Josef Newgarden on pole for tonight’s IndyCar season opener

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Tonight at Texas Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series sees its first green flag in over eight months, and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden will lead them to it.

Newgarden, who won at Texas last year on the way to his second IndyCar championship, claimed the pole position for tonight’s Genesys 300 with a two-lap qualifying average of 215.740 mph.

He narrowly beat Scott Dixon, whose average of 215.638 mph landed him on the outside of the front row.

RESULTS: Click here to see where everyone qualified at Texas

PRACTICE: Scott Dixon tops session; VeeKay, Carpenter, Hunter-Reay spin

“I don’t want to say I was surprised – it felt like the car was quick,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “I didn’t know if we had enough to beat Dixie. He looked really good in his qual trim. But I felt [my] car was great, so I just tried to do as much as I could to stay flat.

“That’s really all I had to do was try to keep it pinned around the track. The car was perfect. I was telling [engineer] Gavin [Ward] on the radio, ‘Great job, man, you nailed it! This is perfect for the first qualifying [of the season].'”

Newgarden’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud (215.464), and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (214.311), who rebounded after damaging his No. 28 Dallara-Honda in practice, will make up Row 2 for tonight’s 200-lap race.

“I’m extremely pleased; they thrashed and put this car together,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN. “You have to make sure everything is absolutely perfect on an oval, and (the contact with the wall) knocked the steering out and smashed the steering rack. They got it back online just before the cutoff.

“To put it up front like this is really impressive.”

Another Andretti-Penske pairing, Zach Veach (213.981) and Will Power (213.930), start behind them in Row 3.

Takuma Sato, last year’s pole sitter at Texas, crashed on his warm-up lap entering Turn 1 through the PJ1 traction compound in mid-corner, then snapping loose.

He later was evaluated and released from the infield care center, but his Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew faced a major time crunch in repairing his No. 30 Honda in time for tonight’s race.

“It was a big moment,” Sato told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “That was the warmup lap. I just lost the back end immediately when I turned in; usually, it doesn’t happen that way. Hopefully, we can fix it and return for the race. It’s quite tight.”

Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Rinus VeeKay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci also will start from the rear after skipping qualifying.

VeeKay’s car was undergoing repairs following his crash earlier this afternoon in practice.

Ferrucci’s team put out a statement that the No. 18 Dallara-Honda would focus on the race because “the car wasn’t right during the morning practice. We had more changes to make than the time allotted by IndyCar between practice and qualifying. The priority for the team is on the race and ensuring we have a competitive setup for tonight. ”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.