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Castroneves grabs IndyCar pole, Team Penske gets top 3 spots

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) – Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Team Penske will start from a familiar position at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama: Up front.

Now, the challenge will be finishing there, too. Castroneves is confident of a happy ending for someone on his team Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park, he’s just not sure who.

“Whatever happens, we’ll make sure that one of the guys wins the race,” the Brazilian said.

Castroneves turned in the fast lap of 1 minute, 7.1925 seconds with rain starting to come down at the end of a day dominated by Penske and Chevrolet. He earned his second pole in the Alabama race and second in a row this year after finishing No. 2 at Long Beach.

IndyCar officials put up the checkered flag with 1:40 left in the Fast Six with lightning in the area, leaving no one with a chance to make a late run at him.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Castroneves said. “I went for it. I saw some very thick drops of rain coming. I’m the first run out there because I had the first pit. I’m just pushing as hard as I can.

“In the end it paid off. I took some calculated risk. I went out again, then it was a little bit slippery. Since we were in a very good position already, I didn’t have to take any other chance. “

Power, a two-time winner in Alabama, will start second, followed by Simon Pagenaud for a Team Penske sweep of the top three spots.

A Penske driver has started seven straight races from the pole and nabbed the first four starting spots in the opener at St. Petersburg.

The rest of the top six includes Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan. Dixon has podium finishes in all five Barber races in the series, including four runners-up but no wins.

Chevy, which has won two of the first three races, has the top seven qualifiers and 10 of the first 12.

Honda’s only win came from James Hinchcliffe in the rain-shortened Louisiana race.

Castroneves won the inaugural Alabama race in 2010 and captured the pole two years later.

Power said qualifying spot is “huge” at Barber, where there are fewer than normal good passing spots. He won at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course in 2011 and 2012.

Power’s strong qualifying was a nice rebound from his 20th-place finish at Long Beach.

“It’s kind of apparent that it’s going to be a race between the teammates, then you have kind of Kanaan and Dixon in the mix as well,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got a little bit of an advantage. We’ve been stronger. You have to keep that in mind when you’re racing those guys. Every time they get points on you, it’s going to add up at the end of the year.

“Got to be smart and treat your teammates as well as you can, but you’ve also got to win. That’s what’s on my mind.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, will start 18th. Hunter-Reay will have to play catch-up after winning the last two Alabama races. Power and Castroneves combined to win the first three.

Hunter-Reay said he got caught behind rookie Francesco Dracone and couldn’t finish with a strong qualifying lap.

“We just caught slower traffic there,” Hunter-Reay said. “I gave him a huge gap to begin with knowing that he was way off the pace and just caught him over and over again.

“It’s our own team’s fault to put ourselves in that position.”

Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya qualified 15th, well behind his Penske teammates.

“It’s tough because on these tires you really only get one lap and I missed it on that lap,” said Montoya, who won at St. Pete.

Making his way up front will be hard since the lowest starting spot for a winner was No. 9 for Power in 2012. Kanaan called Barber “a hard, hard place to pass.”

“In my opinion, it’s going to end up on fuel strategy and pit strategy,” Kanaan said. “We’re so close. Such quality drivers this year in the field. We’ll have to see if there’s an opportunity to pass. We’ll put on a good show for the fans. Barber is always good for that.”

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