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Pagenaud paces Penske 1-4 sweep in Barber first IndyCar practice

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Team Penske and Chevrolet was poised to go 1-2-3, in numerical order, in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the third round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

And then they went one better with a 1-4 sweep right at the end of the session.

Defending race and series champion Simon Pagenaud took the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet to the top of the timesheets at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course at 1:08.1104.

The 2015 race winner Josef Newgarden took his No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kit Chevrolet into second at 1:08.1822.

“It’s obviously a good start with our teammates. I think we were happy at the test; it seems to suit us well. We will try to capitalize on this the rest of this weekend. It’s great having Fitzgerald Glider Kit on board; they’re Tennessee boys, just like me,” Newgarden told IndyCar Radio’s Jake Query after the session.

Will Power, in need of a clean weekend in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and a past two-time winner at Barber, leapt into third at the end of the session with Helio Castroneves in fourth in the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet.

Eight Hondas were next, led by Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda in fifth at 1:08.4560. Rossi and Marco Andretti are in revised liveries this weekend, red and blue and red and white respectively.

The only red flag came when points leader Sebastien Bourdais ran wide exiting Turn 1 in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and collected a yard sign, which was funny but didn’t cause any damage to his car.

Series debutante Zach Veach clocked in at 1:10.6346 in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet, about 1.7 seconds off teammate Spencer Pigot in his first official IndyCar race weekend filling in for the injured JR Hildebrand.

Hildebrand is on site this weekend and provided an update to IndyCar Radio’s Query during the session:

“It was really hard to tell initially,” he said. “The X-rays at Long Beach didn’t look that bad. Different place, set of circumstances. Once they dug into it via a CT scan, it was more blown up than they thought it was. The doctors tried to keep my expectations out of control. There was a high risk of doing further damage if I got in the car this weekend. Phoenix is the goal for next weekend.”

Times are below. Owing to the track delay for barrier repairs from the morning’s Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires practice session, the Friday schedule is an hour behind.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.