Hunter McElrea

Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea took a necessary step toward swiping the INDY NXT by Firestone championship from series leader Christian Rasmussen today by winning the pole for the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3:30 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Live, INDYCAR Radio Network).

McElrea trails Rasmussen by 65 points heading to the final two races of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

SEE: Race 1 Qualifying Results / Race 2 Qualifying Results

The season’s final race is Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET.

As the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course has been repaved since last year's race, all 18 drivers were under Max Chilton’s series track record. Chilton’s lap was 1:14.2329. McElrea led the way in this session at 1:12.3117.

The pole was the first of the season for McElrea.

In qualifying for Sunday’s race, Rasmussen, who drives for HMD Motorsports with DCR, set a mark that will stand as the new official track record. His lap was 1:11.7225 with McElrea a tick behind at 1:11.8420. McElrea will start second in the second 35-lap race.

Both Race 2 efforts challenged last year's NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole-winning run of Team Penske's Will Power (1:11.6127).

Today's qualifying was delayed 40 minutes by the remnants of weather in the area, which reduced the amount of time the competitors to have to prepare for Race 1.