Marco Andretti’s improvement evident through three races, and he admits it

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Marco Andretti heads into Brazil this weekend, the last IZOD IndyCar Series race before the Indianapolis 500, just 12 points behind the championship leader and brimming full of confidence.

“This is what used to be the weakest part of the schedule for me, and I find myself just a few points out of the points lead,” he said Wednesday in a conference call. “I’m super thrilled about my progress in the off-season. Working on these weak points I think definitely has helped, but it’s definitely good to see results translate through.”

Andretti’s one of only three drivers with three top-10 finishes through the first three races. Qualifying has also improved, with seventh on the grid in the first two races and a better effort going at Long Beach before a blocking penalty relegated him to 25th on the grid.

“I’ve worked on my street courses in the off-season in a big way,” he explained. “Really I need to give my teammates credit, especially Ryan. He adapted to the street courses a lot better than I did. I was really over-driving the car.

“In the off-season I really studied how I was over-driving the car. It ended up working against me, causing more problems for myself, leaving me on the outside looking in.

“This year, qualifying, there’s a couple hundredths of a second out of the top six, but it’s a lot better than looking in on the top 12, which is where we were last year. I think we’ve improved. But to get wins we just need to keep driving the way we are.”

Andretti’s ability has shown through more this year given the self-reflection and analysis he’s done.

“Well, yeah, I always knew I was a decent driver, I just needed to put it all together basically. I’m yet to do that,” he admitted. “Until I start clicking off poles and wins on street courses, then I’ll sleep a lot better than I am at night.

“However, I am sleeping better than I was last year. I think just that alone, you know, those notches on the belt help. You know what I mean? You can’t explain it. It all just starts coming together.”

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.