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Russia’s Aleshin Makes IndyCar History

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, August 21 2016
Mikhail Aleshin won the pole at Pocono on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Mikhail Aleshin won the pole at Pocono on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

RacinToday.com

Mikhail Aleshin made open-wheel history Saturday at Pocono Raceway as the first Russian to win a pole position during qualifying for the ABC Supply 500.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver averaged 220.445 mph over two laps in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda to collect his first pole in his 31st career Verizon IndyCar Series start. Aleshin will lead the field to the green flag for the 200-lapper around the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond, Pa., in what will be the 13th race to be completed on the 16-race schedule.

NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network will cover the race starting at 3 p.m. (EDT).

“It’s obviously very difficult to explain what I feel now,” the reserved 29-year-old from Moscow said. “It’s a lot of emotions definitely. It’s my first pole in INDYCAR and I’m so happy to bring the No. 7 SMP Racing car up there. The team did an amazing job. We had a couple of moments in Turn 1, but I decided to keep it flat and see what would happen. (Hitting) the wall didn’t happen, but pole position happened. Amazing.”

Aleshin led a contingent of the top five qualifiers representing five teams. In fitting with the ongoing 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the top six qualifiers hail from six nations.

American Josef Newgarden, currently fourth in the point standings, qualified second at 220.195 mph in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing. It continued strong showings for Newgarden on superspeedways in 2016. He qualified and finished third at the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May and qualified fifth and was running up-front at the rain-suspended Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in June when he was involved in a crash.

Newgarden suggested he could have won the pole at Pocono had he not asked for a setup change just before qualifying.

“I think what we rolled out with would have been enough,” Newgarden said. “It’s my fault that we changed it. I’m disappointed about that. You always want the pole. We have a great chemistry and group with our people, but sometimes I mess up.

“Congrats to Mikhail, great job by him. We didn’t have enough today, but tomorrow is what counts.”

Takuma Sato will start third in the No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda at 220.067 mph _ the best qualifying effort for the Japanese driver since he won pole for the second Chevrolet Dual in Detroit race in 2014. Brazil’s Helio Castroneves will start next to Sato in Row 2 after logging two laps at an average of 219.781 mph in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

“Very, very happy about our qualifying run,” Sato said. “We had a very good baseline car. We tested here a couple weeks ago, which helped massively, and we gained a good understanding for the strong superspeedway package that Honda worked so hard on and it looks like we have a pretty strong car.”

Row 3 will consist of Colombia’s Carloz Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (219.647) and Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, Aleshin’s teammate in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda (219.463).

Championship leader Simon Pagenaud of France qualified 14th in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet (217.721). Pagenaud holds a 58-point lead over teammate Will Power, the Australian who qualified eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy (218.617).

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the 2015 ABC Supply 500, was uninjured in a crash during morning practice but his car _ the same chassis that won the 2014 Indianapolis 500 _ could not be repaired in time to make a qualifying attempt. Hunter-Reay will start the race in 22nd position in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.

Two other drivers _ Charlie Kimball and Juan Pablo Montoya _ also crashed in morning practice but were able to make qualifying attempts. Montoya, the 2014 Pocono winner, will start 15th in the No. 2 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet. Kimball will start 16th in the No. 83 Tresiba Chevy fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

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Englishman Justin Wilson has not been forgotten by his IndyCar Series peers.

Wilson, who died from injuries sustained in the 2015 ABC Supply 500, is being remembered throughout the Pocono Raceway paddock this weekend. At the behest of INDYCAR television partner NBCSN _ and, in particular, producer Terry Lingner _ officials, team members and fans donned pairs of Justin Wilson tribute socks Saturday.

In addition, at the suggestion of Andretti Autosport, the last team for which Wilson drove, on every timing stand antenna in pit lane this weekend, the British “Union Jack” flag flies at half-mast to honor the fallen driver.

The socks are from USWAG, a company Wilson and partner Michael Waddell started in early 2015. The company, an officially licensed INDYCAR supplier, also makes socks in the colors of other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers as well as English Premier League soccer, colleges and high schools.

Proceeds from the sale of the Wilson tribute socks benefit the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, a charity dear to Wilson, who suffered from dyslexia. To purchase a pair, visit http://www.uswag.us/new-gallery/5qeke8z6gddpgtmz9rddg8a5tc5s39.

The INDYCAR community also is paying tribute this weekend to Bryan Clauson, the short-track racing star and three-time Indianapolis 500 starter who died Aug. 7 from injuries sustained the night before at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas.

Dale Coyne Racing driver Conor Daly has changed his car number to 88 for the weekend, the same number teammate Clauson drove at Indy in May, with the car entered as the BC Forever Honda. Other teams also are running Clauson memorial decals this weekend.

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Sunday’s starting grid for the ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, and speed: 

1. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 220.445 mph    
2. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 220.195    
3. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 220.067    
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 219.781    
5. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 219.647    
6. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 219.463    
7. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 219.326    
8. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 218.617    
9. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 218.606    
10. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 218.424    
11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 218.204    
12. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 218.051    
13. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 218.012    
14. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 217.721    
15. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 217.284    
16. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 216.917    
17. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 216.689    
18. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 216.263    
19. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 215.337    
20. (88) Conor Daly, Honda, 214.757    
21. (19) Pippa Mann, Honda, 211.267    
22. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, no speed

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, August 21 2016
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