Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Newgarden Tunes Out the Noise, Tops Opening Barber Practice

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Josef Newgarden is out to defy his critics.

After a trying week in which he and Team Penske have been dealing with the aftermath of their St. Petersburg disqualifications, the No. 2 team did what they do best in the opening practice for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, topping the Friday afternoon session.

While the session got off to an inauspicious start, with Newgarden spinning off track in Turn 14 in the opening minutes of the 90-minute session, he was able to turn things around late, jumping to the top of the board with 18 minutes remaining courtesy of his one minute, 6.7045 second lap around the winding 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course.

“It’s definitely the best medicine in the world for someone like me,” Newgarden said. “It’s great to be out here. Just good to turn laps.

“I was a little off my game in the beginning for sure. I just dropped a wheel and made a mistake and threw away a set of tires. It was unfortunate, but we just kept going. We came up with a new plan and I think the positive thing was the car was really fast right away.

“Even when I made the mistake, I said I think the car was coming to me there. I felt really good about it, like I had a good read right away, so this team has done a good job.

“I love being here with the 2 car group. They’re great at what they do, give me a lot of confidence, so I feel good about things.”

“I made an error on how wide I got,” Newgarden added of his spin. “You drop a wheel up there, it can be difficult to save it. Sometimes you do, sometimes you get lucky and save it. I didn’t save it. From a viewing standpoint, I just got too wide. I didn’t see where I was.

“Then I was very conscious of it the next time. I went back out and I was like I’m not going to make that mistake again. At least not immediately afterwards, so I was trying to watch where I was placing the car.

“This track is always on the limit. It’s one of my favorites for that. You know, Barber is high speed. You’ve just got to be so good through the corners, committed. Like the car has to be on the edge to be fast here. You can’t get away with something different. You know, I love the challenge of it.”

Pato O’Ward, the newly minted winner of the season opening race in St. Petersburg and 2022 winner at Barber, finished the session in second, followed by Will Power, Colton Herta, and Christian Lundgaard to round out the top-five fastest in practice.

“I love driving around this place. It’s a track I really enjoy and always have. It’s high-commitment. We’re just going to try to get the car a little bit better for tomorrow and see if we can get it done in qualifying,” O’Ward said.

Romain Grosjean, who has always run well at Barber since making the move from Formula 1 to IndyCar, timed in sixth, with Graham Rahal ending the first day of on-track action in Alabama in seventh. The remainder of the top-10 went to Marcus Armstrong, defending race winner Scott McLaughlin, and Marcus Ericsson.

Along with Newgarden’s off-track excursion, several others found themselves in one of the many gravel traps around the facility.

Among those that ran into trouble were Augustin Canapino, Alexander Rossi on two separate occasions, Felix Rosenqvist, Pato O’Ward, and Will Power.

Near the end of the session, Grosjean and Jack Harvey had a disagreement on track, leading the two to bounce off each other right in front of Rossi’s approaching car. Without taking his foot out of the gas, Rossi threaded the needle between the two and all were able to escape without further issue.

“I went to apologize first thing after the session,” Grosjean said. “It was on me. It was the fourth lap in a row that I got blocked. I did the French move that I was complaining, but I couldn’t turn the wheel with one hand. We actually made contact, which I feel a bit embarrassed about it, but it’s the honest true. Even Alexander Rossi wouldn’t believe me, but it’s the truth.

“I wanted to push him a bit wide, showing I was not happy, but I never wanted to make contact. I just couldn’t turn the wheel. So I went to apologize.

“I think everyone got blocked. It’s just Barber. It’s probably the most physical track of the season. It’s very hot. We’re pushing the limits on the car. High-speed corners.

“Yeah, I’m not very proud of that moment, but I’m much more proud of our session generally.”

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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.