SALINAS, Calif — Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts in the lone NTT INDYCAR Series practice session from a sun filled day at Laguna Seca on Friday. The Tennessee native circled the 2.238-mile road course with a time of 1:11.4103-seconds in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet.
“Yeah, just a tricky session,” Newgarden said. “As was just asked, there was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways.
“It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.
“But obviously early days in the weekend for us and the Hitachi car.”
Here are my top takeaways from Friday’s session.
Lack Of Laps Turned
Due to the extended session and how quick the tires degrade here, there wasn’t many laps turned in the opening practice. Most drivers turned between 15-20 laps which only allowed just a couple of runs at banker time.
That’s why a lot of drivers are going to bed Friday night knowing that their cars had more time in them.
“I didn’t even really put together my best lap, and I’m sure that was the case for the majority of the field,” said Newgarden. “It’s always hard to read off the first session. I think we’ll tighten up tomorrow.
“But just the early read is good. I felt like we made really good use of our short time that we had today and short set of tires that we had. We didn’t have a lot to work off of. So I feel good early, but I feel like it’s early days.”
Andretti Cars Stout
We knew that the Andretti Autosport cars would be strong, so to see 3 of the top 4 laps belonging to them and if you count Simon Pagenaud as an alliance car which he is, that’s 4 of the top 6 laps belonging to that organization.
How much of a role will they play in things on Sunday?
Colton Herta has won each of the last 2 poles and led all but 11 laps in those 2 races. Alexander Rossi qualified 2nd here last year while Romain Grosjean finished 3rd. They went 2-3-4 on Friday.
With 50 points being awarded for the win and 40 points for 2nd, that’s a 10 point gap between the two. However, you get 35 points for 3rd, 32 for 4th and 30 for 5th. The same gap from 1st to 2nd is from 2nd to 5th.
So if an Andretti car or multiple of them take those spots and a championship contender can join them, and maybe even win, that could be the difference in a championship won or not.
As an example, lets say Sunday looks like today’s results. Newgarden would take home 50 points for the win and 1 point for a lap led. Will Power would receive 26 points for 7th. He enters 20 points back.
That would put Newgarden with 554 points and Power with 549. He’d take the title.
See how this can play a huge role?
Even if Power finishes 4th (32 points) that would put him at 555 points. Newgarden would be at 554 and lose by 1. But if Newgarden win the pole, he ties Power and takes the championship on tie breakers (6 wins to 1). If he leads the most laps, he’d get 2 bonus points which even without a pole, would grant him to 556 points which gives him a 1 point margin of a championship.
That’s why the Andretti guys can really play a role in this thing still.
Test Didn’t Necessarily Put Ganassi At An Advantage
Team Penske chose to use their final test day at Portland. They did so on Aug. 26. Chip Ganassi Racing elected to use their final test day at Laguna Seca on Aug. 29. Would this sway who won the championship or not?
We’ve seen the last few years that with limited test days, the ones who end up getting a clean test without all the teams at a particular venue usually come back and win later on.
Penske tested at Iowa and dominated in July. Andretti tested at the Indianapolis road course in June and came back to win in July. Ganassi tested at Portland last year and dominated that weekend in taking 2 of the top 3 starting spots, putting 2 cars on the podium and 3 of their 4 in the top 10.
So why test there again?
Penske struggled at Portland last year so figured why not extend a points lead heading to the season finale so long as the testing trend held.
Penske had 2 of the top 3 laps in Friday’s practice, went 1-2-3 in Saturday practice and took the top 3 times in qualifying. They finished 1-2.
So would Ganassi face a similar fortune here?
A Penske leading charge on Friday could be demoralizing for Ganassi. Especially the fact that Penske went 1-7-11. Ganassi went just 10-14-17-25.
“Well, it would have been an advantage to test here,” Power quipped. “Clearly if we had the day we would have, but we just didn’t, so we took it at Portland because we struggled there last year.”