INDYCAR championship contenders not happy with Iowa qualifications

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NEWTON, Iowa – Josef Newgarden had just qualified his No. 2 Chevrolet into the third starting position for Saturday night’s NTT IndyCar Series Iowa 300 and the Team Penske driver didn’t look happy. His main contender for the championship, Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, qualified sixth fastest and he didn’t look happy, either.

Newgarden leads Rossi by just four points entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300. Both drivers expected to qualify higher on Friday afternoon during a one-hour qualification session held under very high temperatures with high humidity.

Another reason both drivers may have been a tad sour was the pole winner was Simon Pagenaud, the hard-charging Frenchman who won this year’s 103rd Indianapolis 500, the INDYCAR Grand Prix and last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Pagenaud is third in the standings, 39 points out of the lead.

Live coverage of the Iowa 300 begins tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Newgarden is usually one of the more ebullient and talkative drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series but after Friday’s qualifications, he was unusually short in his responses.

“I think our car will be all right, so I’m excited to go racing,” Newgarden said in a deadpan tone of voice to NBC Sports.com. “The top five is tight to me, so it (the championship) could be anyone’s game right now.”

Rossi was only slightly more descriptive of his car and chances in Saturday night’s 300-laps race at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

When asked what it was going to be like start from sixth place, Rossi’s response was blunt.

“(Crappy),” Rossi told NBC Sports.com “I don’t have anything that I’m super happy with right now and it’s going to be hotter tomorrow. We have to get our heads down and figure out how to get me more comfortable in the car.

“I think it was a good effort. That’s pretty much what I thought we had in the car, so we didn’t leave anything on the table. We just didn’t have anything for the top three cars. The last session Friday is very important to us and we need to have a good practice if we are going to have anything for the race.”

Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske won the pole with a two-lap average of 180.073 miles per hour in a Chevrolet. He was followed by his two Team Penske teammates, Will Power (179.598 mph) and Newgarden (179.449 mph), both in Chevrolets.

Rossi was sixth with a two-lap average of 176.057 mph in a Honda, just behind fourth-place Takuma Sato’s Honda and James Hinchcliffe’s Honda.

Later in the post-qualifying press conference, Pagenaud continued his “less is more” approach to answering questions.

When told that the pole winner had never won at Iowa, Pagenaud responded, “I’m not big into stats, so…”

What happened between Friday’s morning practice session and Friday afternoon’s qualifications?

“Conditions were similar, so I don’t think it changed much,” Newgarden said. “I just obviously we didn’t nail it, so we got to nail it tomorrow.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”