Saturday, April 7, 2018

Morning Warm-Up: Phoenix 2018

Sébastien Bourdais stays on top through qualifying in Phoenix
IndyCar championship leader Sébastien Bourdais will start the second race of the season from pole position. The Frenchman ran a two-lap average at 188.539 MPH in qualifying from Phoenix, giving him his 34th career pole position. This is Bourdais' first pole position since Mid-Ohio 2014 and his first pole position on an oval since Milwaukee 2006. This is his fourth career pole position on an oval and he has won all three oval races he has started on pole position. His first career victory came from pole position at Lausitzring in 2003. In 2004, he won from pole position at Las Vegas and he led 117 of 197 laps on his way to victory at Milwaukee in 2006. Bourdais leads all active drivers with 18 victories from pole position in his career. This was Dale Coyne Racing's second pole position in team history. Mike Conway won the first pole position for DCR at the second race of the Belle Isle doubleheader in 2013.

Simon Pagenaud joins Bourdais on an all-French front row. The Penske driver missed out on pole positions by 0.0811 seconds. Pagenaud is looking for his second career oval victory after he won at Phoenix last year. This is the second time Bourdais and Pagenaud will share a front row. Bourdais and Pagenaud started 1-2 at Cleveland in 2007. Bourdais led 27 laps but retired due to an engine failure while Pagenaud finished fifth. Paul Tracy won the race from seventh on the grid. Pagenaud has not won a race from second on the grid and his best finish from second on the grid was fourth at Pocono last year.

Will Power starts third in his third Phoenix start. Power finished third from ninth on the grid at Phoenix in 2016 and he started and finished second last year. Power has five career oval victories and his first two oval victories came from third on the grid in the second race of the Texas doubleheader in 2011 and at Fontana in 2013. Alexander Rossi will start next to Power on row two. This is the third time Rossi has started inside the top five on an oval in his career. He started third at Indianapolis and Texas last year. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports swept row three with James Hinchcliffe starting fifth ahead of his rookie teammate Robert Wickens. This will be the 29th time Hinchcliffe has started inside the top five in his IndyCar career and four of his five victories have come from starting inside the top five. Pagenaud won last year's race from sixth on the grid. Only once has a Canadian won at Phoenix. Scott Goodyear won the 1999 race from third on the grid.

Josef Newgarden finished seventh in the season opener at St. Petersburg and he will start seventh for the second race of the season at Phoenix. Newgarden won twice from seventh on the grid last year. He did it at Barber and Toronto and in both occasions Newgarden was the worst Penske qualifier as he is for this race. Ryan Hunter-Reay makes it an all-American row four and this is Hunter-Reay's best start at Phoenix after qualifying 12th each of the last two years. Tony Kanaan will start ninth in his first oval race for A.J. Foyt Racing. This will be Kanaan's 345th IndyCar start, putting him into third all-time. He will trail A.J. Foyt by 24 starts for second most starts in IndyCar history after this race. While Kanaan continues to climb up the record book, Pietro Fittipaldi etches his name in the record book as the Miami-native will make his IndyCar debut from tenth on the grid. A Florida-born driver has never won a IndyCar race. His grandfather Emerson won at Phoenix in 1994.

Ed Jones starts on the inside of row six. Jones finished 11th last year at Phoenix. Graham Rahal will start 12th, his best career start at Phoenix. Rahal went from 19th to fifth in the 2016 race while he did not make it through the first turn from 17th on the grid last year. Takuma Sato follows his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate in the 13th position. Like Rahal, this is Sato's best career starting position at Phoenix. He has finished 15th and 16th in his two Phoenix starts. Kyle Kaiser will make his IndyCar debut from 14th on the grid. It is the best starting position in the short history of Juncos Racing. Kaiser could become the first driver to win in Indy Lights and IndyCar at Phoenix. Spencer Pigot rounds out the top fifteen in what is his first Phoenix appearance. This is only the fifth time Pigot has started in the top fifteen in his career. Matheus Leist rounds out row eight. A.J. Foyt Racing's best finish at Phoenix the last two years is tenth.

Scott Dixon qualified 17th. Dixon's previous worst starting position at Phoenix was eighth on two occasions. He started 17th last year at Iowa and finished eighth. Dixon is tied with Bourdais, Al Unser, Jr. and Dan Wheldon for most victories from starting positions outside the top ten at four. He won from 17th on the grid at Pocono in 2013. Ed Carpenter starts next to Dixon on row nine. This is the fourth time in five Phoenix appearances Carpenter has started outside the top fifteen. His seventh place finish last year was Carpenter's first top ten finish on the one-mile oval. Gabby Chaves and Marco Andretti will start on row ten. This will be the 16th time in 28 IndyCar starts Chaves has started 19th or worse. In the 15 other starts he has finished better than his starting position 14 times and matched his starting position once. Four times has the Phoenix winner started outside the top ten, including twice from outside the top twenty.

Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball make it an all-Carlin row 11. Chilton and Kimball started 20th and 21st in the season opener at St. Petersburg. This is the second time Chilton has started outside the top twenty in his career. He started 22nd in the Indianapolis 500 two years ago. This is the first time Kimball has started outside the top twenty in consecutive races since he started 23rd and 26th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500 in 2014. Kimball was the fastest driver in the night practice after qualifying. Zach Veach will round out the grid in 23rd position. This is the most starters in a Phoenix race since 26 cars started in 2002.

NBCSN's coverage of the Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix begins at 9:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 250 laps.