The good times keep rolling for Josef Newgarden.
Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden, who leads the series points this year after winning two of the first three races, led the rain-delayed second day of the Indianapolis 500 Open Test on Thursday with a top lap of 229.519 mph in the No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet. That lap was nearly 2.5 mph faster than the top Wednesday speed of 227.187 by six-time series champion Scott Dixon.
Newgarden is seeking his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory and a record-extending 19th “500” win for Team Penske.
“I can't deny things feel really good on the 2 car,” Newgarden said. “They’re just progressing. It's not like two steps forward, two steps back, or vice versa. I feel like it's going forward every single time, and we're just getting better.
“We've been on a good trajectory at the moment. I don't want to see it flatten too much; I want to see it go the other way. I feel confident with what we've got, feel good at showing up anywhere. Being at Team Penske makes that easier. I always feel confident in our group.”
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato was second fastest at 229.427 in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, followed by 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan at 228.767 in the No. 1 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
2008 “500” winner Dixon ended up fourth at 228.689 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Scott McLaughlin, winner of the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, rounded out the top five in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet.
The start of the four-hour session was delayed by four hours and 30 minutes due to morning showers in the Indianapolis area. The day was incident-free after there were three spins by drivers either on or exiting the acceleration lane inside Turns 1 and 2 on Wednesday, but diligent asphalt work overnight and this morning by INDYCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Firestone increased the grip levels of that area today.
Once the track dried, drivers wasted no time swirling around the 2.5-mile oval in large packs to simulate traffic while testing race setups. All the top speeds were produced with the aid of an aerodynamic tow from leading cars.
Among the handful of drivers who turned clean laps without a tow, Rinus VeeKay was fastest at 221.314 in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet. McLaughlin was the second-fastest no-tow driver at 221.221, followed by Conor Daly at 220.793 in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet.
“We won’t know where we stand in the true place until the Saturday of qualifying (May 21) when everyone does their first run,” said 2018 “500” winner Will Power, who was 14th overall in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “That’s when you’ll have a bit of an idea the sort of speed we might have.
“You need (extra boost for qualifying), with everyone going on single runs on exactly the same fuel load with no draft, all that. That’s the only way you’ll know.”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson continued a solid two days of preparation for his first start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by ending up eighth fastest at 227.900 in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was the fastest of the seven Indy 500 rookies at the test.
Thirty-two drivers combined to turn 4,318 laps (10,795 miles) during the two-day test. Marcus Ericsson completed 148 laps – nearly three-quarters of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge distance of 200 laps – on Thursday in his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, more than any other driver.
The only driver not on track Thursday was four-time and reigning winner Helio Castroneves. His test was cut short due to damage to the front, right side and undertray of his No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda when he spun exiting the acceleration lane inside Turn 2 and hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 on Wednesday.
Up next for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the fourth race of the season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on April 29-May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
The 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled for Sunday, May 29 at IMS.