Story By: CURT CAVIN / INDYCAR – LONG POND, PA – The leading candidates for this year’s NTT IndyCar Series championship will be easy to spot at the start of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. They all will be at the front.
With heavy rain falling mid-morning Saturday, INDYCAR officials opted to cancel NTT P1 Award qualifying in favor of a two-hour practice that would be more relevant to race conditions. When qualifying sessions aren’t held, starting grids are set by entrant points and that provided Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet the lead position heading into the 200-lap, 500-mile race. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi will occupy the other position on the front row in the No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda.
The second row will feature the other two top title contenders: Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. Newgarden holds a 16-point lead over Rossi with four races left in the season. Pagenaud is 47 points out of the lead, Dixon 62.
“Obviously, we’re not dissatisfied with where we have to start,” Newgarden said. “We’re all starting in a good spot – the top five guys in points. We’re all right next to each other. It could be worse.”
Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 is the first of three races on consecutive weekends.
What remains to be seen is how these drivers stack up in race conditions. Dixon was the quickest of the four in Saturday’s practice, turning a lap of 215.761 mph that ranked second overall to Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing (216.354 mph). Rossi was fourth at 215.373 mph with Pagenaud fifth (215.368 mph) and Newgarden 17th (214.174 mph).
Rossi won last year’s race at this unique three-turn, 2.5-mile track.
“These types of days are always difficult when you lose sessions to weather,” Rossi said. “Obviously, we’re starting in a good spot on the front row because these cars do not perform well in traffic in superspeedway trim. It’s really the same for everyone.”
Kanaan is one of several non-championship drivers to watch Sunday based on how fast his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet was in practice. Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci was third overall in his No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda (215.377 mph), and he wasn’t the only rookie in the top six. Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta ran 215.338 mph in his No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda, good for the sixth position among 22 car-and-driver combinations.