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Will Power takes pole and sets track record, Penske drivers dominant in Belle Isle qualifying

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DETROIT — Will Power won his first pole at Belle Isle in emphatic fashion.

The defending IndyCar champion set a track qualifying record at the Detroit street course, part of a dominant showing Friday by Team Penske. Belle Isle hosts IndyCar races Saturday and Sunday, and this was qualifying for the opener.

"It is actually satisfying," Power said. "I struggled quite a bit last year in qualifying, so really happy to be on the pole."

It was Power's 39th pole and third this season, but he'd never qualified first in six previous starts at Belle Isle. Last year, he started 16th when he won the opening IndyCar race in Detroit. In the second race, he started eighth and finished second.

Power's time of 1 minute, 16.0941 seconds in his No. 1 Chevrolet bested the previous mark of 1:16.1371 by Takuma Sato last year. Helio Castroneves also beat that record Friday, finishing second to Power at 1:16.12.

Power, Castroneves and Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya gave owner Roger Penske a sweep of the top three qualifying spots for Saturday's race. Penske has been a driving force behind this event, and his team has performed impressively of late in Detroit, with Power and Castroneves winning at Belle Isle in 2014.

Sato was fourth in qualifying Friday. Simon Pagenaud was next, giving Penske four of the top five. Pagenaud's first victory in this series came at Belle Isle in 2013. Penske added Pagenaud this season, expanding the team's IndyCar lineup to four full-time cars for the first time.

"Your first win in IndyCar, it's always an important thing, so it's always good to come back here," Pagenaud said. "Now driving for Team Penske, it's our home event. It's a really cool event for us, and obviously it's great to be showing this well with all four cars."

PHOTO: Will Power takes the first turn during qualifying for the first race of the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix auto racing doubleheader Friday, May 29, 2015, in Detroit. Power secured the pole position. (AP Photo/Dave Frechette)
Will Power takes the first turn during qualifying for the first race of the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix auto racing doubleheader Friday, May 29, 2015, in Detroit. Power secured the pole position. (AP Photo/Dave Frechette)

Penske Corporation has headquarters in Michigan. When auto racing returned to the Motor City in 2012 after a four-year absence, the event was marred by pot holes and grooves. Penske put together an improvement plan, which resulted in a better racing environment.

Now his drivers are giving him another reason to be enthused.

"When you see Roger's dedication to the city, promoting Detroit, it's good to be a part of it," Pagenaud said. "We represent his name, represent Penske. It's great. When everything goes well like it's going. I'm pretty happy with all four of us in the Fast Six. It's the best way to thank him, really."

Power finished an encouraging second at the Indy 500, and this street course figured to be very much in his comfort zone. In the final round of qualifying, he waited until the latter part of the 10-minute segment before posting the pole-winning speed of 111.178 mph.

"We had new tires, so we felt like we'd only get a couple laps out of them," Power said. "You may as well go out when the track's good at the end. That's the only shot."

Chevrolet had seven of the top eight qualifiers, with only Sato representing Honda. But Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, who drive Chevys for Chip Ganassi, failed to make the final round. Dixon qualified seventh and Kanaan was 15th.

"I was actually surprised Kanaan didn't make it because he's been very quick this weekend," Power said. "Rest assured, they'll be there in the race. This is usually a pretty mixed up race. I'm sure they'll be there."

There was a good bit of rain at the track earlier Friday afternoon, but the weather was clearer during IndyCar qualifying. More rain is a possibility over the weekend.

"I think track position is important," Montoya said. "If it's going to be wet, being up front is going to help."

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PHOTO: Will Power gives a thumbs-up after winning the pole for the first race of the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix auto racing doubleheader Friday, May 29, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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