Mikhail Aleshin wins pole at Pocono; Josef Newgarden 2nd

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) " After the last car sped past the finish line at Pocono Raceway, Mikhail Aleshin raised his arms in triumph.

Fastest in morning practice on the tricky 2.5-mile triangular track, Aleshin was fastest in qualifying to win the IndyCar pole on Saturday. He turned a fast lap of 220.454 mph in his No. 7 Honda to edge Josef Newgarden for the top spot.

It's the first career pole for the Russian, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

"I had two good laps. I knew I couldn't do better," Aleshin said. "I just kept it flat. Obviously, it worked this time. I just knew that we couldn't do any better. I was just happy for the team. From the first lap, the car was just at the edge of what we needed."

It's the third time this season Newgarden has qualified second. He was on the front row at the Indy 500 and at Iowa, just missing the top spot Saturday with a lap of 220.195 mph.

"He's pretty daring. Not a lot spooks him," Newgarden said of Aleshin. "He gets better and better the more seat time he has. I think you're seeing that."

Takuma Sato qualified third, followed by Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz, Aleshin's teammate James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter.

Points leader Simon Pagenaud qualified 14th in windy conditions. Defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed in morning practice and did not qualify.

Aleshin led 33 laps at Mid-Ohio in the previous race but was caught up in a late pit road crash with Newgarden and finished 17th.

Still, it's a team on the rise. He finished fifth at Iowa and was sixth at Toronto in July.

"We have some new team members. We needed some work together," Aleshin said. "We came to this point and now we can see progress in the last couple of races. I hope this pole position is not all that we can show you."

For Newgarden, it was a step in the right direction. He's fourth in points behind the Penske trio of Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves.

"The pressure is not on us," Newgarden said. "The pressure is on Simon and Will. They're in a tougher spot. We can afford to get a little more aggressive than those guys. I feel pretty cool going into these races."

Pocono Raceway painted the letters JW on the track at the finish line and Union Jacks flew at half-staff in honor of Englishman Justin Wilson, who died a year ago after being struck by debris in the closing laps of the IndyCar race here.

Other things to note in qualifying at Pocono:

PRACTICE WOES

Hunter-Reay crashed early in the first practice. His No. 28 broke free in Turn 1, spun around and slammed the outside wall hard before caroming back across the track and coming to rest along the inside wall. Hunter-Reay wasn't injured, but the left front of the Honda was demolished, forcing his Andretti Autosport team to switch to a backup car.

"The rear all of a sudden just snapped," said Hunter-Reay, who won this race a year ago. "It's a setback. This is really unfortunate that we have to reset. We have a lot of oval wins in that car. We'll have to deal with it."

Later in the morning practice, Charlie Kimball's No. 83 also slammed into the same wall, his steering wheel flying out of the cockpit onto the track as the Chevrolet bounced along the wall and rolled to a stop, its left side severely damaged.

Late in the session, Juan Pablo Montoya also crashed, hitting the wall coming out of Turn 2. IndyCar halted the session with just under five minutes left on the clock.

TRIBUTE DRIVERS

Dale Coyne Racing announced earlier in the week that Conor Daly would drive the No. 88 in Sunday's race to honor 27-year-old open-wheel driver Bryan Clauson, who was killed two weeks ago at a Kansas race. DCR also announced that Pippa Mann would drive the No. 19, and her helmet sported a logo in Clauson's honor.

Daly qualified 20th in his first appearance at Pocono and Mann will start 21st.

Mann was initially all smiles afterward, then was overcome with emotion as she thought about Clauson and Wilson, a former teammate.

"It's probably the hardest race I've ever done," she said after a pause to collect her thoughts, tears welling in her eyes. "I'm very grateful to be here."

SMILING SATO

Takuma Sato couldn't stop smiling after his best qualifying effort of the season. His fourth at Texas and eighth at Long Beach are his only other top-10 starts this season.

"It means a lot," said Sato, whose AJ Foyt Racing Honda is sponsored by ABC Supply, also the sponsor for Sunday's race. "Last year we were very strong in the race. Hopefully, this qualifying performance gives us another competitive race tomorrow."

Foyt won a record four IndyCar races at Pocono in his heyday.

"A.J. was very happy. He had a big smile," Sato said. "Hopefully, we can keep him smiling tomorrow."

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AP Auto Racing Website: www.racing.ap.org

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This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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