Newgarden slips into top spot in final Road America practice

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – The slips and slides continued in Saturday’s final practice for the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR. But in the end, it was defending race winner Josef Newgarden who slid into the top spot.

REV GROUP GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY AMR: Practice 3 results I Combined practice results I Round 1 qualifying groups

The Team Penske driver and 2019 NTT IndyCar Series points leader posted the fastest lap of the weekend thus far at Road America, at 1 minute, 42.8825 seconds (140.455 mph) in the aptly named No. 2 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet. It put Newgarden in the favorite’s spot for NTT P1 Award qualifying later in the day.

“I think our car’s pretty good,” Newgarden said. “It’s not like we’re easily quicker than everybody, in my opinion. We were kind of fourth or fifth for most of that session, then right at the end we made a good change to hop back to the front. But it’s close. If you have one little mess-up, one mistake on new tires, any of these guys will get by.

“It’s been in the window all weekend; we’ve just got to make sure we capitalize now.”

Nineteen-year-old rookie Colton Herta was second fastest in the session, with a lap of 1:43.1697 (140.064 mph) in the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver was pleased with the progress his crew made overnight.

“We were quite a bit off yesterday,” Herta said. “Even though we were fourth (at the end of Friday practice), I think we were six-tenths (of a second) off (quickest). Now we’re looking really good.

“The most important thing is the car is there. The car is able to go quick and I really think we’ll get in the (Firestone) Fast Six (in qualifying) if conditions stay the same and we have the same balance.”

Will Power, the 2014 series champion and 2016 Road America race winner, knocked in a late quick lap to finish third in the session in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet 1:43.1838 (140.045 mph). Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi ranked fourth and fifth in the session, respectively, though Rossi’s fast lap from Friday (1:43.1206) remains second best for the weekend to Newgarden.

As in Friday’s practices, the 45-minute session Saturday on the challenging, high-speed, 4.014-mile road course was filled with drivers sliding through turns and dropping wheels into the grass as they tested the limits of cars and track. Only one – Graham Rahal – went completely off track to bring out the lone red-flag stoppage of practice on Saturday.

Driving the No. 15 Gehl/Manitou Honda, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver slid off track in Turn 7, taking out several signage banners in the grass before his car made light rear contact with the wall. Once restarted, Rahal was able to drive the car back to pit lane.

“That was only my first flyer, but the lap time was up a few tenths,” Rahal said. “You’re going to push hard and unfortunately just a little too hard.”

Rahal was relieved that the car sustained minor damage and won’t require lengthy repairs before qualifying. Finding the speed necessary to compete for the NTT P1 Award, however, is another matter.

“Obviously disappointed,” he said. “I think our pace is struggling here right now. Yesterday, we were sixth and a second off (the fastest), and today we were nine-tenths off but we’re 16th. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get the Gehl car a little more competitive.”

Qualifying to determine the starting grid, featuring three knockout rounds culminating in the Firestone Fast Six, streams live at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Live timing and scoring is available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com. NBCSN airs a delayed qualifying telecast at 5 p.m. ET.

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