PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Team Penske powered its way around Portland International Raceway on Saturday in a 1-2-3 qualifying sweep that poised the IndyCar championship leaders for a big swing against Ganassi in the title fight.
Scott McLaughlin won the pole — his third of the season — and picked up a point for that to help his long shot title chances. McLaughlin goes into Sunday’s race ranked sixth in the standings, 53 points behind Penske teammate and IndyCar points leader Will Power.
“We know the rules. We’re Team Penske drivers,” McLaughlin said. “We know what we need to do when we get employed: When the team wins, we all win. And for me, until I’m mathematically out of it, I want to keep going hard and keep trying to win races.”
Josef Newgarden, who trails Power by three points with two races remaining in the IndyCar season, qualified second. But he’ll serve a six-spot grid penalty at the start of Sunday’s race for an engine change.
All three Penske drivers are among the seven still mathematically eligible to win the championship. The lead has changed hands seven times this season and the three points that separate Power and Newgarden is the closest margin with two races remaining since 2008.
The 43 points separating the top five drivers is the tightest title chase since 2003, when 41 points separated the top five.
“I think it’s wide open,” Newgarden said. “I’ve seen this thing change completely, one race to the next. I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
Power was third fastest and will start on the front row alongside McLaughlin because of the Newgarden penalty. Team Penske has dominated the weekend and used its final test dates of the season on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course.
Chip Ganassi Racing, meanwhile, sent all four of its drivers to test at Laguna Seca, site of next Sunday’s season finale.
The testing choice was evident at Portland, where Penske cars have dominated the entire weekend and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou was the only Ganassi driver to advance to the final fast six qualifying round.
“We weren’t great here last year,” McLaughlin said, “but, you know, we came back with three hot rods.”
Scott Dixon and Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, who are 14 and 17 points out, did not advance out of the first qualifying round. Dixon will start 16th and Ericsson will start 18th, the lowest of the title contenders.
Power doesn’t think the poor qualifying effort by Ganassi guarantees anything for the Penske trio.
“You can never feel just safe that you’ve qualified well because it can just switch,” Power said.
Newgarden, meanwhile, has been unfazed about his engine-change penalty since he arrived in Portland. He acknowledged it was “not ideal” but doubted it would derail his race, then went out Friday with the fastest car.
Newgarden topped the lone Friday practice session, which had a stoppage for 81 minutes so that a trackside video board could be properly secured. A hydraulic part had failed and put the board at risk of collapsing near the start/finish line.
He’ll drop to eighth at the start but is chasing a series-best sixth win of the season.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out. I think we all have to be on our game,” Newgarden said. “We feel really good about being together and having fast cars. I think the team has done an amazing job to give us these great cars to fight with. Should give us an opportunity as a team to push forward.”
Christian Lundgaard qualified fourth, while Palou, the defending race winner, was fifth and Pato O’Ward was sixth. O’Ward is 58 points behind Power but still eligible for the title.