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Team Penske struggles in Indy 500 qualifying, but ready for race day

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Team Penske didn’t have the qualifying effort it had hoped for this weekend, but is still expected to have a strong five-driver effort in next Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Only one of Team Penske’s five drivers qualified in the fast nine on Saturday: Will Power in sixth place (with a four-lap average of 230.072 mph).

And then came Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout, the primary round of qualifying. Power struggled overall, with his first lap speed of 230.912 mph being his fastest, as he wound up with a four-lap average of 230.200 mph, leaving him to start the Indy 500 in ninth position and on the outside of Row 3.

“That was all we had,” Power told ABC. “Maybe I could have run a shorter gear, maybe I should have used fifth and not sixth. But we knew in order to use sixth, that’s the only way we were going to beat the Honda’s if we had the speed, but we didn’t. That’s as good as we got, but it’s a long race.”

Prior to his run Sunday, Power had this to say to ABC:

“(The track temperature coming up) definitely makes it harder. You can do a run and within minutes if the sun is gone and the clouds come out, you feel the difference. It’s suddenly much harder. It’s really picking the downforce to stay flat for four laps is what’s going to give you the most consistent run.”

As for the other four Team Penske drivers, they bunched up between 18th and 23rd:

* Two-time 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya will start on the outside of Row 6 in 18th position (229.565 mph).

“We’ve had good speed all week,” Montoya said. “We didn’t change anything from yesterday. It was good. You can win this race from all kinds of places. We’ll work on race trim tomorrow and Friday but I think we have a good race car.”

* Helio Castroneves will start from on the inside of Row 7 from the 19th position (229.515 mph).

“That was disappointing for sure,” Castroneves said. “We just didn’t have the speed that we would have liked and that we thought we would have had. But we knew it going into today that this would be an uphill battle for sure. Our car is really good in race trim however and 500 miles and 200 laps is a lot different from four laps. Of course you always want to start more near the front and you want to say you are on the pole or on the front row, but it means a lot more to say that you are an Indianapolis 500 winner. That is our focus and that is what all of Team Penske is here to do.”

* Josef Newgarden, the newest member of Team Penske, will start from the inside of Row 8, having qualified 22nd (226.474 mph).

“We had some adversity but have been able to overcome everything,” Newgarden said. “I really feel we’ll have a great car in the race. We’ll get everything dialed in during the couple of practices left and see what happens. Getting the car to drive in traffic is crucial here. I feel good about what we’ve done here and we’ll leave it all out there next week.”

* Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud will start alongside Newgarden, in the middle of Row 8 in 23rd position (228.093 mph).

“(The car has) great balance again but speed is still a little lacking,” Pagenaud said. “I’m not really sure what we are missing, if anything. It’s a mystery of Indianapolis, I guess. Not every day can be your day. We’ll keep our heads down and get it ready to go for the race. It’s a long race and if we get a couple of breaks, there’s no telling what can happen. This team always answers the bell when it needs to. Despite struggling a little this weekend, I have complete confidence in our ability next Sunday.”

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Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.