Newgarden Puts Chevrolet and Penske on Pole at Belle Isle

After three subpar race weekends, Newgarden got back on track and put Chevrolet on pole as they aim for their 100th IndyCar victory.
Newgarden Puts Chevrolet and Penske on Pole at Belle Isle

The race weekend following the Indianapolis 500 is often a blur. It is a tough turnaround for teams and drivers as they try to focus on an entirely different circuit. This one will be a little easier because there is just one race on Sunday, as opposed to the doubleheader weekends that have usually taken place on the week after the 500.

For the 30th and final time, IndyCar will be racing on the scenic little island of Belle Isle. Next year the race will move to a new street circuit in downtown Detroit. That means that today was the final qualifying session at Belle Isle, which was full of surprises from start to finish.

Josef Newgarden earned his first pole of the season with a blistering lap of 1 minute, 15.2153 seconds around the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street circuit on his final lap. The Team Penske driver will be aiming for his third victory of the season tomorrow, and his second at Belle Isle Park.

"I was loose. I was about hitting the wall every corner," Newgarden said. "I think we needed two laps to get temperature in the Firestone tires. I was just struggling to build temp. I knew the track was grippier. That was a good pole. Sometimes the car is just so good that it’s hooked up. I was loose today, and we put it together. I’m really proud of the team."

In 17 starts at Belle Isle, Newgarden has five top-five finishes and he has now earned pole position in three of the last four races here. He finished 2nd in the second race last year after leading 67 of the 70 laps. After a hot start to the season, the last three races have not gone well for Newgarden, with finishes of 14th, 25th, and 13th.

Joining Newgarden on the front row tomorrow is Takuma Sato, who also has five top-five finishes in 17 starts at Belle Isle. Lining up behind them in Row 2 are the two Meyer Shank Racing drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves. It is the best qualifying effort for the team, who just might finally break through on race day tomorrow.

Newgarden Puts Chevrolet and Penske on Pole at Belle Isle

"Fantastic day for the team," Pagenaud said. "We have had such competitive cars all weekend and I’m glad we were able to perform so well for Meyer Shank Racing. I’m slightly disappointed, because I had to bail out on my pole lap so that I wouldn’t get interfered with Pato which is quite unfortunate. But I’m really proud of the team and I have high hopes for tomorrow."

Castroneves echoed those same sentiments. "Great team effort, but we came up just a little bit short there at the end. It was a great run for both myself and Simon in the top six which shows how working together can elevate the team to the next level."

Pato O'Ward and David Malukas were the other two drivers that advanced to the Firestone Fast Six. Momentum is on the side of O’Ward, as he is the defending Belle Isle race winner and is coming off of a runner-up finish in the Indy 500. Malukas continued his impressive rookie campaign, in what was an outstanding qualifying effort for the two-car team of Dale Coyne Racing.

Just missing out of qualifying were Colton Herta and Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson. They will start in Row 4 while Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin rounded out the list of top-ten qualifiers. Ericsson was actually upset at his teammate for impeding him on his final run.

“It’s a shame when it’s your own teammate that’s causing you to miss the Fast Six,” Ericsson said. Dixon admitted his mistake after the session, saying, “I think I backed up into Ericsson which probably screwed him.” It has been a rough week for Dixon after his latest Indy 500 heartbreak, but he hopes to bounce back tomorrow at a place where he has already won three times.

Several drivers in the top 12 were on pace to make their way into the Fast Six but that all went up in smoke in the final minute when Romain Grosjean made heavy contact with the concrete wall in the final turn. The clock expired and several drivers were upset by missing out, but Grosjean himself was steaming after his incident.

“It was a decent hit,” Grosjean said. “We sucked. I don’t know why. We were really good in Friday practice, really good this morning, and the car let go. I don’t know why.” The crash began with a wall tap, which broke a toe link in the suspension causing him to spin hard into the wall.

“I don’t know why I made the first contact because I didn’t do anything different from the lap before,” Grosjean added. “We just need to analyze and get better because obviously that’s not what we want.” The Andretti Autosport driver will start 12th tomorrow, alongside his teammate Alexander Rossi.

Rossi was one of those that was about to crack the top-six when Grosjean had his accident. The driver of the No. 27 car led the morning practice session, and should be a factor in the race tomorrow. Starting 11th is less than ideal but this race has only been won from pole position once in the last 16 races. The winners in the two races last year started back in 15th and 16th so Rossi certainly has a chance.

Newgarden Puts Chevrolet and Penske on Pole at Belle Isle

Several contenders will be coming from the back of the field tomorrow. The Ed Carpenter Racing duo of Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay start 13th and 14th. Two-time Belle Isle winner Will Power starts 16th while reigning series champion Alex Palou rolls off in the 18th starting spot. It was another dismal qualifying performance by RLL Racing, as their three cars will start 19th, 20th, and 23rd tomorrow.

The 30-minute warmup session begins at 10:15 ET tomorrow morning. Coverage for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins at 3:30 on Peacock and USA Network.

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