Team Penske hoping to avert another pair of Indy 500 qualifying failures Sunday

Team Penske qualifying failures
Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images

INDIANAPOLIS — A quarter-century after two of the most infamous Indy 500 qualifying failures in track history, Team Penske was on the precipice Saturday of another pair of stunning disappointments.

Penske driver Will Power, who won at the Brickyard in 2018 for Penske (the 17th of the powerhouse’s record 18 Indy 500 victories), and Simon De Silvestro, who drives for Penske-affiliated Paretta Autosport, are among the five drivers facing elimination after a dramatic finish to the first day of qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Power and De Silvestro will be battling Charlie Kimball, Sage Karam and RC Enerson for the final three slots in the 33-car grid during a 75-minute Last Row Shootout that will begin Sunday at 1:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN, Peacock Premium). That will be followed by Fast Nine pole qualifying at 3 p.m. (NBC, Peacock Premium).

INDY 500 QUALIFYING ON NBC: How to watch Sunday’s sessions

DAY 1 QUALIFYING RESULTS: Speeds from the opening session at IMS

De Silvestro made two attempts in the last 40 minutes, starting the last run just seconds before the final gun sounded at 5:50 p.m. ET. But she was unable to bump out Dalton Kellett.

“Not the position you want to be in to be honest because it’s nerve-wracking and just trying to throw everything at it,” De Silvestro told NBC Sports pit reporter Kelli Stavast. “And the team as well, they changed the car completely over the two-hour break. Just seemed to struggle since we got to qualifying, finding the balance.”

Paretta Autosport, co-owned by longtime motorsports executive Beth Paretta, was formed this season as part of the Race for Equality & Change program announced by IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (both owned by Roger Penske) last July. Team Penske provides the team with staff, technical support and cars.

The team is comprised primarily of women in competition, operations, logistics, marketing/PR and the pit crew. De Silvestro is trying to make her first Indy 500 since 2015 and also put a female driver back in the field after the 2020 Indy 500 was the first without a woman in 20 years.

“We’ll take another go,” Paretta told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. “We’re going to keep fighting. If we gave up easily, we wouldn’t be here. Any of us. Nobody on this team has a give-up attitude. So we’ll try again, and we’ll do better.”

De Silvestro was trying to bump out Dalton Kellett, whose AJ Foyt Racing team played an interesting strategy by entering the “priority line,” which meant withdrawing its 30th-place time before making what turned out to be the penultimate qualifying attempt.

“I thought we were going to be the last car through, but Simona managed to squeak through and get a run,” Kellett said. “Obviously happy they had their chance to try to make the field. It’s exciting. It’s Bump Day. It’s what the fans love. Might not have been my favorite afternoon, but I’m sure everyone that came out today had a great time. And the Foyt guys gave me a good Chevy here and managed to get that last run in, so happy we made the field.”

Paretta Autosport driver Simona De Silvestro congratulates AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett after the first day of qualifying for the 105th Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Though he risked throwing away his spot with a crash or mechanical problem, Kellett occupied the track for a precious few minutes that helped run out the clock on other drivers wanting to make an attempt.

“I think with track temperatures coming down in shade, it looked like Power definitely would beat us and there were already four cars in the priority line,” team manager Larry Foyt said. “I didn’t make the call to put the car in the priority line. When I got there, it was already in that line. We thought we’d be the last car on the track and then the time wouldn’t have mattered, we’d be in. That was the hope.”

It didn’t work out quite perfectly as the team held its collective breath through De Silvestro’s laps. But it did help stymie Power, who is on the brink of joining Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi in the annals of qualifying ignominy.

After dominating in a 1994 Indy 500 victory (which was notable because of a crafty engine designed and built by Team Penske), Unser missed the ’95 race with Penske teammate Fittipaldi.

Power’s absence would be just as stunning. The Australian is one of the greatest qualifiers in NTT IndyCar Series history with 62 career pole positions, five short of Mario Andretti’s record. In 11 of the past 12 Indy 500s, Power has started in the first three rows.

But his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet simply lacked speed Saturday. Though he ran the same setup as rookie teammate Scott McLaughlin, who qualified 17th as the fastest Penske driver, Power was more than 1 mph slower despite being flat-out around the 2.5-mile oval.

“We gave it our best shot today,” Power told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “See if we can the Verizon 5G Chevy into the field tomorrow. I think if we just did a conservative run tomorrow, we should be OK.

“We did everything we could. I actually wish we got that last run, because we trimmed a bit more. Car felt very good on that last run. Certainly been an intense day. But we were fighting for something. We were fighting for 30th place. Boys did a good job, and I think we got the car good, just not quite up to speed. But we had the speed to be in the field if we did a good job tomorrow.”

Penske failed to place a car in the Fast Nine of Indy 500 qualifying for the second consecutive year.

After McLaughlin in 17th, two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden qualified 21st Saturday, and Simon Pagenaud (who won the 2019 Indy 500 from the pole position) was 26th fastest.

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.