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Blistering pace on fastest Indy 500 qualifying since 1996

Indianapolis ( Associated Press) — Rain stalled long enough to complete the first round of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, still producing eye-popping speeds not seen in 26 years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A pair of young new stars, Rinus VK and Pato O’Ward, posted a blistering qualifying average of more than 233 mph in a flex of Chevrolet horsepower. NASCAR star Jimmy Johnson qualified for his first Indy 500 and his Chip Ganassi Racing team showed it might be the strongest organization in Indy right now.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport had a terrifying day. And Team Penske was slightly affected by the weather when it pulled Scott McLaughlin’s qualifying time late Saturday afternoon and sent him back to try to make the top 12. McLaughlin was 15th on the board when his time ran out; The New Zealander went even slower and dropped to 26th place.

“Well, this place kicked (me) privately – ah well,” McLaughlin posted on social media,

Penske teammate Joseph Newgarden chased down McLaughlin for his attempt to break into the top 12, but his run was halted when lightning struck. It was the second power outage of the day, and a few minutes later it rained. IndyCar called it about 70 minutes less days than scheduled completion.

Only 13 of 33 spots were locked on Saturday, and the top 12 return on Sunday for a shootout for pole. Battle for the front row would be VK and O’Ward, who posted the third and fifth fastest four-lap qualifying averages in track history, then Felix Rosenquist as Chevrolet took the top three spots.

Defending IndyCar champion Alex Palu was fourth fastest as Ganassi advanced his entire five-car fleet in Sunday’s action. Tony Kanan was fifth, Johnson sixth, Marcus Ericsson eighth and Scott Dixon 10th for the Honda-powered team.

Ed Carpenter, who posted the eighth-fastest lap in track history on Saturday morning at 234.410 mph, was sixth-fastest in qualifying as he and Will Power (11th) completed the Chevrolet group.

Honda upgraded seven drivers on Sunday as the Ganassi group included Romain Grosjean, the only Andretti driver to finish in the top 12, and two-time winner Takuma Sato.

Sato had a rollercoaster session; He was disqualified after his first qualifying attempt to interfere with Marco Andretti’s lap. When he made his second attempt, Sato cleared the wall and still made it to the top 12.

Spots seven to 12 for the May 29 race will be determined in another qualifying round, then after a break, a “fast six” shootout will set up the first two lines of the Indy 500’s 106th race.

VK for Ed Carpenter Racing placed his Chevrolet atop the scoring pylon with a four-lap average speed of 233.655 mph, which pushed O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP to second place on 233.037.

Ari Luendik set a four-lap qualifying record in 1996 at 236.986, and VK’s average was the third fastest ever, behind Luendik and Scott Breton’s mark of 233.718. O’Ward’s average was the fifth fastest in history, with Tony Stewart fourth in 1996.

“It’s great to have two of the fastest Dutch guys in the top five so far,” said Veke, who likes Luendik, who is from the Netherlands.

Johnson once again showed incredible speed and Saturday morning’s practice lap clocked in at 233.961 mph – the 14th fastest in track history.

“I think the speed scared my kids,” Johnson said. “When he saw me, there was a look in his eyes. He’s been into a lot of races, but he’s never looked at me like this.”

The seven-time NASCAR champion has become a legitimate contender to win the Indy 500, his fifth win at the Indianapolis Oval; Johnson won four times in NASCAR.

“I had a few quiet moments before I rolled over, I was able to look around and really take in the moment,” Johnson said, “and I’m so happy to be here at what a special moment it was.” At the moment things are looking good.”

Shortly after Johnson’s morning run, teammate Dixon finished the 13th fastest lap in history at 234.093. Carpenter closed the session as the leader in Indy 500 practice with the fastest lap since Luendik set a track record of 237.498 mph in 1996.

Andretti Autosport struggled from the start as Marco Andretti had to halt his qualifying run when Sato failed to get off the track after his run moments.

Andretti will start on the 23rd.

“Don’t count the 98 to win this race,” he said.

As the team was figuring out what to do about Andretti, Colton Herta’s engine failed during Herta’s run. The winner on the road course just a week ago, Herta was making his qualifying effort when his Honda engine suddenly stalled.

He stopped his run and returned to the pits, and later confirmed that his engine would be replaced.

Then 2016 winner Alexander Rossi’s first run was pathetic: “We added downforce,” said Rossi, who called the decision “terrible.”

His second attempt was poor and Rossi will start 20th. A rookie, Devlin DeFransco was in 24th and Herta was in 25th.

Rookie Christian Lungard, Jack Harvey, and 33rd entrant Stephen Wilson will be in the last row of the Indy 500. Wilson had a gearbox problem on Saturday and needed an engine change and never got back on track.

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More Associated Press Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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