Newgarden will make historic Indy 500 start from near the front of the grid

Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 5:02pm
Staff reports

Josef Newgarden wasn’t the fastest, but he is the first.

The 21-year-old from Hendersonville became the first Tennessee-born driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 when he earned the spot on the inside of the third row during Saturday qualifying.

“I know we aren’t the quickest right now, but I really think we have the quickest car in the field,” he said. “I hope we can race well. I think we’ll be able to put a good race car together for Sunday.”

Newgarden often posted the fastest times in practice leading up to the qualifying but, with an average speed of 224.037, he was the slowest of the nine drivers who qualified for the Fast Nine Shootout. He also was the only one of that group with a Honda engine. The others all had a Chevrolet engine, which many feared was at a disadvantage because of rules changes in the construction of engines.

Ryan Briscoe won the pole in the closest competition ever. Briscoe edged James Hinchcliffe by .0023 seconds for the right to lead the field to the green flag when in the race, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday.

“We went out and did our run,” Newgarden said. “It was a little hairy. I definitely wanted to abandon the run at some point, but you have to keep with it. That’s how it is around this place in qualifying, and it’s a little bit hairy some times.

“… The race is the big show for us. That’s where we want to shine.”