Like any great athlete after a tough performance, Josef Newgarden apparently has no mental memory and a lot of muscle memory.
Newgarden rebounded from crashing out on Lap 1 of the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst last Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park by leading the opening practice Friday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden posted a top lap of 1 minute, .8029 of a second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet in a very competitive session with times bunched together up and down the time sheet. It comes as little surprise Newgarden rallied today, as he has title-winning mettle and knows speed on this 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit as well as any driver in the field, with victories in 2019 and 2020.
“I'm not even thinking about it, to be honest, because it's so early,” Newgarden said of his 23rd-place position in the standings after one race. “As far as points go, it's not ideal. Obviously, in a perfect world we would have started off with much better points and ideally a win.
“We want to have a solid weekend. It was a shame we just didn't even really get to be in the race (at Barber). It's more of a shame when you affect other people's days, like Colton (Herta), I felt bad about that, amongst others.”
2014 series champion Will Power completed a Team Penske sweep of the top two spots, slotting in second at 1:00.8102 in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet. Colton Herta, who also was collected in the Lap 1 crash at Barber, rallied to end up third today at 1:00.8348 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
Herta’s teammate Alexander Rossi was fourth at 1:00.8653 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Team Penske ended up with three of the top five spots, as 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five at 1:00.8992 in the No. 22 Menards/Australian Gold Team Penske Chevrolet.
“We’ve got something this weekend,” Pagenaud said. “We really do.”
Just .0963 of a second separated the top five drivers under sunny skies and in temperatures in the low 80s. That ultra-competitive trend continued almost all the way to the bottom of the 24-car time sheet, as less than one second separated Newgarden from the 20th-quickest driver, Barber race winner Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“I think the track was really high grip, honestly, more so than what I was expecting,” Newgarden said. “That's probably what brought the times tighter. Normally when it grips up, we get really close as far as the entire pack.
“Yeah, it's going to be tough. You got to be on it. Can't make even the littlest mistake. That can set you back pretty far.”
Scott McLaughlin was quickest of the heralded class of three series rookies this season, eighth at 1:01.0158 in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet.
There were no incidents during the session despite the tight confines of portions of the street circuit, lined on both sides by concrete walls. Two-time race winner Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Roman Grosjean both overshot corners with no contact while testing the limits, but both were able to continue.
Practice continues at 9:45 a.m. (ET) Saturday, with live coverage on Peacock Premium. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is scheduled to start at 1:45 p.m., with live coverage on Peacock Premium and same-day coverage at 10 p.m. on NBCSN.
Live coverage of the 100-lap race starts at noon Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
NTT Indycar Series PR