MADISON, Illinois – No matter how it happens, it’s always good to start first.
Scott Dixon, who leads Alexander Rossi by 29 points in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, will start from the pole position Saturday night for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline after rain forced cancellation of qualifying Friday afternoon.
“For us, it works out great because we’re leading the points,” Dixon said. “But ultimately, our car was pretty good. Would we have won the pole? Maybe, maybe not. Right now, we’re just focusing on making some changes for tonight’s practice.”
BOMMARITO AUTOMOTIVE GROUP 500: Starting lineup; Practice 2 results; Combined practice results
Dixon posted the second-fastest lap as the 21-car field got in 22 green-flag minutes of a rain-interrupted practice session Friday afternoon at Gateway Motorsports Park. Qualifying was canceled in favor of extending the practice session Friday night. Saturday’s lineup was set by current entrant points.
Just 10 drivers have previous testing experience on the 1.25-mile oval with the series’ universal aero kit, which was introduced this season.
“Everybody wants to qualify, but it’s difficult when you come to a track with a new aero kit,” Dixon said. “In many ways, INDYCAR made the right decision as far as trying to put a priority on getting some running tonight in hopefully dry conditions that will benefit everybody. It was going to be hard schedule-wise to try to get everything in.”
Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda will start alongside Alexander Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda when Saturday’s 248-lap race gets underway at 8:40 p.m. ET. Rossi recorded the fastest lap of the shortened afternoon session – 184.424 mph around the 1.25-mile oval.
Rossi (183.060 mph) and Dixon (183.022) also ran 1-2 in the 90-minute night session under cleared skies as teams focused on race setups.
Josef Newgarden will start the race third in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, with teammate Will Power fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“It’s a similar boat for everybody,” Newgarden said. “I wish we were going to qualify, to be honest. That’s the big thing for me. … Not qualifying is a little bit tough just because obviously that will benefit the top two guys. You lose that opportunity to get a (championship) point.”
INDYCAR officials were pressed by a persistent rain that pushed the schedule later into the day, which also included Mazda Road to Indy and NASCAR K&N Pro Series events. Of concern was the field’s general lack of experience with the aero kit on Gateway’s tricky layout, which features different turning radii in Turns 1-2 and Turns 3-4. The 90-minute final practice alleviated some many of those concerns, though temperatures Saturday night are expected to be significantly higher.
Rossi’s victory Sunday in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway pulled him to within 29 points of Dixon with three races remaining in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Dixon said his car felt good in the afternoon session.
“The car rolled off very neutral, which I liked,” Dixon said. “Overall, I think we have a good car and it should be a good race.”
Teams and drivers continue to adjust to the aero kit, which drastically reduced downforce from the previous generation car and made it more difficult to handle.
“It’s kind of funny,” Newgarden said. “It’s harder to drive the car, but at the same time it’s also easier. The car moves a lot more and has a lot less downforce, but it also gives you a lot more warning when it is going to move.”
Live race coverage is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.