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Josef Newgarden paces IndyCar practice for Grand Prix of St. Pete after Barber crash

Two-time defending race winner Josef Newgarden looks to three-peat, but drivers such as Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Pato O'Ward, and Jimmie Johnson have plenty of motivation to unseat the Team Penske driver.

It hardly erased the pain of his Lap 1 crash in the NTT IndyCar Series season opener at Barber Motorsports Park, but Josef Newgarden at least got off on the right foot Friday in the opening practice of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

With a 1:00.8029-second lap in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course, the Team Penske driver paced the session ahead of teammate Will Power (1:00.8102), Colton Herta (1:00.8348), Alexander Rossi (1:00.8653) and Simon Pagenaud (1:00.8992). Another practice will be held Saturday at 9:45 a.m. ET ahead of qualifying at 1:45 p.m. for the 100-lap race (Sunday, noon ET, NBC).

Newgarden has won the past two NTT IndyCar Series races at St. Petersburg, which should offer a chance to rebound from an uncharacteristic spin at that collected five other cars. Newgarden said it took two days instead of the usual one to get over the wreck, and Friday’s result didn’t alter the sting.

FRIDAY SPEEDS: Click here to see how the timing chart from practice at St. Pete

WEEKEND SCHEDULE: When cars are on track at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

“Going quick again this weekend right away, it doesn’t really do much for that,” Newgarden said. “At the end of the day, the race is what is going to matter this weekend. That’s what we missed out on last week, which was the hardest pill to swallow. It was a gorgeous day to go racing. I was so excited. That’s my favorite part of the weekend, is the race itself.

“It was just a big gut punch, to be honest with you, just to be out so quick. Wasn’t something I was really expecting. Didn’t think it was something I was asking for. Sometimes I get myself into trouble because I’m aggressive. Normally when I do, I know I was asking for it. I say, ‘Why did I do that?’ That was silly. This one I couldn’t categorize as that. It was one of those things, a bad combination of a couple different factors. Next thing you know you’re in trouble. When it affects you, it’s not fun. When it affects you plus some others, it’s really not fun.”

One of those was Herta, who finished 22nd of 24 cars. Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Dallara-Honda also was involved in the crash and placed last.

Andretti’s highest-finishing car at Barber was Rossi, who finished ninth after starting second, but Herta said there was no concern despite the lack of data and results.


Simon Pagenaud was fifth fastest in practice in his No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“That’s probably one of the better places to crash if there are any,” Herta said. “I think Andretti does a really good job on the road course car, permanent road course car. It’s really fantastic pretty much anywhere we go. I think we lack a little bit more on the ovals, short ovals, even some of the street courses.

“The permanent road course car is amazing to drive. I don’t think we really lacked that much there. Yeah, I mean, it sucked what happened. But it’s racing. Kind of have to move forward from it, try to build our momentum into this week.”

Most drivers seemed to be pushing Friday as the top 20 was separated by less than a second in a “hypercompetitive” field, Herta said.

A week after his first IndyCar victory, Alex Palou was 20th fastest Friday. Jimmie Johnson, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was last on the speed chart with a 1:03.1317 that was his best among 26 laps (tied with fellow rookie Romain Grosjean for a session high).

“Wow, it’s really close,” Herta told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “As plenty of people have said, I think it’s one of the most competitive IndyCar fields that we’ve had ever. So it’s going to be an interesting weekend. You can’t make any mistakes at all.”

Certainly not Newgarden, who said he isn’t thinking about the championship deficit but is confident after falling into a 46-point hole after one race.

“I’m ready to get going,” Newgarden said. “We haven’t started our season yet. I want to get a race underneath us. I’m ready for Sunday.”

Click here for speeds Friday in the opening practice of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.


Josef Newgarden is aiming for his third consecutive victory at St. Petersburg (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Chris Owens