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Josef Newgarden leads first Mid-Ohio practice as Team Penske seeks IndyCar rebound

Mid-Ohio IndyCar Newgarden

Rebounding from his near-miss at ending Team Penske’s winless 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season, Josef Newgarden paced the opening practice Friday for the Honda Inda 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The two-time series champion turned a 1-minute, 7.2524-second lap around the 2.258-mile road course that topped Pato O’Ward (1:07.5050) and Jack Harvey (107.5840).

Alexander Rossi (1:07.7245) and Graham Rahal (1:07.7561) rounded out the top five.

SPEED CHART: Click here for lap times Friday at Mid-Ohio

INDYCAR AT MID-OHIO: All the details for Sunday’s race

“It was a good session,” Newgarden said. “The thing I noticed right was that the car felt phenomenal. When you get into a car and it feels that good, you’re like, ‘Man, we got something right here coming into it.’

“I think we’re on the right track.”

His No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet has started from the pole position and led the most laps in each of the past two races before things went awry on the final caution flag.

At Road America, a gearing problem dropped Newgarden from first to 16th after the last restart with three laps to go, and he finished second in the second race at Belle Isle when a late yellow allowed O’Ward to catch and pass Newgarden for the lead on fresher tires with two laps remaining.

Coupled with a mechanical problem that cost teammate Will Power a victory in the Detroit Grand Prix opener, the misfortune has left Penske without a victory after nine races (the longest stretch to open a season for the team since 1999) despite having strong cars.

“I think in the moment it’s always excruciating,” Newgarden said. “It’s a terrible feeling. But, honestly, right after that, it’s no different for me. Move on to the next weekend. Focus forward. We pick up where we left off, just do it again. That’s kind of our mantra. It’s been my mantra, at least one race at a time. Would have loved to have had different results the last couple of weekends. Can’t change it. That just keep doing our program. I’m super proud of my team.

“I’m not asking something different from my team because I don’t think they need to do that. We’re ready to rock.”

There will be two practices and qualifying Saturday for the 80-lap race Sunday (noon ET, NBC), and the field will feature 26 cars -- a season high outside the Indy 500.

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Jimmie Johnson was last (1:09.8165) on the speed chart, but being 2.5 seconds off Newgarden’s pace didn’t damper his enthusiasm for a Mid-Ohio debut.

“What a place,” Johnson said. “Just a fun, fun track. Tons of elevation change. The grip level changed so much from the start to the end, so really fit my progression. Made very little changes. Really just focused on getting the laps.

“This place definitely overdelivered. Not many drivers talked to me about it coming in, so I think this one is a bit of a sleeper from an experience standpoint. And I’m really looking forward to the race.”