Josef Newgarden leads eventful opening IndyCar practice at Laguna Seca

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Josef Newgarden led the opening practice Friday for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Monterey, beating a squadron of Hondas at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway.

Newgarden turned a lap of 1 minute, 11.7215 seconds on the fourth of 11 laps around the 2.238-mile road course in his Team Penske No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet.

The next 10 cars after Newgarden all were powered by Honda, starting with Colton Herta (1:11.7927). The Andretti Autosport driver, who is trying to defend his 2019 victory at Laguna Seca, avoided damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda when he went off course in a spin through the Corkscrew corner late in the 45-minute practice.

INDYCAR AT LAGUNA SECA: Details for watching Sunday’s race

Points leader Alex Palou (1:11.9750) was third on the speed chart off his victory at Portland International Raceway, followed by Ed Jones (1:12.0166) and Alexander Rossi (1:12.0625). The rest of the top 10 were: Oliver Askew, James Hinchcliffe, Jack Harvey, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

With two races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season, Palou leads by 25 points over Pato O’Ward with Newgarden (34 points behind), Scott Dixon (49) and Ericsson (75) also in contention for the championship.

After losing the points lead to Palou with a disappointing 14th at Portland, O’Ward was 14th in Friday’s practice session. Dixon, who is trying to win a seventh championship, had the 11th-quickest lap.

FRIDAY’S SPEEDS: Click here for the full practice chart

Any driver 54 points outside of the points lead after Sunday’s race will be eliminated entering the Sept. 26 season finale at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Newgarden, who clinched his second championship at this track two years ago, was wary of his practice being a predictor for qualifying. He started 18th at Portland after being fifth in practice.

“Obviously things can change quickly,” he said. “In Portland we were pretty sorted out in practice one, we choked in qualifying and were pretty far off the pace. That’s the No. 1 thing for us in the 2 car, have a consistent run all the way through. If we can do that, we’ll be in the fight.”

Sunday’s race will mark only the second IndyCar race in 17 years at Laguna Seca, which was removed from the 2020 schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many drivers testing the limits around the 11-turn natural terrain layout, there were several off-road excursions that also included Rossi, Helio Castroneves (who briefly got stuck in gravel), Dalton Kellett and Callum Ilott.

Scott McLaughlin also appeared to stall slightly off course as time expired in the session.

Herta and Newgarden said it was difficult to evaluate the track with so many drivers going off course. Both drivers also used only one set of tires in practice.

“It’s just really hard,” Newgarden said. “It’s a 45-minute session, which is already condensed. If you’re only going to run one set of tires, which we did, you get really one run to get a read. Even the second run, because the dropoff is quite high, it can muddy any read you’re trying to perform.

It’s just incredibly difficult to understand what the car’s doing or if you want to improve it, then the dust gets kicked up on the track a lot when you have (27) cars.

“We didn’t have it so much at the test because there were not many cars continually going off. You had a lot of cars here that were just constantly kicking up dirt onto curbing. It makes it difficult to read the car here and understand where things are at.

But I think that’s part of the challenge at these types of tracks, you have to be really good at doing it. Whenever you get a really good run, you have to assess the car with that.”

Another intriguing factor for Sunday’s race will be the 27-car field, which is three more than the last IndyCar race at Laguna Seca.

Herta said it’s made the pit lane seem “jam-packed. We are like sardines in a can this weekend. I feel like there are 24 pit spots, but we’re all crammed in there. It will be interesting.

“I think if there’s a yellow flag pit stop, that will be very interesting. I think some guys might have to get pushed back and stuff. Oh, yeah, it can make a difference, especially here. It’s tight. It’s going to be interesting for the race.”

There will be another practice at 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday before qualifying at 5:05 p.m. ET (Peacock Premium).

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)