The top two leaders in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings won’t start Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix leading the field to green.
Both points leader Josef Newgarden and second-ranked Alexander Rossi (28 points behind) did not advance from the first round of qualifying Friday afternoon.
Both drivers will start farther back in the field than they are accustomed: Newgarden starting 13th and Rossi staring 17th in the 24-car field. A surprising lack of pace ended their run early, and Newgarden himself was caught off guard by his unusual qualifying result.
“I felt like I did a good lap,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “We’re all kind of back there, for whatever reason. But we’re pushing hard. We got a great team here. I think Team Chevy is pushing really hard for us, so I’m not 100% sure right now where we’re missing it, but I can promise you we’re going to go to work to try to find out. We’re not going to give up. ”
Rossi expressed similar sentiments when talking to reporters.
“We were just missing overall grip and pace all day. I don’t know that we can pinpoint it to one thing,” Rossi said. “We tried a whole new package for qualifying and it didn’t quite work out, and it wasn’t entirely different from [Practice 2] from performance and balance standpoint.
“We have some homework to do overnight. We’ve seen in the past that the guys who have an extra set of [Firestone alternate] reds – because they don’t advance out of Q1 – have a pretty good race day.
“Hopefully, that’s the case tomorrow for the NAPA Racing team. The reds are a pretty big step ahead of blacks in terms of performance, and hopefully we can use that and put on a show tomorrow.”
Head to head, Rossi has had better performances on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course than Newgarden. Rossi has earned progressively better finishes in his 3 starts there (10th-8th-5th), but Newgarden has never finished better than 11th in 5 starts.
But after today, Scott Dixon – who sits third in the standings at 33 points behind Newgarden – looks poised to close in on them in the championship, provided he converts his front-row starting spot into a strong result Saturday.