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BC-CAR--IndyCar-St Pete

March 9, 2019
AP Auto Racing Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Team Penske is out front again with a front-row sweep in qualifying for IndyCar’s season opening race on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg.

Will Power won the pole Saturday for the eighth time at St. Pete and 55th time in his career, second on the all-time list behind Mario Andretti. Josef Newgarden qualified second to make it a Penske front row for Sunday’s race.

Penske driver Ryan Blaney is on the pole in Phoenix for Sunday’s NASCAR race and Penske drivers have won the last two Cup events, while reigning Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin swept last weekend in Australia.

Roger Penske was on Power’s radio when he shot to the top of the board and the 82-year-old team owner gave a hearty “Woooo!” in celebration.

Power was stunned to learn he’d moved to P1 in his Chevrolet.

The second row Sunday belongs to Chip Ganassi Racing. Felix Rosenqvist will start third in his IndyCar debut alongside reigning series champion Scott Dixon. Both Rosenqvist and Dixon advanced through qualifying because of penalties to two other drivers. Dixon made it out of the first round when Takuma Sato’s time was disallowed, and Rosenqvist made it into the Fast Six when Colton Herta’s times were disqualified for interference in the second qualifying session.

Herta thought he was a contender for the pole in his debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, but the 18-year-old rookie was instead eliminated.

“I blocked him, simple as that,” Herta said. “I’m pretty mad, but rules are rules and we broke them.”

The final two slots in the Fast Six went to Andretti Autosport as the top three teams in IndyCar all showed why they dominate the series with strong qualifying runs. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi were fifth and sixth. Herta, who drives for a team that receives support from the Andretti organization, had been locked into the Fast Six until IndyCar said he interfered with Charlie Kimball.

Andretti thought it had another strong entrant with Marco Andretti, but he stopped on pit lane to bring out the red flag during the first qualifying group. Because he was the cause of the stoppage, Andretti was not permitted to advance out of the qualifying group — spoiling a day in which he’d shown good speed in practice.

Then Santino Ferrucci went off course in the final two minutes of the qualifying session, and it spoiled the runs of several top contenders. Both Simon Pagenaud and two-time defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais failed to advance when the Ferrucci red flag stopped the session. Bourdais won from 14th last year and started 21st in his 2017 victory.

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