Rookie VeeKay Surprises With First IndyCar Pole

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Rinus VeeKay earned his first NTT IndyCar Series pole Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)
Rinus VeeKay earned his first NTT IndyCar Series pole Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Rookie Rinus VeeKay scored his first NTT IndyCar Series pole, but Josef Newgarden may have gotten a much-needed break in the battle for his third series championship.

Newgarden admitted he’s going to need a break or two to overcome Scott Dixon’s 72-point lead with three races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season.

He may have gotten just what he needed in Thursday evening’s twilight qualifying session for the IndyCar Harvest GP presented by GMR on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Once again, it was Takuma Sato that played a major role at IMS. The winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 flew off the track and was stuck in the gravel trap when he left the pit area on cold tires after he slid through the carousel. The red flag waved with 3:25 left in the 12-minute session and Dixon was still in the pit lane waiting to turn his fast lap.

He never got that chance as the clock ran out and the checkered and red flags waved. Instead of having a chance to go for the pole, Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda was sixth in the first session and Newgarden first.

Although VeeKay was able to go faster in the second 12-minute session and claim the pole, Newgarden will start Friday’s first race of the weekend doubleheader on the front row. Dixon will start 12th.

“We got a point, right? Each group gets a point,” Newgarden said. “That’s probably the luckiest we’ve been as far as yellow flags go this year. I just wish we had gotten it in the race, but we’re not going to complain. We were quick on blacks (primary tires). The car felt awesome right out of the box. Some of the issues we were struggling with in practice were gone. You couldn’t see super well in turn 12 or turn 13, so you were guessing a little bit coming on to that front straightaway. But it made for an interesting session. I don’t know what would have happened on reds (alternate tires). I think we would have been in the fight there, without a doubt, because the car felt so good. Just unpredictable to say without having run on them.

“It’s a great starting spot for Hitachi, and Team Chevy has been bringing it this weekend. I feel pretty confident for tomorrow and the race.”

Dixon was disappointed that he didn’t get a chance to go for the pole, but he remains confident he can still claim his sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship this season.

“It’s racing,” Dixon said. “It’s not over until you’ve won the championship. We’ll keep our head down and see how it rolls tomorrow.

“This morning, the car wasn’t as good on the blacks (primary tires), but once we got to the reds (alternate tires), it turned on, and we jumped up into the top four or five. But that’s the way it goes (with the red flag ending qualifying) sometimes, man. We didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe we should have tried to make the car a bit better balance-wise on the blacks, but you always chase what it’s going to be for the reds. Bummer for the whole 9 crew. We’ll just have to figure it out and hopefully have a good race tomorrow.”

As for VeeKay, he was the fastest man at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday night.

“Finally, finally, my first pole,” VeeKay said. “It would be amazing to win. We are going for that win now. It’s never going to be easy. We had a strong car here last time. P1, finally.

“It was tough. I was not very happy with the car this morning, but Tim (Broyles) and I sat down and we found some great stuff. Great team. A lot of work was put in here. I put in a good lap, so I’m very happy with that. Finally, finally, my first pole.” (Can you get your first win tomorrow?): “That would be amazing. Yeah, of course, we’re going for that win now. But anything can happen. This a crazy track. Everyone is super-talented here. So, we’re going to do everything we can, but it’s not going to be easy.”

VeeKay’s No. 21 Chevrolet had the fastest time of the two groups that competed in 12-minute sessions as darkness fell on Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Dtchman lapped the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in 1:09.6903 for a speed of 125.992 mph. Newgarden’s No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet was the fastest in the first session at 1:10.4706 (124.597 mph).

Colton Herta’s No. 88 Honda will line up third, followed by three-time IMS road course winner Will Power, and 2020 Indianapolis 500 pole winner Marco Andretti.

Friday’s race starts just before 4 p.m. E.T. and will be televised on USA Network beginning at 3:30 p.m. E.T.