Newgarden Paces Opening Practice at Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

MONTEREY, Calif. (Friday, Sept. 17, 2021) – Josef Newgarden isn’t going down without a big fight.

Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden led practice Friday for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, turning a top lap of 1 minute, 11.7125 seconds in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after losing ground to championship leader Alex Palou last weekend at Portland International Raceway.

MEDIA LINKS: Practice Results | Driver Video Quotes | Post-Practice Transcript

“Overall, we unloaded pretty good,” Newgarden said. “Small differences here or there, but for the most part globally it felt like the car was in the window. Just got to look after it.

“Obviously, things can change quickly. In Portland, we were pretty sorted out in practice one, we choked in qualifying and were pretty far off the pace. That’s the number one 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.”

Newgarden enters this penultimate event of the season third in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, 34 points behind leader Palou. It’s far from impossible he can rally for a third career title, but he’ll need to leapfrog Palou and second-place Pato O’Ward – 25 points behind Palou – to wear the crown.

Colton Herta was second at 1:11.7927 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda before going off course just past the famous Corkscrew turn complex in the final minute of the 45-minute session on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula of Northern California. 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey winner Herta made no contact and continued to the pits.

“I think it’s tough to do a 45-minute session on one set of tires,” Herta said. “Waiting for most of it, waiting to see what kind of lap times guys were doing.

“Compared to when we were at the test, I think the track was a lot better. It was quite nice. Even though it seemed like it was similar temperature, seemed to be a little bit more grip today.”

Track activity resumes with a 45-minute practice at 1:45 p.m. (ET) Saturday, followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 5:05 p.m. (ET). Both sessions will be streamed live on Peacock Premium.

Palou was third overall in the practice at 1:11.9750 in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Ed Jones was fourth at 1:12.0166 in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda, while 2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five at 1:12.0625 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda.

Among the other three drivers mathematically eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup as season champion, Marcus Ericsson (fifth, 75 points behind) was 10th at 1:12.3564 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon (fourth, 49 points behind) ended up 11th at 1:12.4415 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, while O’Ward was 14th at 1:12.4982 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Herta wasn’t the only driver to go off track while pushing for lap time toward the end of the session.

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves nudged the tire barrier in Turn 2, also known as the Andretti Hairpin, with the nose of his No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda with about 18 minutes remaining. Then Rossi went off in Turn 3 and continued, while Sebastien Bourdais spun and continued in the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

Rookie of the Year points leader Scott McLaughlin also slowed in the final minute approaching the Corkscrew turn complex.

Live coverage of the 95-lap race starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.