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  • Associated Press Colton Herta is closing in on a deal with the Andretti Autosport camp as IndyCar drivers are getting ready for 2020.

Sunday, September 22, 2019 1:00 am

Auto racing

Herta takes pole at IndyCar finale

Associated Press

MONTEREY, Calif. – Colton Herta shifted the spotlight away from IndyCar's championship race with yet another masterful drive around Laguna Seca Raceway.

The 19-year-old rookie won the pole for Sunday's season-ending race roughly an hour after Andretti Autosport said it was pulling Herta inside its organization next season. It's capped a masterful debut weekend at Laguna Seca for Herta, who has been one of the fastest drivers in every session.

His win this season days before his 19th birthday made him IndyCar's youngest winner, and Saturday's pole was his third of the season. His father, Bryan, is a two-time winner at Laguna Seca and won three poles at the track, which returned to the IndyCar schedule this year after a 14-year absence.

“Good genes,” Herta said of his ability to navigate around the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent course. “It means a lot to keep on the family tradition.”

Herta stacked all four of the title contenders behind him with his fast qualifying lap.

Scott Dixon qualified second and was followed by Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. James Hinchcliffe, who is not in the championship hunt, was fifth. Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud was sixth and lowest of the title contenders.

Newgarden has a 41-point lead over Rossi in the championship standings, and Sunday's race is worth double points. Because Herta won the pole, he denied the title contenders the bonus point reward they could have used in their championship fight.

But that point is critical for what has become an enticing race for rookie of the year among three drivers who seem destined for IndyCar stardom. Herta is third in the rookie standings behind Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci, who have also been exceptionally fast all weekend – so fast that many thought Rosenqvist was a threat for the pole.

Instead, he was left fuming after qualifying because he was penalized during his run for bringing out a local yellow and interfering with another driver's qualifying lap. The punishment prevented him from advancing into the next round and ruined what he expected to be a strong starting spot.

The Swede railed against the decision and wondered if IndyCar had deliberately punished him to help Herta win rookie of the year.

“I don't know what they're thinking. That lap didn't mean anything for anyone. I had a spin. Then they're saying I blocked someone while I was spinning,” Rosenqvist said.