Alex Palou rebounds for first career IndyCar pole in Portland Grand Prix qualifying


Alex Palou rebounded from a two-race stumble in the NTT IndyCar Series, capturing the pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

It’s the first career pole for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who outqualified Alexander Rossi (second) and teammate Scott Dixon (third).

“It feels amazing; I’m super happy my first pole in IndyCar,” Palou told NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast. “It’s the best start of the weekend we can have and the No. 10 car was really good so really happy about that. We know we have a really fast car and can not wait for tomorrow’s race.”

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will begin Sunday at Portland

GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND: All the details for watching Sunday’s race

Felix Rosenqvist (fourth), Graham Rahal (fifth) and Colton Herta (sixth) also reached the Fast Six third round of qualifying.

After being crashed in the prior race, Palou fell out of a points lead that once stretched to 42 points. The misfortune continued with a wreck of his No. 10 Dallara-Honda in a Saturday morning practice, but he rebounded to beat Rossi on his final run of qualifying.

“It obviously motivates us, but we were already fully motivated,” Palou said of consecutive DNFs at World Wide Technology Raceway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (where his engine failed). “We all know the last two race weekends we had were out of our team’s control. We’re fully laser-focused for these three races that we have to get that championship home.”

Palou and Dixon both are chasing new points leader Pato O’Ward, who qualified seventh Saturday.

“It’s not too bad; our pace on reds was horrendous,” O’Ward told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “We made a significant step forward this Q2. Unlucky that it wasn’t enough to go into the Fast Six, but we can do a lot from here. We’re starting inside of Row 4, and we just need to stay out of trouble from Turn 1 and do our race. It is what it is.

“The guys I’m fighting are in front of me, so I need to pass them.”

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for Portland qualifying results | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 Round 2 l Round 3

PRACTICE: Session I l Session II

Another title contender stunningly will start 11 spots behind O’Ward.

After turning the fifth-fastest lap in the Saturday morning practice, Newgarden was eliminated after the first round with the ninth-fastest time in Group 2. The Team Penske driver, who is 20 points behind O’Ward in pursuit of his third championship, will start 18th of 27 drivers.

“I don’t know; we just didn’t have any pace,” Newgarden told Lee. “Wasn’t a bad lap, just wasn’t fast. I don’t know. I’m not sure. We’ve got a lot of fight so we’ll fight back.

“I was really happy this morning. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t have the speed there, we just didn’t. We’ll battle tomorrow for sure. Definitely odd.”

Teammate Will Power also failed to advance from the first round as all four Penske drivers qualified outside the top 12.

O’Ward barely squeaked through the first round of qualifying, advancing by posting the sixth-fastest time of Group 1. Romain Grosjean was the first driver eliminated in seventh.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is in his final three races with Andretti Autosport, missed the qualifying session because of an electrical problems that allowed him to complete only 11 laps in practice. The team also changed an engine, which will drop Hunter-Reay to the 27th and last starting position.

Because of grid penalties for engine changes, Rinus VeeKay (25th) and Takuma Sato (26th) also will start from the rear.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”