Team Penske's Power, McLaughlin lock up front row at IndyCar after controversial week

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Getting back in the race car was “the best medicine in the world” for Josef Newgarden. That’s also Scott McLaughlin’s “favorite place in the world.”

Team Penske, Newgarden, McLaughlin and Will Power get to end a controversy-filled week tucked into their high-speed sanctuaries for a couple of hours during Sunday’s race at Barber, a picturesque road course where they’ve combined for seven wins over the years.

On Wednesday, Newgarden was stripped of his season-opening win at St. Petersburg, Florida, and defending Barber winner McLaughlin lost his third-place finish for manipulating their push-to-pass system. Power was docked series points and also fined, though he didn’t make improper use of the push-to-pass.

Back on the track, Team Penske got much better news in Saturday’s qualifying, when McLaughlin won the pole and Power was second-fastest to set up an all-Penske front row. That successful qualifying came shortly after series and team owner Roger Penske summoned his fellow owners for a meeting.

Three team owners told The Associated Press that the 87-year-old Penske apologized to the group. The owners spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of sharing details of a private meeting.

“Ultimately very proud of Team Penske,” McLaughlin said after winning the pole. “One-two is tough to come by in any series, let alone IndyCar. Obviously after the week we’ve all had, it’s a nice little reward.”

Fastest in Friday’s practice session, Newgarden didn’t fare as well. The two-time series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner qualified eighth at a track where he won three times from 2015-18.

“I’m here. I’m here with my team,” he said afterward. “I’m ready to rock.”

The race has been nearly an afterthought coming into the weekend, overshadowed by the cloud hovering over Newgarden and Team Penske.

A week of negative headlines turned into celebration with Team Penske crew members high-fiving and cheering the qualifying results.

McLaughlin won his sixth IndyCar pole with a final lap of 1 minute, 5.9490 seconds. Power turned a fast lap of 1:06.0460 to lock up the other front row spot, ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Armstrong of Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Good bounce-back for the team,” said Power, who won at Barber in 2011 and 2012.

O’Ward and his Arrow McLaren team didn’t get to celebrate on victory lane. He had to settle for a playful moment, telling Newgarden on X (formerly Twitter), “Let me know if you need my address to send over the hardware.”

O’Ward’s second-place finish at St. Petersburg turned to a win some six weeks later. He’d love a more exuberant celebration soon, perhaps on Sunday. “A win’s a win, right? Take it,” O’Ward said. “But I’d love to give the team a proper celebration, not for St. Pete, but for a future race coming up.

“This weekend would be fantastic. I’m glad that we got the recognition for it and we got awarded I believe what we deserved. But a big part of the celebration is done there and then you move forward.”

Team Principal Gavin Ward did his best to give the team a treat, settling for five dozen donuts at the shop instead of champagne at the track. It was the team’s first win since 2022, when O’Ward won at Barber and Iowa.

“We’re very happy with the points,” Ward said. “Very happy to get it. Would have loved to celebrate in Victory Lane. But this team’s just been working so friggin’ hard.”

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won’t start near the front at a track where he has routinely made the podium. He just missed making it out of the first round of qualifying, finishing seventh in his session and qualifying 13th.

The current points leader hasn’t won at Barber despite being a regular on the podium. Dixon has six runner-up finishes there and has been third twice.

Dixon picked up career win No. 57 with a victory at Long Beach, 10 shy of A.J. Foyt’s IndyCar record 67.

“It’s frustrating to just miss but as a group we’ve been a little off this weekend,” he said.


AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.


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