Rossi powers to maiden IndyCar pole in Watkins Glen (VIDEO)

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Drama between championship contenders Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden was amplified by Dixon edging Newgarden by the smallest possible margin in INDYCAR’s timing system – 0.0001 of a second – for what looked to be the pole position and the bonus point that went with it.

Then Alexander Rossi promptly stole the pole, the point and the headlines on his final lap by beating them both for the top spot for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Rossi, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, continued his incredible weekend with his first career pole at a best time of 1:22.4639 on blacks in the Firestone Fast Six session.

That time was 0.0529 of a second ahead of Dixon’s 1:22.5168, and 0.0530 of a second ahead of Newgarden’s 1:22.5169.

“It was a big lap we needed. The lap before was pretty good, but they came on the radio and said, ‘You need at least a tenth.’ So, we went for it, dug deep and the NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Honda has been so good since we rolled off. We’ve never been lower than fifth,” Rossi said.

“It’s amazing to finally accomplish this, especially on the back of the announcement on Friday and I think it’s been a long time coming, so it’s just nice to finally get that. The whole team has been working so hard and they deserve this.

“This championship, there’s so much that can go on. With weather coming, that adds another variable, but we’re clicking at a level that we haven’t in the past and the momentum is on our side. We just have to capitalize and enjoy this for the next 30 minutes, then focus on the work we have to do tomorrow.”

Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball and Helio Castroneves completed the Firestone Fast Six at the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International road course.

Honda’s leading pace continued in Q1, Group 1, with Rossi leading the session from Newgarden, Castroneves, Sato and Kimball and Will Power. Rossi’s time was 1:23.0804 and Power was at 1:23.4104, with Spencer Pigot just missing out at 1:23.4917.

Besides Pigot, Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton were also knocked out.

In Group 2, Dixon led the session ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais (who advanced on blacks), Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Munoz.

Those knocked out were Conor Daly, edged by his teammate at the end of the session, along with James Hinchcliffe, Jack Harvey in his road course IndyCar qualifying debut, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand.

Q2 was intense with the lap times changing all the way down to the wire. Hunter-Reay, Power, Bourdais, Rahal, Munoz and Pagenaud got knocked out. Hunter-Reay missed by just 0.032 of a second, and Bourdais’ primary black strategy misfired as he hoped to advance again.

Those who made it through to the Firestone Fast Six in a goofy session included Dixon, who led with a new track record 1:22.4171, Rossi, Sato, Kimball, Castroneves and Newgarden. This marked Kimball’s first Fast Six appearance of the season, first since Mid-Ohio last year when he qualified fifth.

Newgarden nearly crashed exiting The Boot but moved to the top as a result, before Dixon beat that time. Then Rossi beat them both, and that was all she wrote for the session.

RESULTS

WATKINS GLEN, New York – Qualifying Saturday for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:22.4639 (147.119)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:22.5168 (147.025)
3. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:22.5169 (147.024)
4. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:22.5660 (146.937)
5. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:22.8081 (146.507)
6. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:23.3350 (145.581)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:22.9854 (146.194)
8. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:23.0987 (145.995)
9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:23.1459 (145.912)
10. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:23.2240 (145.775)
11. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:23.2959 (145.649)
12. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:23.2981 (145.646)
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:23.4917 (145.308)
14. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:23.5089 (145.278)
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:23.9851 (144.454)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:23.6854 (144.972)
17. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:23.9982 (144.432)
18. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:24.1390 (144.190)
19. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:24.2012 (144.083)
20. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:24.1779 (144.123)
21. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:24.4543 (143.652)

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”