Power leads Penske’s second straight St. Pete top 4 qualifying sweep

Photo: IndyCar

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will Power has secured the first Verizon P1 Award of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Saturday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It’s also his sixth pole in the last seven years at St. Petersburg – only Takuma Sato in 2014 has beat him since 2010.

The pole lap of 1:00.2450 led the Firestone Fast Six session, but was not the outright fastest lap of the day.

Power broke his own previous track record by more than six tenths of a second in Q2, at 1:00.0658.

Even more impressive is he did it with a stomach bug.

He led the second straight Team Penske top four qualifying sweep at St. Petersburg, ahead of Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. Coincidentally, all four started in exactly the same positions last year.

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the Firestone Fast Six.

To start, Power eclipsed his own track record in Q1. Last year, he set a 1:00.6509 in Q2 and a 1:00.6931 in the Firestone Fast Six, which stood as the pole time. On Saturday, Power laid down a 1:00.5678 lap on Firestone’s reds in Q1.

The balance of cars advancing was better with seven Chevrolets and five Hondas advancing through to Q2.

Among those not: Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams both had three of their four cars failed to advance. By contrast, Team Penske had all four of its cars – Power, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – advance out of Q1, Group 2. Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay were the only other two to advance in that group.

Q2 saw Power’s track record blitzed… by Power. Again. This time the Toowoomba tornado laid down a 1:00.0658, so more than a half second clear of the field.

As last year, all four Penske drivers advanced into the Fast Six, with Scott Dixon and Hunter-Reay the only other two make it in. And as last year, there was only one Honda driver to make it – the difference is this year it was Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Honda car for Andretti Autosport instead of Takuma Sato in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda.

Sato and Jack Hawksworth, who have been among the stars of the weekend, will line up 11th and 10th respectively for Sunday’s race.

Power then beat Pagenaud on his final lap in the Fast Six.

Unofficial times are below.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)