in the stage before picking off car after car. He made up a ton of ground in braking zones, picking off car after car, and eventually caught Briscoe on the stage’s final lap. Cindric made the pass as they moved from the infield part of the road course to the high-banking first turn. But Briscoe caught Cindric in the chicane coming out of the final turn.
Cindric expressed frustration with Briscoe over his radio following the pass, vowing to put Briscoe into the wall if he blocks him while braking again. Cindric then pulled next to Briscoe under caution and threw a water bottle at him.
“I think there was give and take available on both ends,” Cindric said. “I probably could have been more patient; I think he could have been less aggressive on his defense. Overall, I think it’s two brothers fighting and then they go yell at mom, saying it’s his fault. It’s easy for me to say because I was the winner of the race.”
The beginning of the race was filled with problems – no surprise given that so many drivers were unfamiliar with the revamped track. The new chicane coming off the high-banked speedway’s final turn posed huge issues, with numerous guys forced to come to a complete stop after blowing through those turns.
Cindric, Briscoe and Allmendinger handled it better that most even though had other woes.
Cindric caused himself several spots on one restart. Briscoe’s team put on wet-weather tires before the weather-delayed green flag, a decision they immediately regretted and had to pit to fix. Allmendinger got into a late collision with Justin Allgaier and shouldered the blame.
The chaos could have been an indication of what to expect in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Daytona. Few drivers have any familiarity with the layout and none of them got any actual practice or qualifying laps leading into the weekend. Many of them relied on virtual simulators in hopes of getting a feel for the track.