Josef Newgarden shakes stress, leads Monday practice at Indy

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After going through the nerve-wracking exercise of Indianapolis 500 qualifying over the weekend, Josef Newgarden said he found it “really weird” to return to the cockpit this afternoon for practice.

However, the Tennessee native was nonetheless able to top today’s session with a lap of 227.105 mph in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.

In April, this extra practice session was added to the ‘500’ schedule so teams could focus on race set-ups after going all-in on qualifying.

But Newgarden, who qualified 8th on Sunday, still found the situation a bit strange to him.

“I was about done after this qualifying format that we had this weekend,” he said. “It was so stressful and tiring, so mentally fatiguing. I think everyone felt that way. Everyone I talked to, including guys like Simon Pagenaud, were so stressed to the max from these [past] two days. But that’s a good thing.

“I think you should have that at Indy. You should have that stress factor that you have to get through.”

And Newgarden was also grateful to have the extra track time as the usual Month of May rains impacted several practice sessions last week leading up to qualifying.

“It was helpful to have a day to work on the car before Friday on Carb Day, because you’re quite limited, you only have an hour on Carb Day,” he said. “So whatever you’re doing pretty much needs to be done.

“You don’t have time to really work on it on Carb Day. It’s more about preparing yourself for the race environment. Everyone’s going to be running like it’s the race and you kind of get yourself set up for that.

“You’re not really working on the car, whereas today, we were able to work on the car and refine what we needed to…For us, it was very helpful and I’m sure it was the same for everyone up and down the field.”

Juan Pablo Montoya was second-quickest in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet behind Newgarden with a lap of 226.532 mph. Scott Dixon was third at 226.433, followed by rookie Mikhail Aleshin in fourth (226.371) and defending ‘500’ champion Tony Kanaan in fifth (226.336).

An interesting note from today’s session is that Honda teams opted to stay off the track late in the running. Former NBCSN IndyCar announcer Bob Jenkins reported over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s PA system that it was due to Honda looking into a fuel leak that developed on Marco Andretti’s car.

The next time the IndyCars will see the track will be on Carb Day this Friday at IMS. NBCSN will have coverage of the festivities starting at 11 a.m. ET.

INDIANAPOLIS 500 – PRACTICE NO. 9 TIMES

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.