By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
AVONDALE, Arizona – It has been a relatively quiet weekend for Josef Newgarden.
Picking up where he left off at the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 27-year-old Tennessean will start tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway from seventh on the grid at 185.279 mph.
There was hope for more after Team Penkse teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power paced the second and third best times, respectively. However, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion believes the track is starting to feel like it did during the open test in February, but there is still a lot of work left to do.
“Felt similar towards the end there,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“I think with the temperatures coming, even qualifying was more similar to the open test. The one session that was not like the test was P1 (first practice). That was a throwaway almost. But yeah, I would say this is pretty similar in a lot of respects.
“Little different balance from the car, but grip wise very similar to what we had at the test. I think a lot of stuff will apply from what we learned, but still seems like we still need to learn a lot for (tonight), which is beneficial to at least have a practice at night.”
Newgarden paced sixth on the timesheets in final practice at 177.002 mph, while running 95 laps. There was some thought of a second lane opening up to create more opportunities for passing. That instead, will be left to the mystery of the new universal aero kit and the higher tire degradation that has become apparent this weekend.
“Well, I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I would be shocked if a second lane comes in tomorrow,” said Newgarden, who finished a career-best sixth at the 1.022-mile oval in 2016 with Ed Carpenter Racing.
“I don’t think anyone will use the second lane tomorrow night. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my bold prediction. You won’t see anybody up there.
“Having said that, I think you will see passing. There’s a lot of degradation. I think with lapped traffic, you will see passing tomorrow night. Now how much is yet to be determined, but I think we’ll get some decent passing in the race compared to 2017.”