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NEWGARDEN LEADS PENSKE SWEEP IN U.S. CONCRETE QUALIFYING DAY
Josef Newgarden led a 1-2-3 sweep for Team Penske during U.S. Concrete Qualifying Day Friday afternoon for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Newgarden toured TMS’ 1.5-mile oval in a combined two-lap total of 46.9964-seconds/220.613 mph in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, will start second after posting a two-lap average of 47.0607-seconds/220.311 mph in his No. 22 DXC Technology Chevy.
The last driver with a shot at Newgarden was teammate Will Power, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and winner of last year’s race here. But Power’s combined run of 47.0857-seconds/220.194 mph slotted the Australian’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy into third.
“I think this is a big boost for us, especially coming off Detroit,” said Newgarden, referring to Honda’s domination of qualifying and both races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park last weekend. “To come here and have speed again is really nice. Comes down to the team, the personnel we have, and you see that when we go 1-2-3. That impresses me the most. Team Chevy, when you look at the speed in Month of May and the (Indianapolis) 500, that’s a big part of it. Now that we have speed we need to figure out a way to make the (Firestone Firehawk) tires last.”
Saturday night’s 248-lap/372-mile event will be the first contested at TMS with sanctioning body INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aero kit chassis built by Dallara. The chassis reportedly produces 100 fewer pounds of downforce, making the cars more difficult to handle and putting more emphasis on driver skill. The new chassis was designed, in part, to eliminate pack racing synonymous with TMS.
“This car is more sensitive to track temperature,” Newgarden said on a 94-degree afternoon that sent track temps around 135 degrees. “Looking after tires will be more of the equation this year. For a show, we’re trying to optimize what drivers want and what fans want. It’s a car that you can race and get close with. Guys will have to work to maintain the balance and maintain the tire life for the full stint. But I do think we’ll have a great race.”
Newgarden scored his fourth career pole, second this season, first at TMS and first on a superspeedway. Team Penske now has eight poles in Fort Worth, most of any organization. The pole also was the 259th in the history of the open-wheel juggernaut founded by Roger Penske.
“I held my breath for those two laps,” said Pagenaud, 10th in series points and without a top-five finish in the season’s first eight races. The Frenchman was seventh after Friday’s 90-minute opening practice.
“We made some changes on the car,” Pagenaud said, “because I wasn’t comfortable this morning and never went flat-out in Turn 1 before. This morning was the worst situation you’re going to see. The track was dusty, low-grip and the tires were sliding around. I thought this morning it was down to the driver, you had to lift in Turns 1 and 2. INDYCAR has decided not to have pack racing here, so we decided to go with this universal aero kit…and you have to adapt to it. You have to find ways to be the best. It’s definitely not easy…but you want to deserve your seat as a race car driver. It was tough but I welcome the challenge.”
Series rookie Robert Wickens led the Honda contingent in fourth at 47.2214-seconds/219.561 mph in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. Rounding out the top five was Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time Indy car champion, at 47.2772-seconds/219.302 mph in the No. 18 Team SealMater Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.
A one-hour practice at 6:15 p.m. (CDT) remains for teams to fine-tune their race day setups. “We’re going to get a preview of the start of the race,” Newgarden said, “and an idea of what it’s like to run in two-car packs or 10-car packs.”
A field of 22 cars will compete in Saturday’s edition of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Series Race.” Round No. 9 of the schedule will be televised on NBC Sports Network beginning at 7 p.m. (CDT).