Felix Rosenqvist celebrates with his crew during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Darron Cummings/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Ganassi, Ganassi, Ganassi. It was practically the only name mentioned as the four-car organization returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway poised to defend last year’s Indianapolis 500 victory.

Arrow McLaren Racing pushed them aside on the first day of Indy 500 qualifying.

Felix Rosenqvist, a former Chip Ganassi Racing driver, no less, led the McLaren charge Saturday by posting the fastest four-lap average. His late afternoon run of 233.947 mph was the third fastest four-lap qualifying effort in race history.

He bumped new teammate Alexander Rossi from the top spot – a position he’d held nearly six hours.

“It was pretty mind blowing how we found so much speed,” Rosenqvist said. “What a run. Just a fun time to be in an Arrow McLaren. We are definitely looking good right now.”

When the gun fired to signal the end of the day, all four McLaren drivers were inside the top 12 and advanced into Sunday’s shootout for the pole. Ganassi also landed all four of its drivers inside the top 12, but as the clock ticked down, defending race winner Marcus Ericsson stood on pit lane unsure if he should make another qualifying attempt.


He was 10th at the time but stuck in a long line of traffic as drivers not inside the top 12 debated pulling their times and taking another shot at logging four fast laps around the historic 2.5-mile oval.

Conversely, Team Penske struggled mightily and only reigning IndyCar champion Will Power advanced into the top 12. Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin never put together a strong enough four-lap average run to move them up through the field. McLaughlin will start the Indy 500 from 14th, three spots ahead of Newgarden, who did pull his time late in a last-ditch attempt to crack the top 12.

“Unfortunately that’s just what we had,” Newgarden said. “We really went aggressive, as aggressive as you can go, and it just wasn’t there.”

The first four rows of the field will be set Sunday in a final round of qualifying for the fastest 12 drivers.

NASCAR: William Byron has driven past North Wilkesboro Speedway on his way to the Blue Ridge Mountains. So has Brad Keselowski and many other North Carolina-based NASCAR drivers.

Like most, they’d never been inside the track before this week. And none of the drivers on the NASCAR circuit have raced a Cup Series car here.


That should make the All-Star race on Sunday night at the restored .625-mile track all the more interesting — and unpredictable — when 24 drivers vie for a $1 million first-place prize at the refurbished track.

“I’m not gonna speculate on what type of racing that we’re gonna see,” Kevin Harvick said. ”… When you start speculating on something that’s never happened, you’re just asking for nothing but trouble. It’s going to be fun, but I don’t know what that means as far as how the race is going to be.”

The last time the North Carolina track hosted a Cup Series race was in 1996 when Jeff Gordon won.

It has sat mostly dormant and unused for the better part of 27 years until Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith spearheaded an effort to bring it back to life for NASCAR’s 75th anniversary celebration.

Some drivers have tried to get a feel for the track using a simulator leading up to this weekend, and others came earlier in the week to race late-model cars just to get in a few laps.

The practice session on Friday left some to speculate the lack of grip on the track could make it difficult to pass. Others said it could lead to more spinouts.


Despite racing on a asphalt track that hasn’t been paved in more than three decades and had weeds growing up through the cracks four years ago, drivers are embracing the great unknown.

The track has already been patched in several areas and could receive more patchwork during breaks in the race, if pieces start coming up.

“I like the fact that they didn’t repave it and they wanted to get at least one race on the original surface,” Keselowski said. “I certainly respect it and I think there’s an industry expectation that it’s probably not gonna go off without a flaw. There will probably be something, but I think there’s some tolerance for that being that this is an All-Star event, an exhibition race and how hard the industry has pulled together to try to get this track back to life. We’ll deal with it as it comes.”

Byron said racing on Sunday night will feel a little like stepping back in time.

“It makes me a fan again of what we do. I just think that’s cool versus going to … no offense, Kansas or somewhere,” Byron said.

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