Will Power on pole for Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sun., 2:30 pm ET, NBCSN)

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Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power will have the opportunity to continue his good start to 2014 from the pole position in tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

The Team Penske driver’s time of 1:08.3120 in the Firestone Fast Six was enough to give him his first pole of the season. It bears noting that he won the first of his two Barber victories from the pole back in 2011.

“[Winning] is the only thing that counts for us, and a part of trying to win here is getting the pole,” he told the IMS Radio Network. “It definitely makes our job easier.

“…It’s going to be a tough race. When it goes green, these temperatures are going to be very physical. There will be a lot of traffic and a lot of marbles so we’ll do everything we can to get the win.”

Starting alongside him up front will be Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who secured his second consecutive front-row start thanks to his FF6 lap of 1:08.3409.

“This is a tough track to pass on and tires are going to be at a premium, so having a good starting spot is huge,” Hinchcliffe said.

Additionally, all four of the Andretti drivers will be starting within the Top 10 positions on the grid. Defending Barber champion Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified third, while rookie Carlos Munoz will go off seventh, and Marco Andretti shall begin from ninth.

However, an interesting subplot may be taking shape along Row 2 as Hunter-Reay will be joined there by Josef Newgarden, who qualified fourth.

Hunter-Reay and Newgarden’s contact two weeks ago during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach set off a major multi-car incident that also collected Hinchcliffe and several other drivers.

That said, Newgarden maintained that he’s moved on from the incident.

“When I looked at it, it was a sad opportunity that had happened,” he said in the post-qualifying presser. “Immediately, I wanted to go to the next one, like I think any racer would. I want to be up front again. You don’t just want one opportunity to finish well in a race.

“[It’s] no big deal. It’s racing. It happens. We’re here now and it’s turning the page for everybody.”

Scott Dixon, who has finished runner-up in each of the four IndyCar races at Barber, will be on the inside of Row 3 and flanked by Helio Castroneves, the series’ inaugural winner at this track back in 2010.

Among the key names that will have to start from the back after failing to advance out of the group stages are Justin Wilson (16th), Long Beach winner Mike Conway (21st), and Tony Kanaan (23rd and last in the field).

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA
Qualifying Results

1. 12-Will Power
2. 27-James Hinchcliffe
3. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. 67-Josef Newgarden
5. 9-Scott Dixon
6. 3-Helio Castroneves
ELIMINATED IN ROUND TWO
7. 34-Carlos Munoz (rookie)
8. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya
9. 25-Marco Andretti
10. 77-Simon Pagenaud
11. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (rookie)
12. 11-Sebastien Bourdais (penalized for interference; lost 2 fastest laps)
ELIMINATED IN ROUND ONE
13. 17-Sebastian Saavedra
14. 14-Takuma Sato
15. 18-Carlos Huertas (rookie)
16. 19-Justin Wilson
17. 83-Charlie Kimball
18. 15-Graham Rahal
19. 16-Oriol Servia
20. 8-Ryan Briscoe
21. 20-Mike Conway
22. 98-Jack Hawksworth (rookie)
23. 10-Tony Kanaan

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.