No surprises, Power wins record eighth St. Petersburg pole

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The streets of St. Petersburg have become Will Power’s qualifying playground.

The Team Penske veteran continued his amazing dominance of NTT P1 Award qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, laying down the best lap in the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday to earn the race’s pole position for the eighth time in 10 years. The Australian now accounts for half the pole positions in the 16-race history of the event.

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Qualifying results

Power will lead the field to the green flag for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series opener on Sunday after speeding around the 1.8-mle, 14-turn temporary street course in 1 minute, 0.4594 of a second (107.179 mph). It earned the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner the 55th pole position of his Indy car career, moving him within 12 of tying Mario Andretti for the most all time.

“That last run, the car felt really good,” Power said. “I have to say it was a very neat lap and I didn’t really leave anything on the table.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect to be on pole because we had used (Firestone alternate) tires,” he added about the Firestone Fast Six. “We didn’t have new (alternate tires) like a couple of the other guys so, over the moon, man, over the moon to start on pole. I really am happy.”

Twenty-four cars will start Sunday’s 110-lap race as St. Pete hosts the NTT IndyCar Series opener for the ninth straight year. Team Penske owns the front row on the starting grid. Josef Newgarden qualified second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske at 1:00.5570 (107.007 mph), his best starting position in eight St. Pete races.

“We definitely found our footing this morning and made the car really good,” Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion, said. “Everyone really executed today. I’m only disappointed in myself. I didn’t put together the best lap there when it really counted. We did a great job getting into the Firestone Fast Six as a team, so you can’t be dissatisfied. It’s really positive for the whole organization.”

Chip Ganassi Racing locked down Row 2, with Felix Rosenqvist qualifying third in his first NTT IndyCar Series race. The Swede turned a lap of 1:00.6884 (106.775 mph) in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda. Teammate Scott Dixon, the reigning and five-time series champion, was fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:00.8544 (106.484 mph).

“I’m pretty happy overall with the result,” said Rosenqvist. “I’m not even sure yet what exact feedback to give to the team in qualifying, so I didn’t want to change anything on the NTT DATA car.

“We are starting side by side tomorrow as teammates and the golden rule there is to always respect your teammate,” he added. “Other than that, I just can’t wait to get going tomorrow for the race here at St. Petersburg.”

Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi will start in the third row. Hunter-Reay qualified fifth in the No. 28 DHL Honda with a lap of 1:01.0784. Rossi was sixth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda at 1:01.7739.

The first two rounds of qualifying featured incidents that shuffled which drivers advanced to succeeding rounds. A pair of red-flag stoppages in the first group of Round 1 limited green-flag time to a precious few minutes. It prevented Sebastien Bourdais from completing a timed lap so the two-time defending race champion from Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan will start 19th.

Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing initially advanced from his group in the first round but was penalized for causing a local yellow flag that impeded the qualifying effort of another car. Per INDYCAR rules, Sato forfeited his fastest lap to that point, preventing the 2017 Indy 500 winner from advancing to the second round and allowing Dixon to move on instead.

Rookie Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing was third fastest in Round 2 but penalized for qualifying interference, surrendering his two best laps by rule. That allowed Rossi, who was seventh quick in the second round, to move up a spot and on to the Firestone Fast Six.

Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series schedule calls for a 30-minute warmup practice starting at 9:20 a.m. ET and streaming live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Live race coverage takes place on NBCSN (12:30 p.m.) and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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