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Newgarden doubles up in Sonoma practice

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SONOMA, Calif. – Josef Newgarden led his second straight practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, as the points leader looks for his first series championship.

Newgarden posted an important best lap of 1:16.2485 while running on Firestone’s red alternate tires during the second 45-minute session of the day. He also led this morning’s session at 1:16.3950 in cooler conditions.

Driving the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, this time was under the official track record mark of 1:16.2530 set by teammate Simon Pagenaud last year, for pole.

“We learned a little about the tire. Definitely different from last year,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “The red compound is similar to what the black was last year. We have a different black this year. Understand what you need on each of them. The track still seems pretty fast. We’ll see what we got. It’s easy to mess up in Sonoma.

“The big thing about the track is there’s a lot of wind around this place. A lot of dust and sand. There’s so much dirt and debris. One guy drops the wheel and it’s a full corner. We have the best in the business with Team Penske.”

The Team Penske quartet was 1-4, with Newgarden ahead of Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was top Honda in this session at 1:16.4829.

There was one red flag for a rather abnormal circumstance, as two fans made it out onto a grassy area beyond a fence. Despite the brief session interruption there were no other incidents of note.

Third practice runs tomorrow with live qualifying coming up at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Times from this session are below.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.