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

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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