IndyCar Fontana update: Ryan Hunter-Reay leads; title battle for Power, Helio continues

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Indianapolis 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series, leading the season-ending MAV TV 500 at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves continue to battle for the championship. Castroneves is doing all he can to track down Power by running in the Top 3, while Power has gradually moved into the Top 10 after starting from the back.

Power dropped back noticeably following the green flag, opting to race conservatively for the time being. But the Australian eventually started to make slow but steady progress, climbing up to 15th by Lap 20.

Meanwhile up front, pole sitter Castroneves – who entered tonight’s double-points finale down 50 points to Power in the championship – led the first five laps before Juan Pablo Montoya took the lead from him. A short time later, Sonoma winner Scott Dixon also passed the Brazilian, who settled early in third position.

But the third championship contender, Simon Pagenaud, suffered with poor handling on his car and was forced to pit under green at Lap 22 for tires, fuel, and needed chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, that knocked him two laps off the pace and potentially finished his admittedly dim title hopes; he was down 81 points to Power going into tonight.

Montoya pitted from the lead at Lap 35 to start the first wave of stops for the leaders. The Colombian, who won the most recent IndyCar 500-mile race in July at Pocono, cycled back to P1 at Lap 40 with Scott Dixon retaining second.

However, James Hinchcliffe was able to get ahead of Castroneves for third, while Power had continued his patient march up to 12th at this point.

Hinchcliffe was then able to dispatch Dixon for second, and shortly after Lap 50, he started to make life difficult for Montoya at the point before blowing by him on the inside to assume control at Lap 58.

The second wave of stops began around Lap 65, but the Mayor of Hinchtown would stretch his second stint out to Lap 73 before he gave up the lead for service.

That gave the lead back to Montoya, while Castroneves and Ed Carpenter moved up to second and third respectively after great pit stops. As for Power, he made another move forward, climbing up to 10th following this cycle.

At Lap 85, Carpenter – always a threat to win anytime he straps in for an oval race – went past Castroneves on the outside to claim second place. Over the course of the stint, Castroneves dropped back to fifth before Montoya chose to pit once more at Lap 100.

Carpenter gave up the lead to pit at Lap 103, but was called for speeding on pit road and was relegated to 13th after serving the drive-through penalty. With that, Montoya re-assumed control of the race until Lap 120, when Hunter-Reay jumped to the lead.

You can watch the MAVTV 500 NOW on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

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.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.