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Josef Newgarden gives Team Penske much-needed pole win

Josef Newgarden gives Team Penske much-needed pole win

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Josef Newgarden won the pole for IndyCar’s season-opening race on Saturday, giving Team Penske something to celebrate as its leadership faced criticism throughout the paddock for its management of the series.

It made for a weird day on what is supposed to be a celebratory weekend as IndyCar got back on track after a six month offseason. Instead, the mood was muted.

Reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou was eliminated in the first round of qualifying, as was Alexander Rossi, who believed he was impeded by another driver and series officials failed to act. Callum Ilott, the fill-in for injured David Malukas, also was eliminated, joining Rossi as two Arrow McLaren Racing drivers knocked out.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan saw Graham Rahal and Pietro Fittipaldi eliminated in the first round, as was Kyle Kirkwood, a two-time race winner last season for Andretti Global.

It all created a shootout between Newgarden and Felix Rosenqvist for the pole for Sunday’s opener. Rosenqvist qualified second in his debut with Meyer Shank Racing, while Pato O’Ward of McLaren was third, followed by Colton Herta of Andretti.

Romain Grosjean of Juncos Hollinger Racing was fifth in his debut with his new team, and Marcus Ericsson finalized the Fast Six shootout in his debut with Andretti.

Newgarden won four races last year including the Indy 500 but failed to score a single pole.

“This is a rock star team,” Newgarden said Saturday. “I don’t want to get too excited about it. We should enjoy it, but we’ve got to get through tomorrow. Tomorrow is what pays the bills.”

Off the track, there is dissension throughout the paddock as multiple team owners are growing restless with Penske Entertainment’s management of the series. Michael Andretti went so far as to call on Roger Penske to sell the series if he doesn’t invest the capital needed to elevate IndyCar’s profile.

“I think there’s a lot of people on the sidelines thinking, ‘This is a diamond in the rough if you do it right.’ But what you need is big money behind it to get it to that level, and if he’s not willing to do it, I think he should step aside and let someone else buy it,” Andretti said.

His public criticism enraged Penske executives, who have had multiple conversations with Andretti officials since his Friday comments. Penske owns both IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Andretti wasn’t alone in venting; Brad Hollinger, co-owner of tiny Juncos Hollinger Racing, on Saturday outpointed the differences between the…

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