IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden withstood constant pressure from his nearest championship competitors, setting a track record to win the Verizon P1 Award in Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying.
Newgarden earned his first pole of the season and second of his six-year career with a scintillating last lap of 1 minute, 15.5205 seconds (113.691 mph) on Sonoma Raceway's 2.385-mile, 12-turn permanent road course.
The championship bonus point Newgarden collected for winning the pole stretched his advantage to four points over Scott Dixon heading into Sunday's season finale that offers double race points.
The pole-winning lap from Newgarden in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet edged teammate Will Power for qualifying honors. It was the 11th pole position won by a Team Penske driver this season and No. 256 in the team's Indy car history.
"I was just hoping we could get one of these (Verizon P1 Awards) this year," said Newgarden, whose only previous pole came at Milwaukee in 2015. "We've been close a couple times and a couple places I felt like we had the speed to do it and didn't get it done.
"It's cool because this is the Verizon P1 Award and I've been driving the hum by Verizon car many races this year, and I haven't been able to get it in its place."
Power, fifth in the standings and now 69 points behind Newgarden, ran a best lap of 1:15.5556 (113.638 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying. The lap fell less than four-hundredths of a second shy of giving Power his 51st career pole and seventh this season.
"You start going back through the lap in your head," Power said. "I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, would have helped me braking actually, push back. It's tight, it's just like that sometimes. Gave it everything I got."
Simon Pagenaud's track record from 2016 (1:16.2530) was broken in the first round by Newgarden (1:15.7917), but Pagenaud reset the standard temporarily when he was fastest in the second round (1:15.7120) in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.
It set up the dramatic run for the pole. Newgarden - the only Team Penske driver to use a new set of the Firestone alternate tires in the first round - was quickest in the Firestone Fast Six with another lap record completed on a used set of red-sidewall alternates despite his teammates each having a new set of the softer alternates at their disposal.
"We were behind the eight ball there, for sure, after the first round," Newgarden said. "We made the best decision we could as a group. There was no way we couldn't run the reds (in first-round qualifying) because we just had no idea what people were going to run.
"We knew we'd be on our back foot then in the Fast Six, but this car was phenomenal."
Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, wound up third in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1:15.6356 (113.518 mph). Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske a sweep of the first four qualifying positions when he finished fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:15.8032, 113.267 mph). It is the third time this season that Penske drivers have owned the top four qualifying positions, also sweeping at Road America in June and Gateway Motorsports Park last month.
Castroneves is third in the championship, now 23 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud is fourth, 35 points behind the leader.
Takuma Sato qualified fifth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:16.2208, 112.646 mph), just ahead of Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (1:16.3978, 112.385 mph). Dixon was the only driver to reach the Firestone Fast Six at all nine road- and street-course events where it was conducted this season.
"The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn't carry the speed through the corners," said Dixon, seeking his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. A win Sunday would accomplish the feat.
"Good to make it through to where we did," Dixon added. "It was definitely hard work, a big credit to the team. Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in '15 we started ninth when we won that race (and the championship). Definitely you'd want to be a little further up, but that's the way it goes."
A final 30-minute warmup practice at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live stream onRaceControl.IndyCar.com) will give the 22 competitors a final chance to hone in on race setups. A special pre-race program will stream live at 6 p.m. on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race winner earns 100 points, with 80 points for second place, 70 for third and down to 16 points for 22nd place. A driver can earn one bonus point for leading a lap, with the driver leading the most laps getting two bonus points.
The 85-lap race on Sunday will mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season's last race.
Chevrolet honored for sixth straight manufacturer championship
Chevrolet was recognized today for clinching its sixth consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series manufacturer championship. No matter what happens in Sunday's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Honda cannot overtake Chevrolet in manufacturer points.
"Although we were outnumbered on the track in quantity, we had the quality needed to win the races and poles required to win the championship," said Mark Kent, Chevrolet's director of motorsports competition. "It's an accomplishment we're very proud of.
"Chevrolet races to win. We race to win key races and we race to win championships. Every year, that's our goal. We know eventually when you're on the top, you get knocked off, but our goal is to stay on top as long as we possibly can."
Chevrolet's 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 engine powered eight full-season entries compared to Honda's 13 in 2017 competition, yet has won nine of the 16 races thus far and collected its 11th pole today.
"The most exciting thing about this year is once again every one of our teams contributed to this championship," Kent said. "It reinforces the strength of our team. Team Penske, AJ Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, all three of them contributed."
Chevrolet has won the manufacturer title every year since it re-entered Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2012.
Jones presented Sunoco Rookie of the Year award
Dale Coyne Racing driver Ed Jones was presented the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for the 2017 season in a news conference today at Sonoma Raceway. The only full-time rookie in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, the 22-year-old from Dubai has impressed with five top-10 finishes to date - including a memorable third-place finish in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May.
"I feel like as a driver, I got stronger (as the season progressed)," said Jones, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. "Early in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense.
"Now I think we've gotten better, me as a driver, also bonding with the team."
Jones, who also earned $50,000 for winning top rookie honors, qualified 18th for Sunday's season finale. He is 14th in the standings, but with double points available in the race, has his sights set on moving up.
"If we can have a good race this weekend, we can get ourselves back up there, maybe just outside the top 10," he said. "If we can do that, it will be a great job."
1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:15.5205 (113.691)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.5556 (113.638)
3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:15.6356 (113.518)
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:15.8032 (113.267)
5. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.2208 (112.646)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.3978 (112.385)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.1815 (112.705)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.1934 (112.687)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.1968 (112.682)
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.5811 (112.116)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8221 (111.765)
12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.9718 (111.547)
13. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.1016 (111.360)
14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:16.7581 (111.858)
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.1417 (111.302)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:16.9539 (111.573)
17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2662 (111.122)
18. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:17.0231 (111.473)
19. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:17.2722 (111.114)
20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.1602 (111.275)
21. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 01:17.2814 (111.100)
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.2507 (111.145)
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