LONG BEACH, Calif – For the first time in years, neither of the three Team Penske cars made it to the Firestone Fast Six last weekend at the Barber Motorsports Park. It was a disappointing weekend for the entire team. They knew though that they needed to improve this weekend on the streets of Long Beach. With qualifying meaning so much on the 1.968-mile street course this weekend, if you don’t make the Fast Six for this race, then you don’t have as much of a chance at victory.
Well, seven days after only one of their three cars even making it out of the opening round of qualifying at Barber last Saturday, all three were represented in the Fast Six at Long Beach. In fact, all three will roll off inside of the top five for Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network).
Will Power led the way in his No. 12 Chevrolet in earning a third place starting spot. He now has three top three starting positions in four tries in 2019. What was a tad surprising though is that Power was the slowest among the three drivers this weekend. In qualifying, he was the fastest. Power, started on the pole and finished third on the streets of St. Pete back in March. He also came home runner-up in this race last year too.
Joining Power on the second row is his teammate Josef Newgarden. He’s the current series points leader and will start fourth in his No. 2 Chevrolet. Newgarden, said after qualifying that he didn’t have the single lap speed at the pole but he does have the speed to win the race on Sunday. He was ninth, fourth and sixth respectively in practice this weekend and is looking for his fourth top four finish to start the year off with and second podium on Long Beach in three years. He also won the last street course race at St. Pete.
“Well, I think our street course cars have been good,” said the 2017 series champion. “We were solid at St. Pete so I think that’s what you’re seeing here. We did a lot of work on that in the off-season, so I think that’s what it speaks to mostly. But yeah, Barber, I think we need a little time on our road course side. I think we’ll figure it out. I have no doubt, we’ve got the best in the business that work on our cars, so we’ll get there, we just need a little bit of time to figure out where we need to be better.
“So it is good to rally here, like you said. But we kind of expected that. I knew we’d have good cars here. I was really excited to get going. Now we’ll try and get through this weekend, try to get through the race, score some points and focus on where we can be stronger on the road courses in the future.”
Then there’s Simon Pagenaud. He’s been consistently in the top 10 in most races but struggling to get into the top five. Now, he starts there in his No. 22 Chevrolet. Pagenaud, qualified fifth and is hoping to earn his seventh top 10 finish in eight tries on the street circuit. The Frenchman was eighth in both practice sessions on Friday and fifth on Saturday.
See, Penske put a lot of emphasis on upping their street course program this offseason. After going 1-for-10 in terms of street course wins the last two years, they stormed out of the gates in St. Pete. Long Beach goes to show that all their efforts this past offseason is paying off.