Power grabs Barber pole, seeks third victory

264294-7af43f1a-cd9d-11e3-8e96-6a6704b39a47Will Power’s has racked up significant points in the four previous races at Barber Motorsports Park, and the Team Penske driver could take another stride in establishing a solid championship points margin April 27 in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Power posted a quick lap of 1 minute, 8.3120 seconds in the Firestone Fast Six on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course in claiming the Verizon P1 Award for the third time in five years, and added another point to his championship lead entering the third round of the season.

Mike Conway, who led Power across the finish line in winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13, is 28 points behind entering the 90-lap race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), but he’s only competing in the 10 road/street course left on the schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing. Carpenter is driving in the six races on ovals.

Conway said he flat-spotted the left-front tire to throw off the car’s balance in the first session, contributing to qualifying 21st in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car. Simon Pagenaud, who qualified 10th in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car, is 34 points back in third.

It was Power’s 33rd career pole, breaking a tie for eighth all time with Michael Andretti. He previously started from the pole in 2010 and 2011, and won the race in 2011 and ’12. In total, he’s collected 168 points — so far — at Barber.

“It’s going to be a tough race. When it goes green, these (track) temperatures are going to be very physical,” Power said. “There will be a lot of traffic and a lot of marbles so we’ll do everything we can to get the win. I love this place. It’s an awesome track. Very technical. Got to be fast. Got to be great. Definitely going to be a good race.”

Four different teams were represented in the final 10-minute session, and the six qualifiers were separated by .3138 of a second.

James Hinchcliffe, who watched most of last April’s race from the infield following an early race incident, tied his career best of second on a road/street course for the second race in a row (.0289 of a second behind Power) in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car for Andretti Autosport. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the 2013 race from the pole, will share Row 2 with Josef Newgarden, who also tied his career-best qualifying effort (at Long Beach) in the No. 67 Hartman Oil/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car.

Scott Dixon, who has been the runner-up in all four races at Barber, qualified fifth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, and Helio Castroneves qualified sixth in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car. Castroneves won the 2010 race and has finished third the past two years. They’re the only drivers to compete in the Firestone Fast Six in all five years at Barber.

“Two of our four second-place finishes here we lost out on pit strategy so I hope we’re due for a win,” the reigning series champion said. “Heat was a big factor for us today and we were able to make the right changes with dampers for qualifying. In the third round of qualifying we could have done another lap looking back, but we need to work on finding more speed for the Target car.”

Carlos Munoz missed out on qualifying for his first Firestone Fast Six by .0040 of a second, and tied his best on a road/street course in seventh. Fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, in his third race with Team Penske, qualified a season-high eighth, and rookie Mikhail Aleshin qualified a season-best 11th in the No. 7 SMP Racing car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“It’s a shame that, in the end, we missed the Firestone Fast Six by such a small margin; it was really close,” Munoz said. “I think seventh place to start the race is good. It’s a long race ahead. I think tire degradation is going to be the key, and we’ll see what happens.”

Qualifying results of Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama:

Pos. Car # Driver Best Speed Best Time
1 12 Will Power 121.209 1:08.3120
2 27 James Hinchcliffe 121.157 1:08.3409
3 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 121.006 1:08.4264
4 67 Josef Newgarden 120.929 1:08.4702
5 9 Scott Dixon 120.849 1:08.5151
6 3 Hello Castroneves 120.654 1:08.6258
7 34 Carlos Munoz (R) 120.631 1:08.6388
8 2 Juan Pablo Montoya 120.620 1:08.6453
9 25 Marco Andretti 120.588 1:08.6634
10 77 Simon Pagenaud 120.230 1:08.8682
11 7 Mikhall Aleshin (R) 119.704 1:09.1708
12 11 Sebastien Bourdais 118.238 1:10.0283
13 17 Sebastion Saavedra 120.057 1:08.9674
14 14 Takuma Sato 119.748 1:09.1451
15 18 Carlos Huertas (R) 119.954 1:09.0267
16 19 Justin Wilson 119.650 1:09.2018
17 83 Charlie Kimball 119.663 1:09.1941
18 15 Graham Rahal 119.614 1:09.2228
19 16 Oriol Servia 119.492 1:09.2935
20 8 Ryan Briscoe 119.528 1:09.2722
21 20 Mike Conway 118.526 1:09.8580
22 98 Jack Hawksworth (R) 119.274 1:09.4201
23 10 Tony Kanaan 118.995 1:09.5829

R – Rookie.
Note: #11 Bourdais lost two fastest laps in Round 2 for qualifying interference.

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