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Newgarden’s Milk Run Off and Running at Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 22 2022

Josef Newgarden’s hopes to earn his first trip to Victory Circle at Indianapolis looked pretty strong on Thursday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Victory in the Indianapolis 500 is the one shining item missing from Josef Newgarden’s otherwise stellar INDYCAR resume at Team Penske.

A two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for team-owner Roger Penske, Newgarden is 0-for-10 on the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, including 0-for-five in starts for “The Captain.” It’s a history Newgarden is determined to rewrite during the 106th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 29.

Newgarden led the rain-delayed second day of the Indianapolis 500 Open Test on Thursday with a hot lap of 229.519 mph. That lap was nearly 2.5 mph faster than Wednesday’s top speed of 227.187 mph set by 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon in his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

The winner of two of the series’ first three races this season, Newgarden reiterated his “Month of May” mission is handing a record-extending 19th Indy 500 win to his 85-year-old boss.

“I can’t deny things feel really good on the No. 2 car,” said Newgarden, referring to his No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet. “They’re just progressing. It’s not like two steps forward, two steps back, or vice versa. I feel like it’s going forward every single time and we’re just getting better.

“We’ve been on a good trajectory at the moment. I don’t want to see it flatten too much; I want to see it go the other way. I feel confident with what we’ve got, feel good at showing up anywhere. Being at Team Penske makes that easier. I always feel confident in our group.”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden challenged the 230 mph barrier during testing on Thursday.

Newgarden won the only oval-track race scheduled before the Indy 500 on March 20 on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile layout, where he pulled off a last-lap/final-turn pass around teammate Scott McLaughlin in the XPEL 375.

A 31-year-old resident of Nashville, Tenn., Newgarden followed his win in Fort Worth with a workmanlike victory in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in Southern California on April 10. The series champion in 2017 and 2019 for Team Penske, Newgarden took over the point lead with his 22nd career victory. Newgarden leads McLaughlin, winner of the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on Feb. 27, by five points (118-113).

“Indianapolis is where we have to perform for Team Penske,” Newgarden said during his post-Long Beach presser. “I want a Borg-Warner (trophy) so bad. So let’s see what we can do during the ‘Month of May.’ I’m focused on it. I can’t do more than what I’ve done in the past, I can tell you that. So I’m not putting extra pressure on myself that I have to do some superhuman feat. It’s for whatever reason just not clicked yet, so I’m just staying the course. I’m going to put effort forward like every year, and I’m going to put myself in position to maybe win the race and I just _ one of these years it’s got to work out.”

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan was second-fastest at 229.427 mph in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, followed by 2013 Indy 500 winner and native Brazilian Tony Kanaan at 228.767 mph in the No. 1 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Dixon, the six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion from New Zealand, placed fourth at 228.689 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank CGR Honda. Aided by an aerodynamic tow, Dixon paced Wednesday’s first day of the Open Test at 227.187 mph.

McLaughlin, the native of New Zealand in his second INDYCAR season with Team Penske, rounded-out the top five at 228.397 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, former series regular Marco Andretti prepped for his latest one-off Indy 500 appearance by posting a top speed of 228.185 mph during the course of 113 laps.

“Coming back here was like riding a bike,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 98 KULR/Curb Honda fielded by Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian. “My first run I was pretty much flat-out, out of the pits. In the rookie test, they slapped my hand for that a little bit. We slowed it down and got through the phases.”

Recall that in January 2021, Marco announced he wanted to “step away” from fulltime INDYCAR racing while continuing to work with father Michael’s powerhouse team in a testing and development role. Marco placed 19th in the 2021 Indy 500 after qualifying on-pole in 2020 with a four-lap/10-mile average of 231.068 mph. However, Marco never led a lap during the 2020 race en route to a puzzling 13th-place finish. 

“This is the first year that I’ve truly had a year off,” said Marco, 35, and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti. “In 2020, I ran at the end of the season with this race, too. So, this time I’ve had a year off and I was a little worried about what it would feel like. But I’m right back at home.”

Marco was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 2006, when he was beaten to the “Yard of Bricks” on the final lap by Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske by 0.0635-seconds. That margin remains the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history.

The start of the four-hour session was delayed by four hours and 30 minutes due to morning showers in the Indianapolis area. The day was incident-free after three spins by drivers either on or exiting the acceleration lane inside Turns 1 and 2 on Wednesday. Diligent asphalt work overnight and Thursday morning by INDYCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Firestone officials increased the grip level of that area.

Once the track dried, drivers wasted no time working in large packs to simulate traffic while testing race setups. All the top speeds were produced with the aid of an aerodynamic tow from leading cars.

