SALINAS, Calif — Qualifying couldn’t not have been scripted any more perfectly for Will Power. The current NTT INDYCAR Series points leader saw teammate Josef Newgarden spin in Turn 8 and bring out a red flag late in the opening round of qualifying. By rule, Newgarden was penalized his top 2 laps and forced to retire early from the opening group.
He’ll start on the last row (25th).
Also as a byproduct of that, Scott Dixon wasn’t on the good side of the bubble and really had just 1 lap to get back in. He didn’t. He’ll start 13th.
They’re the top 2 drivers chasing Power for this year’s championship. On a track that rewards track position and qualifying, Power has it and they each don’t.
Power put down a top lap of 1:11.6127-seconds in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet in the final round of knockout qualifying to net his 5th pole of the 2022 season. Better yet, it was his 68th of his NTT INDYCAR Series career which breaks a tie with Mario Andretti for most all-time.
What a consolation prize. A record setting lap.
“Yeah, that was the focus. That’s all that was on my mind. It had nothing to do with the number of poles,” Power said of getting a pole here. “I need to get poles to give myself the best chance here.
“So we ticked that box and also another box with the 68. Very good start to the weekend. Super focused on tomorrow.
“At such a crucial point, it’s kind of — I couldn’t celebrate it very much because I’m so focused on tomorrow and I don’t want to give out too much energy because I’m going to need it tomorrow, but yeah, a day you’ll remember for sure. Something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
The sight of the legends standing there waiting for him when he hopped out of his car was something to behold he says.
“I was actually standing there, I saw Roger there, I saw Mario there and all the cameras, I thought, This is really surreal,” said Power. “It just blows my mind that I can be — I surpassed Mario and obviously I drive for Roger, but just to have those two legends there congratulating me, it’s real, and a lot of gratitude for the chances and the opportunities I’ve been given over the last decade and a half.
“Very fortunate. Very fortunate, and I want to repay them back with a championship tomorrow.”
Power will roll off on the front row for his 6th top 4 starting spot in the last 7 races. He says the other great byproduct of this pole is because he’ll get at least 1 lap led which grants him an additional bonus point.
“Well, it’s one point. I plan on leading the first lap, which is another point, and if you get a real run you can lead the most laps, it’s another. Just keep going like that,” he continued.
“Yep, super focused, man. I want to give all the boys my best, give my team the best because that’s what they’ve done for me this year.”
While he has the track position, he doesn’t think this is necessarily over yet. Dixon and Newgarden now have an extra set of tires and are in positions to go off strategy and hope it pays off.
“Yeah, in this series, a problem like that can win you the race tomorrow because you have more tires,” Power said. “But you cannot — it kind of sucks because Firestone or the series doesn’t give us enough tires. But yeah, that can totally be the winning strategy. What happened? Yeah, I screwed up in qualifying. That’s how you won the race? Yeah, that’s how this thing rolls sometimes.
“It’s a great spot because he didn’t use his tires up, and he’s not that far back. So yeah. Tough. Tough, man. Tough race. It’s far, far, far from won, and I’m really aware of that.”
He’ll be joined on the front row by Callum Ilott who scored his best career starting spot of 2nd. The rookie driver turned in a lap of 1:116320-seconds in his No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet.
“Yeah, what a run, what a day so far,” said the Juncos-Hollinger Racing driver.” Yeah, super happy with that, honestly. Honestly, these guys working so hard throughout the year, we knew sometimes got the pace, but there’s so much more to this series than just having a good car. You’ve got to put it all together, and to do a day like this where you almost get it, almost get it, I think it’s great to finish off the season like this and take a front row.”
A pair of Andretti Autosport teammates in Alexander Rossi (1:11.7698-seconds) and Romain Grosjean (1:11.7858-seconds) will share Row 2 while defending series champion, Alex Palou (1:12.1625-seconds) will roll off 5th in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda.
Pato O’Ward (1:12.4542-seconds) starts 6th in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet with the Mexican driver having made it to the Fast 6 in every natural road course race.
5th in points Scott McLaughlin will start 8th while 4th in points, Marcus Ericsson, starts 10th.
For Dixon, he’s started 12th or worse 10 times this season including 6 of the last 7 races. He did come 16th to 3rd last week in Portland.
Another driver coming from the back if Colton Herta. He’s won each of the last 2 poles here prior to this weekend including leading all but 11 laps in those races. Herta starts 18th.