Power claims fourth pole at Barber Motorsports Park

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Will Power is the front-runner at Barber Motorsports Park once again, and his teammates are following right behind.

Power claimed the pole for the fourth time at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Saturday in a qualifying session dominated by Team Penske. Power's fast lap of 1:06.9614 gave him 46 career starts up front and continued his success at Barber Motorsports Park.

Teammates Helio Castroneves and defending champion Simon Pagenaud completed a sweep of the top three spots to start Sunday's race.

''It's phenomenal for the race team, 1-2-3,'' said Pagenaud, who won the series championship in 2016. ''They did a fantastic job preparing these cars. This is a really good track for us in general.''

That might be understating the matter.

Current Penske drivers have won five of the seven IndyCar races at the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course. They've claimed the pole seven times in eight years.

Power won in 2011 and 2012, Castroneves in 2010 and first-year Penske driver Josef Newgarden two years ago. Newgarden qualified seventh with his new team.

''It's definitely working well this weekend,'' Power said.

Castroneves said his teammate ''definitely has something about this place.''

''He did a great job putting a lap towards the end,'' Castroneves said. ''In Long Beach, it was like a precision lap, and this lap was like going out-and-out crazy; I was like one eye closed and hopefully stick, and it did.''

The Penske trio are followed by Ganassi's Scott Dixon, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, who's coming off a win at Long Beach for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Dixon and Hinchcliffe are the only drivers to be among the top six qualifiers in each of the three races this year.

The Fast Six round was split evenly with Chevrolet- and Honda-powered teams thanks to Penske.

Dixon has six podium finishes, but no victories, in Alabama. Penske drivers are partly to blame.

''It'd be nice if these guys just pulled over at the start,'' he said, pointing to Pagenaud and Power. ''That would definitely help things.

''None of these tracks owe you anything. It's just trying to piece it together. I think we've had a couple of really good shots in the past to get the win and we've made a couple of mistakes and it just hasn't played out.''

Powerhouse teams Penske and Ganassi Racing - and Chevrolet - are still seeking their first win of the year. Smaller, Honda-powered teams have taken the first two races, already matching Honda's win total from last year. Sebastien Bourdais and tiny Dale Coyne Racing won the opener at St. Petersburg and then Hinchliffe secured the Long Beach win. Hinchcliffe made his IndyCar debut at Barber in 2011.

Two-time winner Hunter-Reay is the only non-Penske driver to capture the Alabama race, winning in 2013 and 2014.

''Penske's had a bit of a stranglehold on this track,'' he said. ''We've won here twice but for the most part it's been Penske blocking out the front. Hard to beat right now.''

Former Indy Lights winner Zach Veach is making his first IndyCar start, filling in for Ed Carpenter Racing with JR Hildebrand recovering from a broken left hand. Veach qualified 19th in the 21-driver field.

The most talked about driver this weekend might be one who isn't even racing. Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula One champion , is set to arrive at Barber Sunday as a spectator. He'll run in the Indianapolis 500 next month for Andretti Autosport.

''I think it's very, very cool that it's happening,'' said Andretti driver Alexander Rossi.

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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