Team Penske quartet heads into Gateway race as favorites

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MADISON, Illinois – The most obvious statement about the return to Gateway Motorsports Park? It’s going to be tough – really tough – to beat Team Penske here.

It wasn’t just that Roger Penske’s drivers took the first four starting positions for tonight’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline. It’s that the gap between pole winner Will Power and the fastest non-Penske driver, Ed Carpenter, was more than 1.3 seconds and 5 mph during the two-lap qualifying runs.

“Driving for Penske definitely helps,” said Power, who was clocked at 189.642 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet around the 1.25-mile oval. “They're obviously giving you cars week in and week out to contend for the pole and race wins.”

BOMMARITO AUTOMOTIVE GROUP 500: Starting grid

It’s been that way all season for Power and teammates Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves. They hold four of the top five positions in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with three races remaining in the 2017 season.

Points leader Newgarden, who will start next to Power on the front row, said he may have showed too much during an afternoon practice session before qualifying.

“We kind of showed our hand a little bit there in practice with what we were doing, but that's how the team operates,” said Newgarden, driving the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet tonight. “You've got to help everyone (sharing data within the team), and sometimes you're on the receiving end of that. We've been on the receiving end of it for sure, learning stuff, and sometimes you're giving the information.”

After he went out early in the qualifying session and posted a lap of 186.747 mph, 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud predicted his teammates would beat his time. They did.

“It’s not total guesswork,” said Pagenaud, in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. “There’s a lot of data and research that goes into it. The practice run we did earlier gave us a good indication of what we needed. The thing is, the early draw was unlucky for us. … We just had to do the best we could with our conditions.”

Power, the last driver to go out on the track, knew because of his teammates that he’d be strong. His 189.642 mph effort was good for the 50th pole position of his career, knotting him with Castroneves for third all time.

“All my teammates are really fast,” Power said. “Josef was really quick. I didn't know (if the pole was possible). All I knew is that I had a very similar setup to him, and it was about getting the most out of it. I think once I saw my first lap, I thought, ‘Yeah, this is pretty strong and confident.’”

That confidence will certainly carry into tonight’s 248-lap race as Power leads the 21-car field to the green. During the parade laps before the race start, the drivers will pull into a three-wide formation for one lap to signal the relationship of the Indianapolis 500 to the series and Gateway race. The cars will then fall back into a two-by-two lineup for the race start, which is expected at about 9:45 p.m. ET.

Newgarden leads Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing by 18 points heading into the race. Castroneves is 22 points out of first, Pagenaud 26 behind and Power 41 back.

Tonight’s race is the first for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Gateway since 2003, an event won by Castroneves.

Bommarito Automotive Group 500 fast facts:

Race 15 of 17 in the Verizon IndyCar Series season

Track: Gateway Motorsports Park, 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois; tonight’s race will be the eighth for Indy cars but first since 2003

Race distance: 248 laps/310 miles

Fuel: 100 gallons of Sunoco E85 ethanol for each car

Full fuel stint: 45-55 laps

Broadcast: 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network

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