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.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)