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Team Penske takes the front row at the Indy 500

JENNA FRYER Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – For more than a month, Will Power has been all but guaranteed that Team Penske would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

When the team became embroiled in a cheating scandal, they told Roger Penske that he desperately wanted his driver to slow down. The team was struggling with the disqualification of Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin from the season-opening race, and Penske, owner of the IndyCar racing team, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500, preferred his three-driver team to stay a little below the competition Radar.

But Power remained convinced, even after Penske suspended four team employees, including Team Penske president Tim Cindric, the strategist for defending Indy 500 champion Newgarden.

Well, Power was just right.

McLaughlin led Team Penske to the front row of Indy 500 qualifying in the famous Yellow Submarine race and set a new track record at the speedway on Sunday. McLaughlin's four-lap average of 234.220 mph surpassed the mark of 234.217 mph set by reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou last year.

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Power qualified second and Newgarden finished third as Team Penske took the front row for the first time since 1988, when it did so with Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr. and Danny Sullivan.

“What a team effort this whole month and seeing how we came out of some adversity,” Penske said. “It shows how deep our bench is and I want to thank Tim Cindric and all the guys who were sitting at home at the time because they really helped make this happen.”

“We start with the cars in the right place. That hasn't been the case for, I think, 36 years. We dug deep and delivered.”

Penske drivers led 192 of 200 laps that day and Mears won in the Pennzoil-sponsored Yellow Submarine car. McLaughlin will be in an identical car for the May 26 race, and Team Penske has recreated Mears' winning firefighter suit, which McLaughlin will wear next Sunday in honor of the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

“And it was the Yellow Submarine, and Mears was sitting on the back of the pole when we had three cars on the first day, such a special day,” Penske said.

McLaughlin added: “Let’s get this yellow sub back to winning ways.”

Power's prediction was based on how much offseason work had been put into Penske's effort to win a record-setting 20th Indy 500. This was irritating for his fellow competitors, something Alexander Rossi alluded to after qualifying fourth in qualifying for Arrow McLaren Racing.

“I mean it's a very good starting position for the race and we'll continue from here,” said Rossi. “I am annoyed. There was a lot of noise from them, but also a lot of motivation.”

Rossi was followed by Kyle Larson, who qualified fifth for his Indianapolis 500 debut. He is the fifth driver to attempt to compete in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Once Rossi pushed Larson off the pole, Larson made his way to the waiting SUVs to take his entourage to a helicopter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway golf course and take Larson to North Carolina to compete in the NASCAR All-Star -race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. NASCAR moved the start of the $1 million race to 16 minutes later to accommodate Larson's arrival.

“People always said to me, 'Can you believe Kyle Larson?'” said Jeff Gordon, the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, which partners with Arrow McLaren to field the No. 17 car, clapping from the timing stand during his qualifying session from run completed.

“I used to think the same way, but not anymore,” Gordon said. “He always performs. He’s just fun to watch.”

Santino Ferrucci, who benefits from a new alliance with Team Penske as a driver for AJ Foyt Racing, qualified sixth, while Chevrolet drivers took all six spots in the Fast Six final qualifying. The top qualified Honda riders were Felix Rosenqvist of Meyer Shank Racing in ninth place, followed by two-time winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Global.

Chip Ganassi Racing failed to place any of its five cars in the Fast 12 of Sunday qualifying, giving the entire group the day off.

Not so for the last four drivers in the field, which also included former Ganassi driver Marcus Ericsson. He won the 500 for Ganassi in 2022 and was second to Newgarden last year, but left the team when Andretti made him a better financial offer in free agency.

But he has made a terrible start with his new team and a crash in training last week put the Swede in serious danger of not making the field of 33. He made one final run that moved Ericsson to 32nd and knocked Nolan Siegel off the field.

The 19-year-old then made one final attempt as Graham Rahal, who did not qualify for the race last year, sat on the bubble. When it became clear that Siegel's attempt would not allow Rahal enough time to run should Siegel push him, he angrily removed his helmet and watched, waiting to learn his fate.

Siegel, who became the first driver to crash during Indy 500 practice this week, crashed during his qualifying run and did not make the race, finishing 34th in the field.

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