Power leads Penske 1-2-3 on Indy 500 opening day of practice

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Team Penske topped Sunday’s opening practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 with a 1-2-3 sweep of the top three positions, led by Will Power at a tow-assisted 223.057 mph lap in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. Power clocked in 82 laps, second most on the day.

“Apart from the speed it was great,” Power said, since he focused on race setups. “I did quite a few laps. We anticipated it might be wet. It’s only practice the first day, but it’s always handy to be on top.”

He added, of the shift to practice today after racing Saturday, “It’s weird having to wake up and get back straight in the car on a different style of track. As soon as I got into it, it felt normal.”

Power’s two teammates, who also had help on their fliers, were next up. Juan Pablo Montoya was second in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet with Helio Castroneves third in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium “Yellow Submarine” Chevrolet. They were both over 222 mph; Castroneves had the most with 83.

Best of the rest was JR Hildebrand in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter, as the 2011 ‘500 Rookie-of-the-Year turned his first laps of the month and posted a late flier of 222.200 in a tow to end P4. Fellow American Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport rounded out the top five.

EJ Viso filled in for James Hinchcliffe, with the Canadian not yet cleared to drive the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport, with a late best speed of 222.105 run in a three-car team draft.

That netted him P6 on the day, and Viso said the car felt stable, planted and with a solid baseline on his first day back in an IndyCar since the round at Houston last October. Viso withdrew ahead of the season finale at Fontana.

Twenty-four drivers took times. Of note, Kurt Busch made it to the Speedway after the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Kansas last night and ended 12th with 31 laps completed and a best speed of 220.352 mph, and rookie Sage Karam completed the third and final phase of his Rookie Orientation Program in the morning in the No. 22 DRR Kingdom Racing Chevrolet.

IT WAS SUNDAY? OR IT WAS JUST A RACE-DAY HANGOVER?

Overall, the day had a bit of a weird vibe to it as it felt like not just the day changed from Saturday to Sunday, but the month changed from really “any other month” to “the Month of May.”

Crews, staff and media alike were all drained from full on “race day mode” on Saturday to then changing engines, pit positions, and doing rebuilds on cars ahead of the first day of practice on Sunday.

And with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis a Thursday-Friday-Saturday affair, if anything, today felt like a Monday at the track, rather than a Sunday. At least the vibe was one of a “Case of the Mondays.”

ADDITIONAL NEWS AND NOTES 

  • Ryan Briscoe, of NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing, said his sixth place Saturday could have been better had it not been for a penalty for a pit safety infraction, hitting an air hose. He said the CGR team is improving, but still has a bit to do to catch the leaders.
  • Oriol Servia turned laps for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing today, but his time didn’t register on timing & scoring.
  • Kyle O’Gara, who was set to run the Indy Lights Freedom 100 in a second Fan Force United entry, has withdrawn from the race. O’Gara tested at the series’ open test at IMS, but despite a trimmed out setup and max throttle, was more than one second off the pace.

Josef Newgarden wins for 3rd time in 4 years in rain-shortened Honda Indy GP of Alabama

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Given how well he’s done there, they may want to consider renaming Barber Motorsports Park to Newgarden Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden won for the second straight year and third time in the last four races at BMP to capture Monday’s rain-delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I like it here,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We could do the whole series at Barber. That’d be great.”

Newgarden won his ninth career IndyCar race on what he considers his home track, just three hours from his home north of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday’s race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course was a timed event of 75 minutes after Sunday’s rain-postponement after 22 laps of the scheduled 90 laps.

As it turned out, both ends of Sunday’s start and Monday’s finish, a total of 82 laps were contested.

Rain once again became an issue in about the last 15 minutes of Monday’s rescheduled event but Newgarden – who started from the pole – made a stop for rain tires with 14 minutes left and that proved to be the winning strategy. He also regains the lead in the IndyCar point standings from Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi.

“The rain made it more eventful than I would have liked,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We had good fuel mileage and good reliability, that’s what we needed to win this race.

“It seemed like smooth sailing for the most part — we had no yellows, which we were hoping for no yellows — and then the rain crept in. … Fortunately, we had a big gap, which helped us win the race, just building that gap over the beginning part. … It’s a great day for Team Penske.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, with Sebastien Bourdais finishing fifth.

“Solid weekend for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 in qualifying and two cars in the top 5 in the race. Pretty proud of these boys. It’s good to get a couple Hondas up there. Maybe not the top steps in the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

Bourdais had hoped to finish the race on slicks and win. But he was forced to pit with 7:15 left after his car became too difficult to control in heavy rain, swapping to rain tires.

Unfortunately, pitting essentially cost Bourdais the win.

“We were in the catbird’s seat for second and were hoping that he’d get some good times on the drives in the wet, but the wet just kept coming and we had to bring him in,” team owner Dale Coyne said.

Added Bourdais, “We’re in it to win it, did everything we could, it was seemingly going to be good enough. … I think we had beaten (Newgarden). Yet, the sky opened and that was it.”

Scott Dixon finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti.

Eleventh through 20th were Rossi, Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Rene Binder, Gabby Chaves, Tony Kanaan, Zach Claman De Melo and Ed Jones.

Rounding out the final three finishing positions were Will Power, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* Spencer Pigot and rookie Zach Claman De Melo got into a tangle early on, but both were able to get going and damage appeared minimal.

* With 8:30 left, Rossi spun into the Turn 5 gravel but was able to get going.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* Will Power’s team was able to get his damaged car repaired and he was back on-track roughly 10 minutes into Monday’s action.

* Scott Dixon lost much of the electronics on his car with about 28 minutes left. He essentially had to handle things old school, going by feel. He wound up being penalized for speeding on pit road when his dashboard went out.

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