Santino Ferrucci

Josef Newgarden on pole for tonight’s IndyCar season opener

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Tonight at Texas Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series sees its first green flag in over eight months, and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden will lead them to it.

Newgarden, who won at Texas last year on the way to his second IndyCar championship, claimed the pole position for tonight’s Genesys 300 with a two-lap qualifying average of 215.740 mph.

He narrowly beat Scott Dixon, whose average of 215.638 mph landed him on the outside of the front row.

RESULTS: Click here to see where everyone qualified at Texas

PRACTICE: Scott Dixon tops session; VeeKay, Carpenter, Hunter-Reay spin

“I don’t want to say I was surprised – it felt like the car was quick,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “I didn’t know if we had enough to beat Dixie. He looked really good in his qual trim. But I felt [my] car was great, so I just tried to do as much as I could to stay flat.

“That’s really all I had to do was try to keep it pinned around the track. The car was perfect. I was telling [engineer] Gavin [Ward] on the radio, ‘Great job, man, you nailed it! This is perfect for the first qualifying [of the season].'”

Newgarden’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud (215.464), and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (214.311), who rebounded after damaging his No. 28 Dallara-Honda in practice, will make up Row 2 for tonight’s 200-lap race.

“I’m extremely pleased; they thrashed and put this car together,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN. “You have to make sure everything is absolutely perfect on an oval, and (the contact with the wall) knocked the steering out and smashed the steering rack. They got it back online just before the cutoff.

“To put it up front like this is really impressive.”

Another Andretti-Penske pairing, Zach Veach (213.981) and Will Power (213.930), start behind them in Row 3.

Takuma Sato, last year’s pole sitter at Texas, crashed on his warm-up lap entering Turn 1 through the PJ1 traction compound in mid-corner, then snapping loose.

He later was evaluated and released from the infield care center, but his Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew faced a major time crunch in repairing his No. 30 Honda in time for tonight’s race.

“It was a big moment,” Sato told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “That was the warmup lap. I just lost the back end immediately when I turned in; usually, it doesn’t happen that way. Hopefully, we can fix it and return for the race. It’s quite tight.”

Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Rinus VeeKay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci also will start from the rear after skipping qualifying.

VeeKay’s car was undergoing repairs following his crash earlier this afternoon in practice.

Ferrucci’s team put out a statement that the No. 18 Dallara-Honda would focus on the race because “the car wasn’t right during the morning practice. We had more changes to make than the time allotted by IndyCar between practice and qualifying. The priority for the team is on the race and ensuring we have a competitive setup for tonight. ”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE