The 2021 IndyCar season comes to a close this weekend and while the battle for the championship might seem like a two-man race, Josef Newgarden wants to add his name to the fight. The Team Penske driver is a long shot to win his third series title but he does have a chance. Saturday went well for the American as he earned his series-leading fourth pole of the season and the 15th of his career.
Newgarden secured an extra point for earning pole, making his path to the title somewhat more clear. If he wins the race and leads the most laps, he would hold the tiebreaker over O’Ward if he finishes behind him in 2nd place. Should Palou finish worse than 11th tomorrow, Newgarden would win the championship in that scenario. For Palou, he still holds his own fate in his hands, which is all any driver could ask for.
Qualification Results for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach
Starting alongside Newgarden on the front row is Scott Dixon. While the Ganassi ace is out of the running for a seventh championship, he can still help his teammate secure a title for the first time in a decade. Row 2 for tomorrow’s race features a pair of old teammates who are about to be reunited next season at Meyer Shank Racing. Just behind Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud in Row 3 is Felix Rosenqvist and Romain Grosjean.
James Hinchcliffe will make his final start with Andretti Autosport tomorrow, and he will do it from the 7th starting position, easily his best of the season. Pato O’Ward starts 8th after a ruling from race control prevented him from joining the Firestone Fast Six. Many people were frustrated by the decision, but none more so than the second-year driver himself.
Ed Jones will make his final start with Dale Coyne Racing tomorrow, which could also very well be his final race in the series. He starts 9th and championship leader Alex Palou rounded out the top ten in qualifying on Saturday. Should Palou be able to stay in that position, nothing Newgarden or O’Ward do will prevent him from winning his first series championship.
Ryan Hunter-Reay’s final race at Andretti will see him rolling off in the 11th starting position, alongside fellow veteran Will Power. Power’s teammate Scott McLaughlin will finish his rookie campaign on Sunday from the 13th starting position. Colton Herta starts 14th after a disastrous qualifying session. Teammate Alexander Rossi starts just behind him in 15th as he has one more shot to end his winless drought.
Saturday’s qualifying session was filled with spins, red flags, penalties, and race control reviews. The field is jumbled up with several quick drivers starting near the rear of the field, including Marcus Ericsson (17th), Graham Rahal (19th), Sebastien Bourdais (22nd), Rinus VeeKay (24th), Jack Harvey (25th) and Oliver Askew (28th) rounding out the order.
The race distance is 85 laps, which is 167.28 miles around the 1.968-mile 11-turn street circuit. Rossi is the defending race winner, taking the checkered flag from pole position for the second consecutive year in 2019.
Coverage for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 3 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar