Saturday, April 29, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Phoenix 2017

Another pole position for Team Penske and Hélio Castroneves
Hélio Castroneves picked up his 48th career pole position and his second pole position of the season as the Brazilian obliterated the track record he set last year. Castroneves ran a two-lap average of 194.905 MPH, over two and a half miles per hour faster than his pole speed from a year ago. He also broke the one-lap record with a lap of 194.975 MPH. This is Castroneves' tenth pole position since his most recent victory at Belle Isle in 2014. His average finish in his last nine starts from pole position is 11.333 with two podiums but only three top ten finishes. Will Power made it a sweep of the front row for Team Penske but the Australian was nearly a mile per hour slower than his teammate at 194.017 MPH. Power has not won from second on the grid since Edmonton 2011. He finished third last year in his Phoenix debut.

J.R. Hildebrand's return to competition will come from third on the grid after the Californian missed the Barber race due to a broken wrist. Third will be a career-best starting position for Hildebrand. His previous best was fourth at Iowa in 2011 and Fontana in 2012. This will be his fifth career top five start but he has only finished in the top ten once when starting in the top five and that was finishing fourth from fourth at Iowa in 2011. Next to Hildebrand will be the man he replaced in the #21 Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden. Newgarden is coming off victory at Barber, which was his fourth career victory. Simon Pagenaud makes it four Penske cars in the first five positions. Last year, Pagenaud went from tenth to second and took the championship lead at Phoenix. Tony Kanaan rounds out row three and he is the top Honda on the starting grid.

Mikhail Aleshin was the top Honda for most of the qualifying session but he will start seventh, next to Kanaan's teammate Scott Dixon. Aleshin has five top ten finishes in ten oval starts, including a second-place finish at Pocono last year but he only has five top ten finishes in his previous 12 top ten starts. The top seven qualifiers were faster than last year's pole speed. Dixon has never won from eighth position in his career and his only podium from eighth position was a third at Milwaukee in 2001, his fifth career start. Rounding out the top ten will be Marco Andretti and Sébastien Bourdais. This is Andretti's second top ten start in the last three races after going 17 races without a top ten start. Andretti has finished in the top ten in the last four oval races he has started in the top ten. Despite having a victory and leading the championship, this is Bourdais' best starting position of the season.

James Hinchcliffe starts on the inside of row six with Ryan Hunter-Reay next to him in 12th position. This is Hinchcliffe's worst starting position of the season while Hunter-Reay matches his worst starting position of the season. Hunter-Reay went from 12th to fourth at St. Petersburg in March and he started 12th last year at Phoenix. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball make it an all-Ganassi row seven. Chilton finished seventh last year at Phoenix in his first IndyCar oval race. Kimball has always finished better than his starting position when starting 14th with him achieving four top ten finishes from the position. Alexander Rossi starts 15th next to Ed Jones in 16th. Rossi started and finished 14th last year at Phoenix while Jones finished second in the Indy Lights race last year at the track.

Graham Rahal will start on the inside of row eight, his worst starting position on an oval since he started 26th at Indianapolis last year. Takuma Sato will be to the outside of Rahal. This will be the fifth time Sato has started 18th in his career and he started and finished 18th at Long Beach three weeks ago. While Chevrolet swept the top five, it will also hold the final three positions on the grid. A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly will start on row ten. Ed Carpenter will round out the grid in 21st position. Carpenter suffered a fuel leak in practice and the team scrambled to get the car ready for the qualifying session. This is Carpenter's 12th time starting 21st in his career. His average finish in his previous 11 starts from that position is 17.0 and his lone top ten finish when starting 21st was eighth at Iowa in 2012. Twice has a Phoenix IndyCar race been won from outside the top twenty, 1987 by Roberto Guerrero from 22nd and 2000 by Buddy Lazier from 26th.

NBCSN's coverage of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix will start at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 9:35 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 250 laps.