Among the handful of drivers who turned clean laps without a tow, Rinus VeeKay was fastest at 221.314 mph in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing. McLaughlin was the second-fastest no-tow driver at 221.221 mph, followed by Conor Daly at 220.793 mph in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet.

“We won’t know where we stand in the true place until the Saturday of qualifying (May 21) when everyone does their first run,” said 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power, who was 14th overall in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “That’s when you’ll have a bit of an idea the sort of speed we might have.

“You need (extra boost for qualifying), with everyone going on single runs on exactly the same fuel load with no draft, all that. That’s the only way you’ll know.”

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson capped a solid two days of preparation for his first Indy 500 start by placing eighth fastest at 227.900 mph in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was fastest of the seven Indy 500 rookies at the test. Johnson finished sixth in his highly-anticipated INDYCAR oval-track debut at TMS last month.

Thirty-two drivers combined to turn 4,318 laps/10,795 miles during the two-day test. Marcus Ericsson completed 148 laps _ nearly three-quarters of the Indianapolis 500 distance of 200 laps _ on Thursday in his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, more than any other driver.

The only driver not on track Thursday was four-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves of Meyer Shank Racing. The popular Brazilian’s test was cut short due to damage to the front, right side and undertray of his No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda after he spun exiting the acceleration lane inside Turn 2 and hit the SAFER Barrier on Wednesday.

“I didn’t feel anything strange, anything bottoming, I wasn’t pushing,” Castroneves said after crashing his 2021 Indy 500-winning car. “And the rear just spun out. I was trying to control it, making sure I didn’t crash and it was a very odd situation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid that. It was very unusual.”

Next up on the schedule is Race No. 4, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on April 29-May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Combined practice results from the two-day Open Test for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 by Gainbridge at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. List includes Rank, Car Number (in parenthesis), Driver’s Name, Chassis-Engine, Test Session, Time-Speed and Total Laps. All cars equipped with Firestone Firehawk tires:

1.(2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevrolet/Test Session 3/00:39.2125-seconds, 229.519 mph/161

2.(51) Takuma Sato-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.2282-seconds, 229.427 mph/124

  1. (1) Tony Kanaan-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.3413-seconds, 228.767 mph/94
  2. (9) Scott Dixon-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.3548-seconds, 228.689 mph/146
  3. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.4051-seconds, 228.397 mph/174
  4. (98) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.4417-seconds, 228.185 mph/113
  5. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.4636-seconds, 228.058 mph/189
  6. (48) Jimmie Johnson-(R), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.4910-seconds, 227.900 mph/196
  7. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.5062-seconds, 227.812 mph/171
  8. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.5110-seconds, 227.785 mph/195
  9. (60) Simon Pagenaud-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.5474-seconds/227.575 mph/131
  10. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.5623-seconds, 227.489 mph/165
  11. (24) Sage Karam, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.5734-seconds, 227.425 mph/109
  12. (12) Will Power-(W), Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.6120-seconds, 227.204 mph/164
  13. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.6137-seconds, 227.194 mph/134
  14. (28) Romain Grosjean-(R), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.6445-seconds, 227.018 mph/188
  15. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevrolet/ Session 2/00:39.6502-seconds, 226.985 mph/140
  16. (77) Callum Ilott-(R), Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.7183-seconds, 226.596 mph/112
  17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco-(R), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.7762-seconds, 226.266 mph/105
  18. (45) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.7836-seconds, 226.224 mph/139
  19. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.7880-seconds, 226.199 mph/160
  20. (18) David Malukas-(R), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.8030-seconds, 226.114 mph/100
  21. (27) Alexander Rossi-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.8145-seconds, 226.048 mph/170
  22. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:39.8504-seconds, 225.845 mph/171
  23. (11) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.8866-seconds, 225.640 mph/77
  24. (14) Kyle Kirkwood-(R), Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:39.8974-seconds, 225.579 mph/97
  25. (06) Helio Castroneves-(W), Dallara-Honda/Session 2/00:39.9723-seconds, 225.156 mph/37
  26. (4) Dalton Kellett, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:40.0159-seconds, 224.911 mph/108
  27. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:40.0381-seconds, 224.786 mph/176
  28. (30) Christian Lundgaard-(R), Dallara-Honda/Session 3/00:40.1454-seconds, 224.185 mph/109
  29. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:40.1497-seconds, 224.161 mph/96
  30. (6) Juan Pablo Montoya-(W), Dallara-Chevrolet/Session 3/00:40.1822-seconds, 223.980 mph/67

Total Laps for Combined Sessions _ 4,318

Note _ (W) denotes Indy 500 winner; (R) denotes Indy 500 rookie candidate.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 22 2022
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