Power leads first practice for IndyCars in Houston

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After a delay of two and a half hours, the IZOD IndyCar Series finally began its weekend at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston with the first of two 45-minute practice sessions.

Will Power topped the opening practice with a lap of 1 minute, 6.8320 seconds around the 1.7-mile Reliant Park circuit, which is now featuring a temporary chicane at Turn 1. As detailed earlier, grinding will take place tonight at this spot of the course in order to completely alleviate this morning’s track surface issue.

Scott Dixon, who is trying to cut his 49-point gap to championship leader Helio Castroneves this weekend, was second-fastest (1 minute, 7.0793 seconds), followed by the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves in third (1 minute, 7.1036 seconds), Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth (1 minute, 7.2257 seconds) and Justin Wilson in fifth (1 minute, 7.3606 seconds).

Several incidents took place during the session. About midway through, Josef Newgarden clipped the second tire barrier that makes up the Turn 1 chicane and then slammed into the wall – delivering rear-end damage and more than a few scuffs to his chromed-out No. 67 Strike-backed Honda.

“I just overstepped a little bit in that chicane,” Newgarden said. “I think we’ll be OK. It’s a long weekend, we just got started, and we’ll just take a step back and try not to do that again.”

Then, in the latter moments of the session, Ryan Hunter-Reay briefly went airborne after running over the final curb of the Turn 2-3 chicane before he too found the wall. Justin Wilson also spun during the incident, but came away with his car undamaged.

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”