Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Newgarden Tops Saturday’s Practice Session at Iowa

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Over half a day removed from a insane Iowa INDYCAR 250, the 23 NTT IndyCar Series competitors were back in the saddle for a one hour practice session in preparation for tonight’s second 250-lap race at Iowa Speedway.

Under very hot and windy conditions, it was two-time Iowa winner Josef Newgarden who set the fastest pace at 170.199 mph. Behind Newgarden was his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and rounding out the top-five was Takuma Sato.

The defending INDYCAR champion will have a sense of urgency following pit stop woes and a caution period biting his chances of winning after leading 68 of 250 laps. While Newgarden finished fifth, his tone was anything but satisfying.

“It’s frustrating. I’ve got to be honest, I’m so angry about the way that this all transpired. Some of it is just bad luck,” said Newgarden last night. “The yellow coming out when it came out, you can’t predict that stuff. You weigh out the pros and cons when you’re trying to go long, when you’re trying to go short on your pit windows.

“And, I can’t fault my guys. I think they did a great job. I had a rocket ship. I mean, I had a car above, in my opinion. I’m sad that we weren’t able to put our car in Victory Lane because I felt like we had that potential. But, like I said, I’m very proud of my guys. They always do a great job for me. I think it’s just chalked up to bad luck tonight. I’ve got to try and make-up for it.”

In addition of those conditions and pit stops playing a major role than ever before, track grip on the 7/8 mile oval will have tremendous implications because the ARCA Menards Series had a two-hour practice session and with the competitors running General Tires, it made for an unknown session.

Not only they’ll have to go through different rubber, they’ll also have to deal with it once the race begins because ARCA will have a 150-lap race after the INDYCAR practice session.

Before the session even began, last night’s race winner Pagenaud had a flashback to qualifying where his No. 22 Team Penske crew had to make adjustments to the back end of the car. They fired up the car, but the crew noted a few things they weren’t fond of and decided to roll his car back into the garage for the first eight minutes of the session.

Pagenaud was able to get his car moved back into pit lane and at the 16-minute mark, his Chevrolet hit the track for the first time. While he showed tremendous pace, the crew were still making adjustments to get to its max potential.

During yesterday’s qualifying, Pagenaud couldn’t make a two-lap run due to turbo pressure issues and as a result, he had to start 23rd for both races. He was able to capture the race win and will have to do it again tonight from the rear of the field.

“We’re going to have, again, a lot of work to do, but actually starting at the back allows you to learn really early on about lane usage, tire wear,” Pagenaud on going through the challenge once again. “So I think I started really aggressive and dialed it back a little bit afterwards, so that was a different approach to some of the races I’ve been starting at the front on ovals.

“Interesting for sure, but yeah, just very fortunate that my team had a great strategy, were able to lay down some fast laps in pit sequence and get to the front.”

Another driver’s practice session being reduced was Alexander Rossi. Over the radio, there wasn’t much pessimism as the Andretti Autosport crew decided to go back to yesterday’s tow in order to get Rossi’s No. 27 AutoNation Honda some understeer.

Not only that, the crew needed to check the wiring harness so it doesn’t burn up which would create more problems for yesterday’s sixth place finisher. Rossi’s practice session was over, but ended up sixth fastest in the hour session.

Points leader Scott Dixon had a moment before halfway and the yellow coming out for track inspection. Coming into Turn 4, Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda went wide, scraping the wall as noted in the NBC Sports Gold telecast with his right side tires showing wall paint.

The session certainly highlights a woeful session where at one point he was 21st fastest at 161.045 mph. In typical Dixon fashion, he saved his best for last as with over five minutes remaining, he moved himself up to third on the practice sheet at 168.156 mph.

He’ll roll off 18th in the race, but if last night showed anything, the five-time champion and his Chip Ganassi Racing crew will find a way for a superb result as Dixon finished second to Pagenaud last night, keeping his championship lead over him by 50 points.

Dixon said during yesterday’s post-race video conference that consistency is key and hopes that going forward he doesn’t have to work his way from the rear like he’ll have to go through again tonight.

“We’ll have a good think tonight to try and make it a little more consistent,” said Dixon. “I think we made some good gains as far as what we did through the race. But yeah, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in a situation like this. There’s no real clear way.”

Recently removed from a wild Lap 157 crash, both Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay were able to get back to the track following a real long night of repairs and adjustments necessary. They ended up 13th and 14th fastest in practice respectively as they’re ready for the task that lies ahead.

The sixth round of the championship trail will wrap-up a grueling five-race, 15-day stretch of racing before a small break carries onto early August. Thus, a great result will be beneficial going into the break as August will consist of three races which are Mid-Ohio (Aug. 9), the 104th Indianapolis 500 (Aug. 23) and Gateway (Aug. 30).

Live coverage of the second Iowa INDYCAR 250 begins at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN. Newgarden is the pole sitter for the race as he’ll look to become the first-ever INDYCAR driver to win from the pole.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.