Scott McLaughlin looked like anything but the reigning champion of the BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland during the opening practice for this year’s event Friday at Portland International Raceway, ending up 16th out of 27 drivers on the time sheet.
What a difference a day makes.
McLaughlin, who won this race from the pole last year, returned to form during practice Saturday. He led with a lap of 58.1516 seconds in the No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet, the quickest trip around the 12-turn, 1.964-mile circuit this weekend. Christian Lundgaard led practice Friday at 58.1776 in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Up next is NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3:30 p.m. ET, followed by final practice at 8:15 p.m. Both sessions will be broadcast live on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network will begin live coverage of the 110-lap race at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.
The 45-minute practice today was a bounce-back for Team Penske, as two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden rebounded to second at 58.2695 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after ending up 10th Friday.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon also regained his stride this morning, jumping to third at 58.2785 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after managing only the 19th-quickest time Friday.
Dixon is clinging to slim hopes of keeping alive the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship race through this weekend to the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He trails teammate and championship leader Alex Palou by 74 points entering this event and must stay within 53 points of the Spaniard after this race to keep the title fight alive.
Graham Rahal continued a strong weekend for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, as he was fourth at 58.3054 in the No. 15 PeopleReady Honda. Palou, who was third in practice Friday, continued to lurk among the leaders after rounding out the top five at 58.3630 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.
Friday practice leader Lundgaard slipped to eighth at 58.4732. Still, he’s within reach of the leaders, as just .3346 of a second separated the top 10 drivers in the session, with only .2167 of a second separating second through 10th on the timing screens.