Ultra-tight INDYCAR competition shows in Barber qualifying times

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Minutes after Will Power knocked him off the pole position by 0.1815 of a second, Helio Castroneves seconded this motion:

This looks like a time sheet from an oval race.

Indeed, the differences in qualifying times Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park’s 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course are reminiscent of the notoriously close qualifying times for the Verizon IndyCar Series races on oval tracks.

To wit: Marco Andretti failed to advance past the first round of Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First qualifying by less than four-thousandths of a second. Josef Newgarden missed making it into the Firestone Fast Six, the final round of qualifying to determine the Verizon P1 Award winner, by less than five-hundredths of a second.

“It’s incredible,” Castroneves said. “This morning after practice I saw that the difference between fourth and eighth was within the same tenth. These really are like oval times. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Power secured the pole position – the 46th of his Indy car career – with a last-second lap of 1 minute, 6.9614 seconds in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. That was just an eyelash better than Castroneves’ 1:07.1429 in his No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet.

“That’s what every weekend is now,” Power said. “That’s what INDYCAR is. Any driver who might come here from another series and think they’ll be tough right off the bat, they won’t be. It’s so tough to understand the details and every little thing to get everything right. You can’t leave anything on the table.”

The difference between who made the Firestone Fast Six and who didn’t was even more razor thin. James Hinchcliffe reached the final qualifying round with a lap in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda that was just 0.0482 of a second faster than Newgarden’s lap in the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevy.

“The chassis and tires and downforce and design make everything so close together,” Castroneves said. “It’s a really competitive series. I’m just glad we’re on the front row, especially at this place.”

The slimmest of margins, it seems, comes down to the slimmest of details.

“It’s the tiniest of details, which is fun,” Power said. “It’s great.”

Sunday’s 90-lap race, the third event of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, airs live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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