Power supplants Hildebrand to score Iowa pole

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The pendulum swung back from Helio Castroneves to Will Power winning poles in the Verizon IndyCar Series 2017 season in qualifying for Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Power took this pole though not from Castroneves, but JR Hildebrand, ruining a potential fairytale story where Hildebrand could have secured his first career pole on the same day he had an accident earlier in the day in practice.

Hildebrand had the top spot with a two-lap average speed of 183.811 mph, which held up for nine further cars after going out 11th, in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

But Power not only beat that speed, but obliterated it, with his two-lap average of 185.210 – a full 1.3 mph quicker than Hildebrand – as the last driver out in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

The pole is Power’s fourth of the year and 48th of his career. Although considering neither a polesitter nor Team Penske has won in the 10 previous races at Iowa Speedway, perhaps it’s not the best place to be starting.

“It was actually a good day to be the last one out,” Power said. “The track was very slippery early. I got good feedback from my teammates.  We made a few changes to the car. Our Verizon Chevy was solid. Looking forward to the race tomorrow. Should be hectic because you are always in traffic. Should be a lot of fun.”

Hildebrand was pleased to be back out in his repaired car, which only needed a rear wing change after crashing in Turn 2 in practice. It’s a career-best start for him; his best had been third on the last short oval of the year in Phoenix, where he finished third.

“I’m not sure it was fun. It was exciting!” Hildebrand told NBCSN’s Robin Miller. “For us, it’s a lot of credit to the team. It was nice to be back out there and push pretty hard. We were close to the limit.”

Their respective teammates qualified third and fourth, with Castroneves in third and Ed Carpenter in fourth.

Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato leapt from 20th in practice to be best Honda on the grid, fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan, old sparring partners earlier this year, line up sixth and seventh with Ed Jones a career-best eighth for Dale Coyne Racing, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal completing the top 10 on the grid.

Early draws of the first three positions hurt several of the top-five drivers in points. Points leader Scott Dixon went out second and will start 17th; second-placed Simon Pagenaud was first out and will start 11th; fifth-placed Josef Newgarden went out third and will start 16th.

Elsewhere Marco Andretti reported something broke on his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda and was lucky not to crash, only posting a two-lap average of 171.710. Meanwhile Carlos Munoz, in his No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, had a near identical incident to Hildebrand’s in qualifying and lost it exiting Turn 2. He didn’t post a speed and will start last in the 21-car field.

Second practice runs tonight from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. CT and local time.

Speeds are below.

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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