FORT WORTH – After 22 of 23 cars qualified for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, the top 10 comprised the collective armies of Penske and Ganassi.
The Honda of Graham Rahal, as it has done consistently in recent weeks, had managed to sneak passed their defenses, posting a fifth-place speed of 217.438 mph. The front four looked to be the impenetrable Fort Penske, manned by Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Then, Honda and Andretti Autosport launched its final volley: Carlos Munoz.
The Colombian driver’s average speed of 217.831 mph knocked Montoya out of the front four and gave Munoz, who claimed his first-career IndyCar win last weekend in the Dual of Detroit, the fourth starting position, his best starting position since starting there at Mid-Ohio last year.
“For sure it’s tough, it’s not when you go for it…you have to be there for two laps,” Munoz said. “A whole distance race, it’s impossible to (drive) the car like that. For two laps, we’re just hanging in there.”
The next Andretti Autosport car on the starting grid is Marco Andretti in 11th.
“Before qualifying, I thought the Chevy’s would be quicker than all of, but like I’ve said, I think Penske is a big step forward farther than everyone,” Munoz said. “I don’t know if it’s qualifying trim or if they’re were in racing trim, but tonight we’ll see more of where we are.”
Munoz was 10th fastest in the first practice session at the 1.5-mile track, held in the late morning, a far cry from the late evening and early night Saturday’s race will be run in.
In last year’s TMS race, Munoz started started 10th and finished 13th.
“Just qualifying for the race, hopefully with more aero, we can (do) more for Honda tomorrow,” Munoz said. “Qualifying is not really important here. It’s important because it’s hard to pass on this track. Cleaner air, the tires work less.”