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Newgarden Leads Team Penske Qualifying Sweep In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2018

Josef Newgarden of Team Penske drove to the pole at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.

FORT WORTH, Texas _ Josef Newgarden led a 1-2-3 sweep for Team Penske during pole qualifications Friday afternoon for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

And that apparently will be the easy part of his job on a hot, hot weekend in North Texas.

“Now that we have good speed, we have to figure out how to make the car last on tires,” said Newgarden, referring to the effect sanctioning body INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aero chassis will have on each team’s tires. “That is definitely the big deal tomorrow night. If we can do that, we’re going to be just fine and find ourselves back in Victory Lane.”

Newgarden toured TMS’ 1.5-mile oval in a combined two-lap total of 46.9964-seconds/220.613 mph in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, will start second after posting a two-lap average of 47.0607-seconds/220.311 mph in his No. 22 Chevy.

The last driver with a shot at Newgarden was teammate Will Power, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and winner of last year’s race here. But Power’s combined run of 47.0857-seconds/220.194 mph slotted the Australian’s No. 12 Team Penske Chevy into third.

“I was worried about Will,” Newgarden said.  “I’ve been picked by him before at the last minute; that’s how the qualifying draw goes…and he is good. Will knows how to put a good lap together, but he might have had a little blip on his first lap. So it might have been really, really close if he didn’t have that. 

 “But obviously, it’s a day for Team Penske.  We aren’t going to be dissatisfied with our 1-2-3 regardless of the order.  I’m really happy for being first, but I think the team is satisfied with that. But now we have to put our heads down, work hard in practice tonight and try to win this race.”

Newgarden added the result was a huge boost for Penske after last weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader. The event at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park was dominated by Honda-powered teams in qualifying and both races. 

“To come here and have speed again is really nice,” Newgarden said. “Comes down to the team, the personnel we have, and you see that when we go 1-2-3. That impresses me the most. Team Chevy, when you look at the speed in Month of May and the (Indianapolis) 500, that’s a big part of it.”

Saturday night’s 248-lap/372-mile event will be the first contested at TMS with the new universal aero kit chassis built by Dallara. The chassis reportedly produces 100 fewer pounds of downforce,  making the cars more difficult to handle and putting more emphasis on driver skill. The new chassis was designed, in part, to eliminate pack racing synonymous with TMS.

“This car is more sensitive to track temperature,” Newgarden said on a 94-degree afternoon that sent track temps around 135 degrees. “Looking after tires will be more of the equation this year. For a show, we’re trying to optimize what drivers want and what fans want. It’s a car that you can race and get close with. Guys will have to work to maintain the balance and maintain the tire life for the full stint. But I do think we’ll have a great race.”

Newgarden scored his fourth career pole, second this season, first at TMS and first on a superspeedway. Team Penske now has eight poles in Fort Worth, most of any organization. The pole also was the 259th in the history of the open-wheel juggernaut founded by Roger Penske.

“I held my breath for those two laps. Managed to keep the pedal to the floor the whole time,” said Pagenaud, 10th in series points and without a top-five finish in the season’s first eight races. “The handling was really good. Thanks to my engineer (Ben Bretzman) for sorting that out.” The Frenchman was seventh after Friday’s 90-minute opening practice.

“I didn’t really know what I was going to get because we made some changes on the car,” Pagenaud said. “I wasn’t very comfortable this morning, and I didn’t know how the car was going to be. I had no idea of the balance. I never went flat-out through Turn 1 before. Sometimes when I’m in this situation, the best thing for me to do is just go flat-out and see what happens. I rarely do it, but I often do it in qually. It’s just a way for me to understand what I’ve got.”

Pagenaud said the opening practice, which began at 11:30 a.m., presented the “worst situation” of the weekend.The track was really dusty, really green, low-grip,” Pagenaud said. “The temperature was really high. The tires were sliding around, which is what happens in these kind of temperatures. Remember, it’s 100 degrees today, so the racetrack is really hot.

I thought this morning it was very much down to the driver. We had to lift in Turn 1 and 2. The best driver, obviously the one that can set up his race car the best, is going to be the fastest. I think that’s how it should be. It shouldn’t be flat-out all the way around because it’s just no driving to it. The biggest thing is INDYCAR decided not to have pack racing here for the safety of the drivers and for the good of the series. The cars look really good. They drive well. You just have to adapt to it really.

I think at the end of the day we all have the same thing, so you just have to be best at it and find ways to be the best. It’s definitely not easy, but we don’t want it to be easy for everyone because everybody could do it. You want to deserve your seat. You want to deserve your position as a race car driver. I think today it’s definitely tough. But I welcome the chance.”

Series rookie Robert Wickens of Canada led the Honda contingent in fourth at 47.2214-seconds/219.561 mph in the No. 6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. Rounding out the top-five was Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time Indy car champion, at 47.2772-seconds/219.302 mph in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

A one-hour practice at 7:15 p.m. (EDT) remained for teams to fine-tune their race day setups.  A field of 22 cars will compete in Saturday’s edition of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Series Race.” Round No. 9 of the schedule will be televised on NBC Sports Network beginning at 8 p.m. (EDT).

(This story will be updated shortly)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2018
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