Helio Castroneves takes IndyCar pole at windy Phoenix

BY AP • April 29, 2017

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Helio Castroneves took the pole position Friday night for the Verizon IndyCar race at windy Phoenix International Raceway.

Blowing dust hit the desert track in the afternoon - with a 50 mph gust recorded at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport - and the wind was still gusting to 20-25 mph at night during qualifying.

''Conditions were really difficult,'' Castroneves said. ''The wind gusts were horrendous.''

Castroneves had a two-lap run of 37.7538 seconds at 194.905 mph on the mile oval to edge Team Penske teammate Will Power for the top spot in the 250-lap race Saturday night.

Castroneves topped the qualifying record he set last year on both laps, completing the first in 18.8837 seconds and the second in 18.8701. The 41-year-old Brazilian, the Phoenix winner in 2002, won his second pole of the season and 49th overall.

With a couple of hundred fans in the grandstands, Castroneves went off ninth among the 21 drivers in the single-car qualifying runs.

''We just decided to use the race setup,'' Castroneves said. ''It paid off tonight.''

Power was the second driver on the track for qualifying in the first oval event of the year.

''Conditions were definitely better tonight,'' Power said. ''But tough going out second in line because of all the dust on the track.''

Team Penske took four of the top five spots, with fellow Chevrolet driver JR Hildebrand third for Ed Carpenter Racing, followed by Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

Hildebrand is back after missing the Alabama event last week because of a broken left hand. He was hurt after late contact with Mikhail Aleshin in Long Beach, California.

''Honestly, it felt better than I thought it would,'' Hildebrand said.

Newgarden won the Alabama race.

Defending champion Scott Dixon qualified eighth for Chip Ganassi Racing. He led 155 laps last year in the series' first Phoenix race since 2005.

''Hopefully, we can duplicate that,'' Dixon said. ''It's a tough track and I know it's changed a bit over the years with some resurfacing. We learned a lot last year in terms of how the cars handle now.''



Chris Windom's bid to become the second USAC Silver Crown driver to win four straight races ended in practice when he made hard contact with the wall on the back straight.

The Kazmark Racing driver wasn't hurt. He won the season-opening race April 2 at Terre Haute Action Track after closing last year with victories at Du Quoin State Fairgrounds and Eldora Speedway.

Bobby Santos topped qualifying for the 100-mile Phoenix Copper Cup, the series' first event at the track since 2009. He turned the mile oval in 25.362 seconds for DJ Racing.

Two-time series champion Kody Swanson will start second Saturday, followed by Davey Hamilton and Justin Grant. Hamilton and son Davey Hamilton Jr. will become the first father-son combination in a Silver Crown event since Wayne Reutimann Sr. and Wayne Reutimann Jr. at Phoenix in 2007.



Tony Kanaan qualified sixth for his IndyCar-record 269th consecutive start. The Brazilian won at Phoenix in 2003 and 2004. ''I'm so glad IndyCar made its way back there,'' Kanaan said. ... The race is the 63rd IndyCar event at the track that opened in 1964. Al Unser tops the track victory list with six.


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