FONTANA, Calif. – Marco Andretti won the pole for the IndyCar season finale, putting himself in position for a strong close to what's been the worst year of his career.
Andretti's qualifying average of 216.069 mph Friday was good enough to take the top spot at Auto Club Speedway. It held off Ryan Briscoe's average of 216.058, and gave Andretti the second pole of his career. The first came at Milwaukee in 2008.
"It means a lot, just what we have been going through this year," he said. "Me in particular, it's just been a very trying year for me and my career. It's good for the confidence."
"I've been on the outside looking in on that hundreth of a mile per hour for the pole, so I was on the good side of that today."
The 25-year-old Andretti is having the worst season of his career in what's ironically a comeback year for Andretti Autosport. The three-team organization is the most competitive it's ever been, and Ryan Hunter-Reay will try to win his first IndyCar championship Saturday night.
But Andretti is a career-worst 17th in points, is winless, and has just one podium finish all season.
"I am going to be out to win the race and end on a good note to carry some momentum into next season," said Andretti, who noted his struggles this season have been on the street courses.
"It's just inspired me to work harder off track and really just try to find what I need at those places in the setup. We'll be working hard on that in the offseason ... if we do, we can be the one contending for the championship next year."
It's a two-driver race for the championship in Saturday night's return to Fontana, which is back on the IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005.
Will Power, who is seeking for his first championship after settling for second the last two years, qualified third. Hunter-Reay, who trails the Australian by 17 points in the standings, qualified 17th. But both drivers will be penalized 10 spots on the starting grid for making unapproved engine changes.
"I'll be starting outside," joked Hunter-Reay.
At least 14 teams have informed IndyCar they'll be making engine changes, so the starting grid will look considerably different than the qualifying order. But nobody seemed worried about making up ground in a 500-mile race — just the second one on the IndyCar schedule — on a fast, wide oval.
"It's 500 miles so we've got a lot of time to make up ground, but at the same time, you don't really want to be buried in traffic," Hunter-Reay said.
Power was also OK with falling back in the field for the early portion of the race.
"I'm sometimes glad — when I start on pole, I usually don't win," said Power, who had won three consecutive poles coming into Fontana but finished second twice and sixth. "If I start on pole, it's all bad. If I start on pole, great. Hopefully that's true here. We'll just hang in there and stay there and hopefully have a shot."