New­gar­den cap­tures pole, ex­tends lead be­fore fi­nale

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer Jenna Fryer is an Associated Press writer.

Josef New­gar­den moved a step closer to his first IndyCar ti­tle Saturday by lead­ing a Penske pa­rade into the sea­son fi­nale at Sonoma Race­way.

Four of the five driv­ers math­e­mat­i­cally el­i­gi­ble to win the cham­pi­onship Sun­day are from Team Penske. In qual­i­fy­ing, they showed they have the speed to grab the ti­tle.

But it’s New­gar­den, in his first sea­son driv­ing for Penske, who led the charge. He’s the points leader and three times broke the track record in Saturday’s qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion. His fi­nal run in his Chevro­let was at 1 minute, 15.5205 sec­onds and gave New­gar­den just the sec­ond pole of his ca­reer.

The bonus point he earned for the pole gives him a four-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon head­ing into Sun­day’s race.

“This is IndyCar racing, any­thing can hap­pen. We checked one thing off the box this week­end and we have one big one to check off to­mor­row,” New­gar­den said. “We’ve got to get through the race, we’ve got to have a good race car — qual­i­fy­ing is one thing, hav­ing speed is one thing, but win­ning the race is a whole other deal.”

New­gar­den was ec­static af­ter the pole-win­ning run. He’s try­ing to be­come only the sec­ond U.S.-born driver in 11 years to win the ti­tle.

His up­grade to Penske equip­ment has led to four vic­to­ries and put him in con­trol of the cham­pi­onship. If he fin­ishes higher than all the other con­tenders Sun­day, he wins the ti­tle.

Penske driv­ers Will Power, Si­mon Pa­ge­naud and He­lio Cas­tron­eves qual­i­fied sec­ond, third and fourth. Dixon was sixth and strug­gled through all three qual­i­fy­ing ses­sions.

The four-time se­ries cham­pion started the week­end three points be­hind New­gar­den and was con­sid­ered the fa­vorite to win the ti­tle be­cause of his ruth­less at­tack­ing style, steely de­meanor and ex­pe­ri­ence. But his Honda lacked the speed of the Chevro­lets from Penske.

“The Penske group are fast here, and it’s ex­actly what we ex­pect, but the race is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing,” said Dixon, who said he’ll have to rely on strat­egy to win. “We can def­i­nitely make it work.”

Sonoma Race­way

Points leader Josef New­gar­den cap­tured the pole with a track-record lap of 1 minute,15.5205 sec­onds. He en­ters Sun­day’s fi­nale with a four-point ad­van­tage.

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