Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Josef Newgarden Fastest in Practice at Iowa Speedway

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

NEWTON, Iowa – It’s Josef Newgarden’s world, we’re just living in it.

The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet has been the dominant force at Iowa Speedway for a number of years now and once again, the four-time winner at the 0.894-mile oval was at the top of the board when the checkered flag flew on Friday’s lone NTT IndyCar Series practice session for the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend.

Heading into the weekend, it’s been the consensus of the IndyCar paddock that Newgarden would once again be the driver to beat and it didn’t take long for him to prove them correct, jumping to the top of the scoring pylon early and staying there for the duration of the session.

By the time all was said and done, Newgarden had made 121 circuits around the oval, with a best time of 18.242 seconds, 176.428 mph.

Even tough he comes into the weekend as the driver to beat, Newgarden was quick to note that being fast in practice is one thing, but it’s delivering on Saturday and Sunday that will tell the tale.

“Good practice for sure, no doubt,” Newgarden said. “It’s difficult to say what tomorrow and Sunday is going to bring.

“I think everybody looks really good. There’s a lot of cars that tested here. Pretty much the whole field tested outside of us in McLaren, and I think everybody looks like they’ve raised their game.

“So, it’s not going to be easy whether it’s qualifying or the race. I think it will be pretty tight up and down the grid. We’ll see what happens.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin made a late charge to take the second quickest time of the session, followed by 2022 Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson in third. Colton Herta came home in fourth, with the defending winner of the second Iowa doubleheader race, Pato O’Ward, rounding out the top-five.

“There’s no hiding when he is your teammate,” Newgarden said of McLaughlin’s run. “I’ve gone a step further than that and just opened up my playbook for him.

“He is smart. He is probably going to utilize that pretty well. He already looks like he is. So let’s see if I still have enough for him.”

Much like Newgarden, Pato O’Ward warned not too look too much into the results from Friday’s practice session to dictate how the remainder of the weekend will play out.

“It’s just tough to read after one session on this track,” O’Ward said. “Around here, five laps difference on your tires versus somebody else’s tires is really a world of difference. So, it’s super easy to spook yourself and feel like you’re not as strong as what you actually are, or you can get a misread and be like, “I’m a hero!” and then you’re not.

“I think tomorrow will be an opportunity to learn more about what everybody’s got to work with for Race 2. We don’t have more time to really work on the car. It’s just qualifying and then race that qualifying car. I think it will be a tire degradation game, just like it always is. Putting 60 laps on a set will be a pretty tall order.”

Takuma Sato was sixth quickest in his first race back in the series since the Indianapolis 500, with last week’s winner in Toronto, Christian Lundgaard, taking seventh. The remainder of the top-10 included three-time Iowa winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, along with Conor Daly in his substitute role with Meyer Shank Racing, and six-time series champion Scott Dixon.

“Here this is the first place I’ve come back to that I’ve been on the track with the team, and we had a test day,” Hunter-Reay said. “This place, it either seems like, bar a few cars here or there, it seems like maybe Newgarden and Pato, I’m not sure, but it seems like you’re either under-steer or over-steer. There’s kind of no happy medium.

“It is difficult. I’m not sure what we’ll have tomorrow, but like I said, I think we went in the right direction.

“This place I have a certain affinity for short track racing, and it’s been a big part of my career. We’re back here at Iowa, which has been a place that has been really good to me. So hopefully that trend will continue.”

Current IndyCar Series points leader Alex Palou finished practice in 15th place, getting bumped from the top-10 in the waning minutes of the session.

Teams will have the night to get their cars dialed in before kicking Saturday off with qualifying at 9:30 am ET. With Iowa being a doubleheader, the first lap of qualifying will set the field for the first race, with the second lap setting the field for the second race on Sunday.

The first of the dual 250-lap races, the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on Saturday. Then they’ll rack them back up for the Hy-Vee One Step 250 on Sunday at 2:30 pm ET. Both races will be shown on NBC.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.