Josef Newgarden didn't have to look far for the benchmark in qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park. Team Penske teammate Will Power is a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series pole winner at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course.
Newgarden knew he would need to outperform Power in the Firestone Fast Six today to collect the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America's First, and he did just that - barely. Newgarden's last lap in the final round of knockout qualifying clipped Power by a mere 0.0128 of a second for top honors.
Newgarden will start first in Sunday's scheduled 90-lap race in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske, after a lap of 1 minute, 7.4413 seconds (122.773 mph). It earned Newgarden his first pole position at Barber and the third of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.
"I think whenever you get the pole it's a good day," said Newgarden, who won last year's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on his way to the season championship. "It shows the speed of the car, it shows the work that everyone at Team Penske has put in.
"We all win together. (Power) could have easily had the pole. All three of us work so well together at Team Penske trying to make these cars fast."
Power's best lap in the Firestone Fast Six was 1:07.4541 (122.750 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Power will drive in his ninth Barber race on Sunday. He's started all but one from the first two starting positions. He's also the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six in the first three road- and street-course events this season, earning the second starting spot each time.
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama qualifying driver quotes:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 Verizon P1 Award winner): "Tim (Cindric, race strategist) was telling me when I came in what the lap time was. I didn't know if that was going to be enough. It was a good lap. Actually, I like this set of tires a little bit better than the others. You almost have a favorite sometimes with the Firestones, but they held up well. I think he had a slight advantage because he didn't have to do a hot lap on his, but I knew our car was quick. After I saw the time we did on this set of tires I knew we had a shot at it. Really proud of everybody, Hitachi being on the car with us, it's good to get them a first pole and just everyone else. Team Chevy has done a really good job. They have really given us the good power this weekend, good drivability. We are going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we will have, but it's going to get mixed up with the rain. So, I think the first part of this weekend is done. We just need to focus on tomorrow now and see how we are going to get through the weather."
MATHEUS "MATT" LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Tough qualifying for the team, for me, for Tony (Kanaan). We just didn't have the speed today, this whole weekend. We've got a lot to talk about, debrief and see what we can do to improve the car for the road courses."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): "Pretty solid qualifying for us. We didn't have a great test here a couple of weeks ago. We unrolled with a car that had some challenges. This Arrow Electronics SPM team did a great job over lunch yesterday and again overnight. This morning, Robbie (Wickens) and I went different ways on setups trying to find some things... We talked beforehand, and I actually had to lean on him, so big thanks to the Lucas Oil boys. It's so nice having a great teammate that we can bounce ideas off on and work through this new car together. A top-five start - it's great to be up front when it's raining (laughter), unfortunately that's what tomorrow looks like. Happy for the guys to be back in the Firestone Fast Six, and we'll see what tomorrow brings."
ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): "I don't think qualifying went quite as well as planned. We were very quick on the blacks (primary Firestone tires) in both Round 1 and Round 2, but unfortunately we were lacking some speed on the reds (alternate Firestones tires) to make it through. Both black runs, we were P1, so that was nice, but obviously the quicker tire, if you're not competitive on those, you're not going to make it through the Firestone Fast Six and challenge for the pole. Unfortunately, we're starting 10th, but we can still play from there and see where it goes."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "We had quite a few red flags in the first session today so that was tough to get the car consistent and where we needed it. Once we get the PNC Bank car in the right area, we know it's fast. It's just about finding that correct balance. We're still working on the car. We're trying to get the grip we need. We just missed in qualifying and hopefully we're not looking at too much rain for the race tomorrow."
ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "I had an off in Turn 5 in the first session and we took new tires after that, but never got a chance to show our speed as we kept hitting traffic. In qualifying we were at a bit of a disadvantage as we had to run two sets of red tires, and the second qualifying group had a red flag which enabled them to save a set. Tires make all the difference in the world here and we did the best we could with what we had in the NTT DATA car. We continue to improve and try different things to get results. I know these things take time and sometimes I get frustrated, but I know we have the tools to win and that's the goal each weekend. "
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "The pole would have been nice, but I think it's going to be a pretty mixed up day tomorrow. Maybe it will be a little wet, which makes it more straightforward, I guess. But, a good start to the weekend. I've had three front row starts this year. No poles. Been close though."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Difficult weekend. We've been trying a bunch of different things, but it's not working. And obviously it didn't help my mistake in qualifying. We're struggling here, but we have a whole night to think about it and hopefully we'll come back stronger in the race and see what we can do."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): "Ultimately it's on me; we just didn't get it done. Something that has been nagging us a little bit this whole weekend is that we're good on old tires, then we go to new ones and we just don't pick up the pace. For sure in Turn 2, I went in and got real loose on entry and then it locked the inside front somehow, so I was way, way, way offline and that probably cost me a couple of tenths. And then the same thing happened in Turn 9, it didn't rotate and just pushed straight off. I left at least two-and-a-half to three-tenths (of a second) on the table and you just can't do that in qualifying these days. Ultimately, it's on me to get the job done. I think we only needed a tenth-and-a-half (of a second) to advance and just didn't get the job done. That's how it is in the Verizon IndyCar Series today. You miss by a little bit and you pay the price. Tomorrow is going to be a wet race. We'll just have to try to outrace these guys, make no mistakes and see how it turns out."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): "It was almost perfect. I got every little bit of it I had and the SealMaster Honda No. 18 was good but obviously not quite good enough - just a tenth off. It's just super, super tight. Those guys always seem to be able to step it up in the Firestone Fast Six. I essentially matched Group 2, but I couldn't dial out the last little bit of understeer. It is what it is but I'm pretty happy with that. I think you can win from anywhere if it rains and we get going. I think it will be pretty exciting. Starting from the front always helps, spray and all, so hopefully we can just get a clear run and get some good points. We've been leaving a lot on the table for one reason or another on the last two races, showing a lot of pace. So, hopefully tomorrow we can get back to some strong scorings."
ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): "On the bright side, it was our best qualifying result this year, but it's frustrating because the No. 19 Paysafe car was really good and I think we had the potential to make it to the second round. We were faster than some guys on Firestone reds (alternate tires) with our black (Firestone primary) tires. It's unfortunate that we didn't get a chance to go out on the reds in the final minutes of the session because of the red flag cutting it short, but I think we'll be fine for the race."
JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I feel like we had the potential to be in the top 10 and challenge to get through to the Firestone Fast Six. It's a bit annoying in that sense, but the circuit changed a lot, so the car was quite a bit different. It was difficult to get the lap time out of the car this afternoon, when this morning we seemed to show good promise. I am quite disappointed for obvious reasons, but it's just one of those things."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "Qualifying was pretty disappointing based on how everything went yesterday. The car just didn't feel quite the same today. I'm not sure if it's the rubber that's been laid down or the heat, but both Jordan (King) and I struggled this afternoon. This is something that we really need to work on and sort out for future sessions. It's frustrating to be second one day and near the back the next, but we've got such a good group of guys here and the Fuzzy's Vodka team working really hard. We'll see what tomorrow brings, it might be a crazy race with the weather coming."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "Well, I've got to tell you it's frustrating qualifying. Sometimes I can throw a lap down and do a good lap, but sometimes I really struggle. The car is very much on the edge. I've got to take a look at what my teammates do because they are obviously really fast. The cars are good. The cars have been fast, it's just I'm struggling with consistency, finding what I need from the car. It's funny, last week in Long Beach the car was beautiful, really easy for me to drive, here is a different story. So, we just have to understand what I need from it better and go from there. Disappointing, but in the meantime, happy to see the teammates up there."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): "It's a little frustrating not to make the top 12, but honestly, the progress we've made since St. Pete and even in Long Beach just on qualifying is nothing to scoff at. I'm really proud of this team - they keep making progress. I think we have a solid baseline to go off of moving forward. Now we just need to optimize for each race track and figure out to how to get into the top 12 and ultimately into the Firestone Fast Six."
ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): "Qualifying felt a little like being inside a washing machine. This is one of the toughest days I've ever had mentally in a race car. I'm just so thankful. I think we had the speed to get into the top 12 today, I know we got a little luck with (Tony) Kanaan bringing out the red (flag). It's just good to get that monkey off the back. We left Long Beach saying we wanted to qualify a little better, and we did just that. Hopefully tomorrow when I come back a little more rested, we can make our way further up in the field. There's so much more I want to develop. My end goal is miles away from where I'm at right now. I have to say, I did enjoy that last run in qualifying. You've got someone like (Scott) Dixon in front of you, and he's not pulling you that bad, or you're running with (Sebastien) Bourdais... it's cool to be around that atmosphere. Once you get inside the top 10 in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it's pretty rarified air. I'm just so thankful and I'm going to keep working. I wasn't happy until I was winning races in Indy Lights and I'm going to feel the same in the Verizon IndyCar Series."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): "We've been on the outside of the five, bottom of the top six, all weekend so we tried to be aggressive with it to see if we could get through. We missed it by a bit. We didn't get a lap together, quite honestly. I know the car had enough performance capability to transfer, but I just didn't put it together. I think it would've been fifth or sixth, so it's not like we are too far off in eighth. Things will get interesting tomorrow with the weather, and we'll fight to get the Kerauno / Military to Motorsports car to the podium."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "It's really been tough today to stay on top of the track conditions - they've been changing a lot. It feels more like an oval out there where the wind changes just a little bit and you have to adjust your driving style to it. It's a lot of fun adjusting to that. We kind of got burnt there a little bit. Group 2 had a red (flag) that allowed them to save a new set of red tires to use at the end in the Firestone Fast Six. We got out-qualified by two guys that were on new red tires - but hats off to (Josef) Newgarden, he did it on used tires. I think we got about everything we could have out of the No. 28 DHL Honda. Big props to the team for giving me what I needed today, we kept making the car better and better and hopefully we can do that for the race. It's going to be interesting, it's going to be wet tomorrow. Hopefully we can get this thing in and have an exciting rain race."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): "I think we made some good progress since the last practice, but it seems like everybody made some gains as it was a quite competitive qualifying. We got only the first run in, the warm up run and just needed to be a little quicker, but the session was stopped by a red flag. No one knows how it will be in the wet. No one has run a wet setup or run the wet tire. Only a few cars ran a wet tire in the Barber test. We didn't so we will see how it is in the race."
RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): "Qualifying was short. Only one run. We basically had only one lap on the red (Firestone alternate) tires, so that was difficult for me. I think there was still more in the car, I would say one second more. I took the first lap conservative because yesterday I crashed on the reds. I think there was a lot more in it, so I am looking forward to getting back in the Binderholz Chevrolet tomorrow."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): We're 100 percent making progress. The gap in that session to pole was half a second, which is the closest it's been all weekend. We're catching up, but it's just a little frustrating that we went red and it didn't pay off for us. It's difficult around here, because it's so close that you have to really perfect your lap, and unfortunately, I made a slight mistake at Turn 13. Barber is one of those tracks where you really have to push to get a good lap and I think I just slightly overdid it. Regardless, today's qualifying efforts from myself and Charlie (Kimball) are the best Carlin Verizon IndyCar Series results so far this season, so that's something we can build on."
GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "We made a great step overnight to prepare for today, but we just had some bad luck in qualifying. We were unable to get the lap in that we needed to because of the traffic and the ill-timed red flag. I think we've made the right steps to improve, the silver lining is that we go racing tomorrow."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): "The Kerauno boys did a great job rebounding from practice. I think we can win this race from seventh, especially if it's wet. This was the first qualifying session that nothing drastic happened for us; it was the first normal session of the year. I think we wouldn't have qualified out of the top 10 all year, pace-wise, and I think we've shown that in the races. We're a little closer to the front and that's good - we need to stay here. I expect to be here, even if a lot of people don't (expect it), I do."
Qualifying results of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:07.4413 (122.773 mph)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:07.4541 (122.750)
3. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 1:07.5337 (122.605)
4. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:07.7807 (122.159)
5. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:07.9472 (121.859)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:08.0303 (121.710)
7. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:07.6027 (122.480)
8. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:07.7488 (122.216)
9. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:07.8409 (122.050)
10. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 1:07.8455 (122.042)
11. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 1:07.9894 (121.784)
12. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:08.4386 (120.984)
13. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 1:08.0235 (121.723)
14. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:08.5494 (120.789)
15. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:08.1038 (121.579)
16. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 1:08.5531 (120.782)
17. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 1:08.1184 (121.553)
18. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:08.5676 (120.757)
19. (20) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 1:08.3997 (121.053)
20. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 1:08.9763 (120.041)
21. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 1:08.5516 (120.785)
22. (32) Rene Binder, Chevrolet, 1:09.5404 (119.067)
23. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 1:11.2015 (116.290)