Will Power smacks the wall on final lap of qualifying but still makes Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS — Will Power survived a smack with the wall Sunday to make the field for the 105th Indy 500 after a pressure-packed Last Row Shootout qualifying

The Team Penske driver, who won at the Brickyard in 2018, left a large black tire mark on the SAFER barrier at the exit of Turn 2 with his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet as he tried to squeeze every ounce of speed from the last of his four laps around the 2.5-mile oval. Despite his car being out of alignment from the impact, Power never lifted off the throttle through the final two turns at more than 225 mph.

“Very nerve-wracking,” Power told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider about the 228.876 mph qualifying run that earned him the 32nd starting spot. “The run halfway through started going loose and having little moments everywhere. Just held onto it out of 2, kind of walked it all the way to the wall and hit the wall and just took a chance of holding it wide open in 3/4 and just hoping the rear toe wasn’t too bent.

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“So yeah, man, that’s just as loose as you want to get it. I can’t thank Verizon and Chevy enough for sticking with me after all these years. I’ve been with them a long time. So stoked to get in the race for those guys and for all the team. Because the team really has put a massive amount of effort into this race and just over the moon. Big relief honestly more than anything to get in the race.”

Sage Karam went out first and turned the fastest lap of the session (229.156) to earn the 31st starting spot, and Simona De Silvestro, driving for the Penske-affiliated Paretta Autosport, went after Power to capture the final spot at 227.892 mph as the 33-car field was filled.

RC Enerson and Charlie Kimball were eliminated after neither could muster enough speed over the course of multiple attempts to bump the first three drivers who posted qualifying times.

This will mark the first IndyCar race for Paretta Autosport, which 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.

Simona De Silvestro celebrates with a teammate after claiming the last spot on the starting grid of the 105th Indy 500 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Team Penske provides the team with staff, technical support and cars. Paretta Autosport is comprised primarily of women in competition, operations, logistics, marketing/PR and the pit crew.

“I feel like we climbed a mountain together,” team owner Beth Paretta told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “Hats off to all of these women and also all these men from Team Penske who have been coaching our women on this team and just working and digging in and spent all this week but especially yesterday and today to get Simona on the grid. I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t wait to get to next week.”

In making her first Indy 500 start since 2015, De Silvestro ensures the Indy 500 will have a woman in the field after the 2020 race lacked a female driver for the first time in 20 years.

“It was definitely hard, but I really had faith in the team,” said De Silvestro, who received a hug from Power before she congratulated Kimball. “Everyone worked so hard. I’ve been putting more pressure on me just to get it done because everyone puts so much work. Super happy to be in, sorry for Charlie that we bumped him out, but hopefully next time it won’t be nerve-wracking

“The girls that are working on the car, they were on it. I hope that it inspires a lot of young girls to be whoever they want to be. If I look at my career, I’m super proud to be part of this.”

Power avoided becoming the first Penske driver to miss the Indy 500 since 1995. The team has won a record 18 Indy 500s but struggled for speed this weekend in qualifying with its four Chevrolets.

For the second consecutive year, Penske failed to place a car in the Fast Nine for Indy 500 pole qualifying. Its fastest driver Saturday was rookie Scott McLaughlin in 17th, followed by two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden in 21st  and Simon Pagenaud (who won the 2019 Indy 500 from the pole position) in 26th.

Power said he knew while approaching the SAFER barrier at roughly 230 mph that he had to hold down the accelerator.

“I’m sure there’s a few little shaky throttle nervous lifts as I hit the wall but man, this place throws everything at you,” Power said. “To get in the race is an amazing feeling and an amazing place. So now we can focus forward.

“It’s a more nervous feeling than going for pole. Really you had one run at it, then your engine’s hot and you don’t really have another shot. Definitely lose a little bit of sleep over that one just knowing you’ve got to execute.”

Charlie Kimball is consoled by an AJ Foyt Racing team member after failing to qualify (Chris Owens/IndyCar).