Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Team Penske uncharacteristically slow in Barber qualifying

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Team Penske drivers were likely scratching their heads following Saturday’s qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

Slow in practice all weekend, not a single Penske driver made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying – the first time since 2014 – with only Will Power qualifying in the top 10.

But the biggest surprise of the entire qualifying session was Josef Newgarden, who qualified a disappointing 16th after failing to advance to the second round.

Newgarden, who earned his first NTT IndyCar Series win at Barber in 2015, is looking to make it three wins in a row at the Alabama road course, having won back-to-back races in 2017 and 2018.

“We haven’t been quick right from the beginning, and [we’re] not 100% sure why” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We’re trying to figure it out and piece it together. It was closer than I thought it was, actually. I put a decent lap together on reds but it was all I had. I just can’t get a lot of speed out of the car for whatever reason”.

Still, Newgarden refused to let the situation completely dampen his mood.

“We got a group here. We’ll find a way [up front],”Newgarden said. “Just unfortunate when you need to do that.”

For Will Power, seventh is his worst qualifying result at Barber since 2012.

“I’m still not quite good enough,” Power told NBCSN. “I think it’s kinda tough this weekend with the sessions so short to make big changes, so we’ll see. We’ll have a good think about it before the race and see what we can come up with.”

For the third straight race, Simon Pagenaud qualified towards the back of the pack and will start 14th on Sunday. The 2016 IndyCar champ has yet to qualify higher than 13th so far this season.

Despite the poor qualifying results, don’t expect Team Penske drivers to remain where they qualified. All three drivers will attempt to do whatever it takes to navigate towards the front of the pack.

Watch the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN or at NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app

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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”