Points leader Newgarden wins Sonoma pole with record lap

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SONOMA, California – Josef Newgarden withstood pressure from each of his nearest championship competitors, setting a track record to win the Verizon P1 Award pole position in GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying.

Newgarden, the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a scintillating lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) on Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course. The championship point Newgarden collected for winning the pole stretches his unofficial lead to four points over Scott Dixon heading into Sunday’s season finale that offers double the normal points.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Unofficial qualifying results

Newgarden’s pole-winning lap in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet edged teammate Will Power by less than four hundredths of a second. It is the 11th pole position won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team’s Indy car history.

“I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year,” said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. “We’ve been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn’t get it done.

“It’s cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I’ve been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year and I haven’t been able to get it in its place.”

Power, fifth in the standings and now unofficially 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying.

Simon Pagenaud’s track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917), but Pagenaud regained the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120) in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

Carlos MunozIt set up the dramatic Firestone Fast Six, when Newgarden was quickest with another lap record completed on a used set of Firestone alternate tires despite his teammates each having a new set of alternates at their disposal.

“Today, we definitely had our backs against the wall,” said Newgarden, who opted for alternate tires in the first round when his teammates did not. “We were making the best decisions we could (regarding tire usage). We were first out and I think it would have been risky for us to save a set of reds (Firestone alternate tires) like the second group. We knew we’d be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal.”

Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6536 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that the Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, after Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.

Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.

Takuma Sato qualified fifth on the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph).

A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to hone in on race setups. A special NBCSN pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race winner earns 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.

The 85-lap race on Sunday will mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season’s last race.

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