Josef Newgarden leads first IndyCar practice at Toronto

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Coming off a superb runner-up showing at Iowa Speedway, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden has opened the Honda Indy Toronto weekend atop the first practice session.

A last-second flyer of 1:00.2385 around the 1.75-mile Exhibition Place street circuit was enough to grant Newgarden the fastest time of the session ahead of Team Penske’s Will Power (1:00.4497) and Toronto’s own James Hinchcliffe (1:00.5728).

Newgarden is trying to continue his upward trend over the last few races, which include an eighth at Pocono and the aforementioned second behind Ryan Hunter-Reay one weekend ago.

“When things are going like that, it’s really good,” he said to IndyCar Radio. “You just want to try and keep the momentum rolling and not have anything silly happen. Even when they do, hopefully you get over it really quickly and hope there’s nothing substantial.

“We’ve had a good string of results, the team’s worked really hard, and all we’re focusing on is trying to finish out the year right. I think we’ve got a good shot at that.”

Newgarden has had an up-and-down third season in the series with five DNFs (three crashes, one gearbox, one lost wheel), but feels that the recent work from him and SFHR is proof of their true talent.

“It’s a tough thing in racing because nobody really sees the evidence for everything – there’s a lot of looking at and saying, ‘Why is that like that?’ and you kinda take it for face value, where a lot of teams, a lot of drivers, a lot of situations have things come up and you just don’t see why,” he noted.

“We’ve had a lot of things we’ve dealt with, but I think we’ve got a great group. We have fast cars and good engineering. I’d just be really pleased for this team if we could string together some more results for this year.”

Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Helio Castroneves was fourth in the session (1:00.6363). Rookie pilot Carlos Munoz rounded out the Top 5 (1:00.6514).

A second IndyCar practice at Exhibition Place is slated to begin later today at 1:55 p.m. ET

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.