Colton Herta wins pole; four title contenders in the final round

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Colton Herta captured the pole position for Sunday’s season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway, where all four NTT IndyCar championship contenders made the final round.

Defending series champion Scott Dixon, a long shot for his sixth championship, qualified second Saturday followed by Alexander Rossi, who is 41 points behind Josef Newgarden. The points leader went off on a flying lap late in the final session and qualified fourth ahead of James Hinchcliffe, who was fifth fastest with questions circling about his future.

TODAY: IndyCar season finale at Laguna Seca, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC

“I knew I had to push on that lap to get the pole,” said Newgarden, who is seeking his second championship. “I don’t know if I would have beat (Herta), but we would have been in the (front row) region. We’re in where we need to be to start. Now it’s a matter of how we stay there.

“It’s a good thing to be close to the competition, specifically the ones in the championship. Yeah, we’ve got to have a good clean run. You’d like to win every race and maybe we’ve got a race-winning car. It certainly feels like we have the capability of it. But we need to have a good clean day, try and not get caught up in anything, and just run our race like we normally would.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud (third in the points standings) qualified sixth.

With his third pole position of the season, Herta joined his father, Bryan, as a top qualifier on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course. Bryan Herta qualified on pole position in 1997-99 and won in ’98-99 at Laguna Seca.

“It obviously means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of his IndyCar wins coming from here,” Colton Herta said. “Obviously it means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition.”

The four championship contenders were all among the dozen drivers and Group 1, and they advanced with the top four spots.

Newgarden was quickest with a lap of 1:10.3081, followed by Rossi (1:10.3097), Scott Dixon (1:10.3256) and Simon Pagenaud (1:10.4809).

Click here for the qualifying results Saturday at Laguna Seca.

Bill Elliott joins Tony Stewart/Ray Evernham SRX series for 2021

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott became the eighth driver to join the Superstar Racing Experience, the short-track series being started by Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner and 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015 and was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 16 times (his son, Chase, has received the honor the past two years). Elliott also closed his full-time Cup career driving for Evernham’s Dodge team from 2001-03, winning the 2002 Brickyard 400.

“I am excited to reunite with Ray Evernham and some of the great legends of our sport,” Elliott, who joins Stewart and Bobby Labonte as NASCAR Hall of Famers in the SRX, said in a release. “I look forward to racing at some of the most historic American racing destinations and putting on an awesome show for the fans. We have a special driver field and it will be fun competing with some of the greatest drivers of all time.”

The series, which is expecting to have a dozen drivers, also has Tony Stewart, Helio Castroneves, Bobby Labonte, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Willy T. Ribbs and Mark Webber in its lineup.

SRX was co-founded by NASCAR Hall of Famers Stewart and Evernham and was unveiled July 13.

Several drivers have expressed interest in the new circuit, which is modeled on the International Race of Champions (IROC) series that matched drivers from various auto racing disciplines in equally prepared cars for an annual four-race series for 30 years.

With the addition of Bill Elliott, Superstar Racing Experience has yet to reveal a schedule or tracks, but it’s expected that Stewart’s Eldora Speedway will be on the slate.