Pagenaud gives Team Penske, Chevy another pole at Barber

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A different Team Penske driver will take his turn at the front of the pack.

Simon Pagenaud continued his hot streak by taking the pole position Saturday at Barber Motorsports park, the road course where he made his IndyCar debut in 2011.

Pagenaud, who already has a win and two runners-up finish in the first three races, edged teammate Will Power in the Fast 6 qualifying on Saturday. He turned in a lap of 1:06.7262.

"It's just going so well in my head, and I am very clear-minded and everyone is working so well together again," said Pagenaud, who struggled at times during his debut season with Team Penske. "We are just having fun again and it just amazing to see what a difference a year makes."

Pagenaud made his IndyCar debut as a fill-in driver at Barber Motorsports in 2011, surging from near the back to eighth to help jump start his career in the series.

Team Penske is 4-for-4 in taking pole positions this season but it's the first of the year for Pagenaud. Power and Helio Castroneves (twice), both of whom have wins at Barber, had divvied the first three poles.

Chevrolet continued to dominate with the top five qualifiers with only Graham Rahal breaking into the top six for Honda.

Power, a two-time winner on the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course, had the second fastest lap. He'd won the pole three times since 2010 in Alabama.

Defending champion Josef Newgarden starts third, followed by Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal. Bourdais broke Dixon's 3-year-old track record running a lap in 1.06.6001 in the second session.

Chevrolet has won the first three races of the IndyCar season and led all but 18 laps. It's raised fears among Honda teams that they don't have a legitimate crack to win the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 next month.

Qualifying, at least, did little to appease those concerns. Rahal carried the banner on Saturday.

"Unfortunately it's become like a war of who's the fastest Honda guy, and it feels pretty good to go home with the fastest," Rahal said. "It's kind of become that sort of battle a little bit, sadly."

BACK IN THE PACK: Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske finished last in his group in the first session and will start at the back of the 21-car field. None of Andretti Autosport's four drivers will start higher than 15th. Andretti's Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won in 2013 and 2014, starts 18th.

DIXON AT BARBER: Dixon has been the Barber bridesmaid four times and is 6 for 6 on podium finishes at the track. But he still hasn't won here and remains tied for fourth with Al Unser at 39 wins. Dixon is off to one of his best starts with a win and a second-place finish in the first three races. What will it take to win Sunday at Barber?

"Pass three cars," Dixon said. "That's going to be what we've got to do. I think our strategy here typically has been pretty interesting in the past."

RULES CHANGES: The lingering debate at Long Beach prompted IndyCar to make a change going into Barber. Dixon had argued that Pagenaud should have been penalized, not just warned, after driving over a line before he was allowed to exit pit lane following a stop. The series has embedded "an electronic pit exit commit line" into the track surface to determine legal pit exits. IndyCar could also position a dedicated official at the pit exit blend line to better police the rule.

STARTING SPOT: Starting position can take on extra importance at Barber, where passing opportunities are at a premium. Newgarden's strong qualifying certainly helps his chances of repeating. "Starting third is where we need to be to win this race," he said.

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