Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – No driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES looked to put last season into the rear-view mirror more than Felix Rosenqvist.
Winning the NTT P1 Award for the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway is helping his challenging 2021 disappear toward the vanishing point.
Rosenqvist, who finished a disappointing 21st in the standings in an injury-interrupted 2021, earned his second career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole with a two-lap average speed of 221.110 mph in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. This was his first pole on an oval, as his previous top spot came as a series rookie in May 2019 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“This is huge for the team and myself,” Rosenqvist said. “A big confidence boost. A big comeback after some tough times. I’m really pleased for everyone on my team to get this result.”
The 248-lap race on the 1.5-mile banked oval starts at 12:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, with live coverage on NBC, a Peacock Premium simulstream and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Rosenqvist’s pole wasn’t a shock considering his speed in morning practice, when he was second fastest at 222.878 with the benefit of an aerodynamic tow. But after making his run as the 11th driver in the qualifying line, Rosenqvist was forced to sweat under sunny skies while 16 drivers unsuccessfully tried to knock him from the pinnacle of speed.
Series points leader and St. Petersburg race winner Scott McLaughlin came the closest as the last of the 27 cars to qualify. McLaughlin’s two-lap average speed was 221.096 in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet, falling three-thousandths of a second short of Rosenqvist and settling for a front-row starting spot.
“There were so many guys close to me,” Rosenqvist said. “There were a couple of guys within thousandths. Big thanks to Arrow McLaren SP, Chevy, Vuse. I knew that lap was as good as pretty much could have made it. It was so hard to wait so long to get it.”
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato will start third after an average speed of 221.094 in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda. 2014 series champion and fellow Indy 500 winner Will Power qualified fourth at 221.016 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, and five-time Texas winner Scott Dixon ended up fifth at 221.011 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, also a four-time winner at Texas, will fill out the third row in the starting lineup after qualifying sixth at 220.768 in the No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda.
Devlin DeFrancesco was the top rookie qualifier, 17th at 219.888 in the No. 29 PowerTap Honda. But a driver capturing plenty of watts from the spotlight this weekend, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, will share the ninth row with DeFrancesco after qualifying 18th at 219.865 for his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval start in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson competed only on road and street courses in his rookie season in 2021.
“I think we’re being very measured in how we’re working me into qualifying and working me into a car that’s more trimmed out and a bit more neutral,” Johnson said. “But all is good so far, and it’s certainly been a fun morning and afternoon getting these laps in at Texas Motor Speedway.
“When I rolled off in the Carvana Honda (for qualifying), my heart rate was definitely elevated. I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of went off the confidence level of my teammates. They knew my trim settings, and they said, ‘Yeah, you should be able to go flat,’ so I just took their word and made a promise to myself not to lift my right foot up.”
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden led the final practice with a top lap of 223.108 in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. The 70-minute session for the full field took place after seven drivers turned laps in the high groove of the track for 30 minutes, trying to add Firestone rubber to create even more passing opportunities.
Veteran Jack Harvey was unhurt in the only incident in final practice. Harvey brushed the SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 2 and made hard contact with the inside wall on the backstretch with his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda, which suffered heavy left-side damage.