Alex Palou had to again settle for second place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion said there was a big difference between last year’s runner-up finish to Helio Castroneves in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and what happened Sunday in PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying.
Aside from the obvious, Palou didn’t think he was going to win a qualifying battle with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, and he didn’t.
“There was not a lot of nerves (because) I kind of knew he was going to get it,” Palou said.
Palou said his No. 10 NTT DATA Honda was stronger in the Top 12 round than it was in the Firestone Fast Six, although he ran a tad quicker in the latter. His first four-lap average was 233.347 mph; his second such run was 233.499 mph. Relatively speaking, both were significantly off Dixon’s time, the latter by 0.547 mph.
Dixon won the pole – the fifth Indy top spot of his career – at 234.046 mph, the second-fastest qualifying effort in “500” history. Arie Luyendyk holds the record at 236.986 mph set in 1996, but that wasn’t on Pole Day, so he didn’t earn the top spot. Dixon’s run was the fastest by a pole winner in Indy 500 history.
“I was super comfortable,” Palou said. “I think I got everything I had (out of the car).
“I kind of wish that Scott, knowing that he has four poles here, he could give me one of them. But he doesn’t share much. We’ll have to change that (in the future).”
This will be Palou’s third “500” start in the top seven in as many races. He has qualified seventh, sixth and now second in succession.
Different Year, Similar Results
It shouldn’t have been a surprise which drivers excelled Sunday. All drivers in the Firestone Fast Six – Dixon, Palou, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter, Marcus Ericsson and Tony Kanaan – were Fast Nine qualifiers last year. Dixon (first), VeeKay (third) and Carpenter (fourth) will start in the same positions for the second year in a row.
Will Power was the big year-over-year gainer. In 2021, he qualified on the last row – in 31st -- after brushing the wall on his four-lap run. Sunday, he earned the 11th starting position for next weekend’s “500.” Power won the race in 2018.
Diversity Throughout Top 12
The age spread throughout the NTT INDYCAR SERIES field was on full display Sunday.
Six members of the top 12 are in their 40s: Kanaan is 47, Jimmie Johnson 46, Takuma Sato 45, and Dixon, Carpenter and Will Power 41.
Meanwhile, there were three drivers in their 30s (Ericsson, Romain Grosjean and Felix Rosenqvist) and three in their 20s (Palou, VeeKay and Pato O’Ward). VeeKay, 21, was bidding to break Rex Mays’ 87-year-old record as the youngest “500” pole winner. Mays won the first of his four poles in 1935. Last year, VeeKay set the record for the youngest front-row starter.
Six Drivers, Six Countries
Nationalities were also nicely represented, with all six members of the Firestone Fast Six from a different country. That’s New Zealand (Dixon), Spain (Palou), Netherlands (VeeKay), United States (Carpenter), Sweden (Ericsson) and Brazil (Kanaan).
VeeKay is racing with the colors of the Dutch flag on his front wing end plates.
Odds And Ends
- Dixon will start on the front row for the seventh time in 20 tries. In addition to five poles, he started second in 2011 and 2020. His past three years: second, first and first.
- For all of Dixon’s qualifying exploits, Rick Mears remains Indy’s all-timer. He had 11 front-row starts, including six in a row, plus six poles. All of those are records.
- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) will start his first “500” from the 12th position. He started in that position in two of his 18 Brickyard 400s, finished 15th in 2015 and third in 2016.
- Johnson’s big wiggle in Turn 1 of his qualifying run led three-time “500” winner Dario Franchitti to say, “That was worth the price of admission.”
- That Chip Ganassi’s team finished first and second in qualifying shouldn’t have been a surprise as Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda), Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda) and Johnson had the three fastest four-lap runs in the pre-qualifying practice. Dixon’s average was 233.740 mph; he ran 234.046 mph to win the NTT P1 Award, which comes with 12 bonus points and a $100,000 bonus.
- Ericsson said a gust of wind in Turn 1 on his Firestone Fast Six run caused him to lift slightly, and that might have been the difference in what would have been Chip Ganassi Racing’s first front-row sweep. He will start fifth.
- Carpenter said his final lap of the Firestone Fast Six round in the No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet “wasn’t good enough” to earn his sixth career front-row start.
- Although NTT INDYCAR SERIES points aren’t officially added until the conclusion of the event, Palou’s second-place qualifying effort allowed him to gain nine points on Power, the series leader. They are separated by just five points. Dixon moved ahead of Josef Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) for fourth position.
- Two legendary cars were driven around the track Sunday ahead of qualifications. Mario Andretti drove Fred Agabashian’s 1952 pole-winning Cummins Diesel Special, and James Hinchcliffe piloted Parnelli Jones’ 1963 pole and “500” winner, known as Calhoun. Agabashian was a surprising pole winner with the heavy diesel that featured racing’s first turbocharger, but the car didn’t lead a lap in the race and retired after only 71 laps.
- On-track action resumes Monday with a full-field practice from 1-3 p.m. (ET). Then there is a break until Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday.
- The Carb Day schedule features the NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (ET) followed by the Ruoff Mortgage Pit Stop Challenge at 2:30 p.m. and the concert featuring legendary funk and R&B band Morris Day and the Time, and rockers Rick Springfield and Kings of Chaos beginning at 3:30 p.m. on the Miller Lite Stage inside Turn 3 of the oval, a new location this year. Concert area gates open at 3 p.m.