Halfway through Day 1 of qualifying for the 105th Indy 500, Team Penske driver Will Power was in early trouble as Scott Dixon led the way with all 35 drivers making laps.
Power was 31st on the speed chart with a four-lap average of 229.052 mph, 2.8 miles per hour off the pace of the current fastest qualifier Scott Dixon.
Before qualifying, Power said he would be happy with a top-15 speed in qualifying for the 105th Indy 500. As amazing as that sounded for the driver who sat on the outside pole and finished second last year at Indy, he did not expect to struggle this badly.
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“We’ve been about that pace all week,” Power said. “We have a great race car. If we can have a good race and just get up there in that front bunch, we’ll be OK. I ran the same stuff as (teammate) Scott (McLaughlin, who qualified in the top 15) ran, and he was a mile and a half an hour quicker. I don’t know what else to do.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to be in the bumping part of it. Hopefully, we can get up a bit better than that. I was pretty much wide open the whole time and just don’t have the speed right now.”
Thirty cars will be locked in Saturday, so if Power doesn’t find additional speed this afternoon, he will be forced to compete again four other drivers in Sunday’s Last Row Shootout for the final three spots on the starting grid.
Dixon, who drew the advantageous first position in the initial qualifying order, turned a fast lap at 231.828 mph and held off an early challenge from Tony Kanaan and a late challenge by Colton Herta to remain atop the chart.
“You forget how stressful this is, an hour before you start to shake … first time I’ve gone first,” Dixon said on Peacock TV after his lap. “Hopefully that’s good enough, we’re just really fighting for the Fast Nine at the moment. Still some really quick cars.”
Saturday’s Fast Nine will battle for the pole position Sunday afternoon.
Kanaan, who wound up third on the speed chart halfway through the afternoon, gave him a scare early. He rolled out of the pits eighth and held a pole pace through three of four laps. He turned Lap 1 at 232.348, but his lead steadily shrunk to less than four-tenths when he took the white flag.
“It’s been an awesome month for us,” Kanaan said. “We have a fast car. The goal here today is to be in the Fast Nine and then tomorrow we go for it.”
Herta displaced Kanaan late with a speed of 231.648 mph.
Indianapolis native and resident Ed Carpenter ranked fourth midway through the session, fastest among the Chevrolets at 231.616 mph.
“I wish I could hear the fans,” Carpenter said. “I may not hear the fans, but I feel it. I feel it so much this year compared to last year when the fans weren’t here. It’s great to be back together doing what we love here at the speedway.”
Carpenter has been among the Fast Nine in each of the last eight years.
Hondas took seven of the top nine spots on the first attempts, but Alex Palou destroyed his No. 10 Dallara-Honda after turning the seventh-fastest lap and will be in a backup car if he makes the Fast Nine.
Last year’s pole winner Marco Andretti (229.872) rebounded from a poor early lap after changing an engine overnight. He improved four spots on the speed chart on his second attempt and seemed safe.
“Trying to find speed,” Andretti said. “It doesn’t matter what we do mechanically. A slow car is a slow car. I’m surprised because I knew we were slow, but I didn’t think we were this slow. I’m hoping and praying they find something because if not, I don’t know if this will even make the field, and sitting there running flat for four laps, pretty helpless.
Jack Harvey also put himself safety in the field after lagging last at 225.496 mph because of a badly and inexplicably blistered right-rear tire.
In addition to Palou, other slow drivers at risk of failing to qualify are RC Enerson (227.283), Simona de Silvestro (228.173), Charlie Kimball (228.401), Sage Karam and Power.