Pato O’Ward claims IndyCar pole at Barber


Pato O’Ward took another big step toward a breakthrough inaugural victory in the NTT IndyCar Series, outdueling many of the circuit’s major names and teams to capture the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama pole position Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

O’Ward, who is only his second full season with Arrow McLaren SP, put the No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet in the top spot, besting Alexander Rossi by 0.0698 seconds. Alex Palou qualified third (tying his career best at Road America in July 2020), followed by Will Power, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson.

The pole-winning lap was 1 minute, 5.8479 seconds, just off the 1:05.5019 lap that O’Ward, 21, turned in the second round to smash the former track record of 1:06.6001 set by Sebastien Bourdais in 2016 at Barber, which was repaved a couple of years ago.

It’s the second career pole for O’Ward, who led 43 laps and finished second at Road America last July after starting first.

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“Man, we made some changes after practice,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Such a messy practice. We’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and I think we’re clicking, man. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds, especially.

“We just had to maintain pace on blacks, because I felt we were pretty strong. We did that, and we’re starting on pole, man. It feels good. These guys deserve it. And we’ve got a race to win (Sunday).”

Rossi qualified a career-best second at Barber, where his previous best starting spot was eighth in 2018-19.

“Ultimately it’s much better than we’ve ever had around Barber,” said Rossi, who went winless last year. “A big step up. We have a good shot at it (Sunday).”

The rest of the top 12 starting positions for Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) went to rookie Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Conor Daly, Jack Harvey and rookie Scott McLaughlin.

Jimmie Johnson failed to advance in his first IndyCar qualifying session, but the seven-time Cup Series champion did score a moral victory in outqualifying Dalton Kellett and finishing 11th of 12 drivers in Group 1 of the first round.

After his No. 48 Dallara-Honda had been slowest in Saturday’s practice sessions (which were paced by Palou and Rossi), Johnson will start 21st Sunday.

“This smile is not going to go away,” Johnson said after qualifying. “What an amazing day. Didn’t qualify last, so that’s a really good thing and a small victory for me in this journey. Today was full of firsts, red tires, qualifying session, race weekend. Just the different layers that exist.

“And I survived the day. Had a lot of fun. And really excited about my first race tomorrow. We’re back on track in the morning with the warmup session, again something new and something I’ve not been through before. Dial in our race setup and then we go racing tomorrow and have a lot of fun in that Carvana Honda.”

In the first-round Group 2 qualifying session, Felix Rosenqvist was poised to advance but had his Round 1 lap time wiped out after he caused a yellow by sliding off course in Turn 17.

James Hinchcliffe also failed to advance after causing a red flag by nerfing the barrier in Turn 5.

Other drivers who didn’t make it out of the first round and will be starting outside the top 12: Ed Jones, Rinus VeeKay, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.


1. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:05.8479 (125.744 mph)
2. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:05.9177 (125.611)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:06.0538 (125.352)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.1186 (125.230)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.3976 (124.703)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:06.4102 (124.680)
7. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:05.7643 (125.904)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:05.7902 (125.855)
9. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:05.7957 (125.844)
10. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:05.9118 (125.622)
11. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:05.9634 (125.524)
12. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:06.7226 (124.096)
13. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:06.5578 (124.403)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:06.4770 (124.554)
15. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:06.6480 (124.235)
16. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:06.5035 (124.505)
17. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.8512 (123.857)
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.8489 (123.861)
19. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.1026 (123.393)
20. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:07.0021 (123.578)
21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:07.7092 (122.288)
22. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:07.0254 (123.535)
23. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:07.8100 (122.106)
24. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, No Time (No Speed)

Click here for the full results

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Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.