By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
3 Minute Read
SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Needing a strong performance on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course to bolster his playoff hopes, Daniel Suárez got off to the best possible start on Saturday.
Touring the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit in 87.968 seconds (99.814 mph) in his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet, Suárez earned the pole position for Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
Suárez beat defending race winner Tyler Reddick (99.649 mph) by a substantial margin — 0.145 seconds — to secure his first Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at the Indy Road Course and the third of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
With three races left before the playoff field is set, Suárez is 18th in the Cup Series standings, five points behind Ty Gibbs in 16th, the last playoff-eligible position. Gibbs qualified 10th on Saturday, last among those who advanced to the final round.
“I think the mentality on the 99 team hasn’t changed the last couple of months,” Suárez said. “We have to continue to focus on one race at a time, try to maximize the potential of the race car and try to win a race if it’s possible.
“The energy has been great. The guys have been working very hard. I’ve been working very hard, and it shows.”
Chase Elliott, 55 points below the elimination line and realistically needing a victory to advance, qualified third at 99.399 mph.
“These things can go all sorts of different ways, but it is nice to have good track position, always,” Elliott said. “As time has gone on, it’s getting tougher and tougher to pass the leader, especially late in the race.”
Michael McDowell, two points ahead of Suárez and 17th in the standings, will start fourth after a lap at 99.288 mph.
McDowell posted the fastest lap of the day at 99.881 mph in the first round.
“That’s what we needed to do — qualify in the top five and now race in the top five, score stage points and be there in the end to steal the win,” McDowell said. “Let’s see what happens. You don’t know until you get out there and get to race pace.
“Our long-run speed was good in practice — as long as you could run in 10 laps. But we’ll see what happens when we get into a 20-lap run, and we stack up. But I feel good where we are.”
Kyle Busch earned the fifth spot on the grid, followed by Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Chicago Street Course winner Shane van Gisbergen of New Zealand. Alex Bowman will start ninth on Sunday with a time identical to that of Gibbs — 88.606 seconds.
Australian Brodie Kostecki claimed the 11th starting position for his Cup debut, but he slid into the outside wall and damaged his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Ford during a second attempt at a lap in the first round.
Michael McDowell fastest during practice
Front Row Motorsports led the field during the practice portion, with the No. 34 of McDowell setting the pace ahead of Kyle Larson, FRM teammate Todd Gilliland, Ty Gibbs and Alex Bowman. Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, Daniel Suárez, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.
McDowell wheeled a best lap of 98.516 mph for a time of 89.127 seconds.
Contributing: Staff reports