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IndyCar: Dixon cites driver error for missing the pole, Rossi laments tire gamble in qualifying

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Qualifying for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was always going to be critical, with a championship point on the line and all four championship contenders – Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden – desperately wanting it for themselves, or at least hoping their title rivals didn’t secure it.

As the seconds ticked down, it appeared a certainty that Dixon would secure the pole and the point that goes along with it, which would have increased his lead over Rossi to 30 points, and 88 over Power and Newgarden.

And even though he made a mistake on his final run – he had to shortcut the Turn 9/9a chicane after braking loose on entry – he remained in P1 due to his lap from earlier in the Firestone Fast Six, and he still looked good to take the pole.

That is, until Ryan Hunter-Reay, the last man on track, came through to snatch it away.

Dixon was his usual gracious self afterward, admitting his mistake and offering congratulations to Hunter-Reay.

“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole today, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error,” Dixon explained. “I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us. Congrats to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti (Autosport) on the pole, though. We’ve had a fast car all weekend here at Sonoma and we’ve stayed at the pointy end of the field since we unloaded. Hopefully, that will continue in the race tomorrow and we can finish the season strong.”

Alexander Rossi, meanwhile, lamented a qualifying gamble that saw him only use the Firestone primary blacks in the Firestone Fast Six while everyone else used the alternate reds.

Rossi explained that he and the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Andretti Autosport team wanted to stay aggressive, as has been their habit in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, but that it simply backfired.

Alexander Rossi gambled on using the Firestone primary blacks in the Fast Six, but it ultimately backfired. Photo: IndyCar

“I don’t think going out on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) was the right call, but we’re trying to stay aggressive and trying to capitalize in areas where we think we can,” Rossi lamented. “In the end of the day, I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay), but we decided to try something different and see where it got us. This race is 85 laps. It’s pretty difficult to just do one lap around here, let alone 85, so we’ll make sure we build a good race car.”

Still, Rossi is not bothered by starting behind Dixon in Sunday’s race – Dixon qualified second, while Rossi will start sixth.

“I don’t see us starting behind Dixon as that big of an issue, we just need to make sure we build a good race car and make sure we do the best job that we can and extract the most out of the No. 27,” he asserted.

Power and O’Ward Surprise During Qualifying, but for Very Different Reasons

Perhaps the two biggest surprises from Saturday qualifying were Will Power and Patricio O’Ward. However, they were for vastly different reasons.

For Power, who has won at Sonoma Raceway three times, expectations were that he would battle for the pole. Indeed, he advanced out of Round 1 with relative ease, but things did not go according to plan after that.

In Round 2, Power tried to advance to the Fast Six by doing a one-lap run at the end. However, things did not go according to plan and he just missed the Fast Six as a result.

Power admitted afterward that he and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team simply made a mistake.

Will Power failed to make the Fast Six after trying a one-lap run late in Round 2. Photo: IndyCar

“It wasn’t the right call to do one lap in that session. We did two laps on the first set (of tires) and we were trying to do it in just one lap in the second session and the guys called me in. And, of course, we should have done two laps because the guys went faster behind me,” Power explained. “It’s really no one’s fault because I was pushing to just do it in one lap, as well. It just wasn’t a good lap. It’s unfortunate. We will look ahead to the race and see what we can do from seventh.”

O’Ward, meanwhile, created a very different kind of surprise.

The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, making his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing, impressed everyone on Friday by going third quickest in Practice 2. And he continued to shine during qualifying, advancing not only out of Round 1 but then making the Fast Six, all in his very first start.

An elated O’Ward, who will start fifth, was beside himself to be alongside some of the biggest names in IndyCar in advancing to the Fast Six.

Patricio O’Ward and Harding Racing had a lot to smile about after qualifying fifth. Photo: IndyCar

“When I saw that I moved into the Firestone Fast Six, I saw (Josef) Newgarden, (Scott) Dixon, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Marco) Andretti, (Alexander) Rossi – such big names – you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years, since I was a kid. Scott has been racing for a long time. I think even before I started my open-wheel career, Josef was already in INDYCAR. Basically, everybody here was already in INDYCAR. It’s just something unique,” O’Ward expressed.

O’Ward, who also gave Harding Racing its first appearance in the Firestone Fast Six, added that, while he definitely took everyone by surprise with his performance, he coached himself into believing it was possible.

“It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling. I really don’t know what to think about it. I couldn’t be more stoked for the team. I’m really happy I got to give them their first Firestone Fast Six.”

Power will start seventh for Sunday’s race, while O’Ward will take the green flag from fifth.


Christopher Bell wins third straight Chili Bowl

@cbnationals, Twitter
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Christopher Bell passed Kyle Larson on the final lap of the 55-lap A-Feature to win the 33rd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. Bell is only the second driver in event history to win three consecutive Golden Drillers, joining Kevin Swindell who holds the record with four.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to win the Chili Bowl,” Bell said at “To do it three straight times is just unbelievable, but man, I don’t even care about three straight. What about that race? I don’t think I’ve ever really been a part of a last lap race like that, so I’m just glad that thing came out in the end.”

As the white flag waved on his eighth appearance in Saturday’s main event, it seemed Larson was finally going to walk away with his first Golden Driller. This was closest he’s been to the win.

Larson took the lead from Logan Seavey on Lap 21 after a five-lap hot pursuit. Bell moved into second for the first time on Lap 27 but a caution forced him back to third as the field realigned to the last completed lap.

On Lap 33, Bell passed Seavey again for second before another caution reset the field. On the next restart Bell road the rim diving to the hub in Turns 3 and 4. With Larson in sight, Bell started to think about where he was going to put his third trophy.

The final caution flag of the night waved with 20 to go to set up the Bell vs. Larson shootout fans had been waiting for since Larson retired early from the race last year. Larson pulled away on the highline in Turns 1 and 2. He switched to the low in 3 and 4.

With five laps to go Larson hit traffic. That gave Bell the opportunity to close the gap. With two to go Bell was on top of Larson and challenging for the lead. On the final lap Bell passed Larson in Turn 2 as they bumped tires. Glued together through the final pair of turns, they touched twice more before Bell pulled away on the final stretch.

The action wasn’t over, however. Bell wound up on his lid following the win. His donuts got a little out of control and he rolled his midget.

Justin Grant took third by passing Brady Bacon on Lap 36. Bacon followed for fourth with Zach Daum in tow to complete the top five.

Tyler Courtney was the hard charger of the night finishing sixth after starting in 22nd. Brad Sweet and CJ Leary finished seventh and eighth.

Seavey was able to hold onto third until late in the race but ultimately the pole sitter who led the first 20 laps faded to ninth.

Tanner Thorson rounded out the top ten.

Friday’s Main Event

1. Christopher Bell
2. Kyle Larson
3. Justin Grant
4. Brady Bacon
5. Zach Daum
6. Tyler Courtney
7. Brad Sweet
8. CJ Leary
9. Logan Seavey
10. Tanner Thorson
11. Danny Stratton
12. Jonathan Beason
13. Tucker Klaasmeyer
14. Colby Copeland
15. Rico Abreu
16. Michael Faccinto
17. Chad Boat
18. David Gravel
19. Cole Bodine
20. Robert Dalby
21. Jake Neuman
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Shane Golobic
24. Sean McClelland