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Josef Newgarden and Will Power lead first practice at Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Will Power led a Team Penske 1-2 in the first practice session for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Newgarden turned a fast lap of 1:00:8029 (106.574 MPH) to narrowly edge Power’s fast lap of 1:00:8102 (106.561).

Andretti Autosport teammates Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi were next on the charts.  Herta’s fast lap was 1:00:8348 (106.518) and Rossi was a tick behind at 1:00:8653 (106.465).

“I think the track was really high grip, honestly, more so than what I was expecting,” Newgarden said. “That’s probably what brought the times tighter. Normally when it grips up, we get really close as far as the entire pack.

Penske’s Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top 5 with a quick lap of 1:00:8992.  All four Penske cars were in the top 10 as rookie Scott McLaughlin came in eighth fastest at 1:01:0158.

A bit of a mixed bag for Chip Ganassi Racing.  Scott Dixon led the team with a fast lap of 1:00:9152, which was good for sixth fastest in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

“The car felt pretty good,” said Dixon, the reigning and six-time series Champion. “We made some good changes. We had a test plan with all four cars and we made some good adjustments. P6 we’ll take that, keep pushing tomorrow. Hopefully a little bit better.”

Marcus Ericsson just missed the top 10 with a quick lap of 1:01:1170 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda, just behind Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal in tenth (1:01:0912).

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“Good start for us, ended up P10,” said Rahal. “We had good pace the whole time. I thought a couple of laps we had could have put us in the top two or top three. One lap it went red (flag). One lap I caught Josef and a little bit of traffic but I feel really good the United Rentals car is strong this weekend.”

“I feel comfortable with the car,” said Ericsson.  “We need to do some fine tuning tomorrow but we have really good pace to work from, feeling strong.”

CGR’s Alex Palou placed 20th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda at 1:01:7393 (104.957) as less than one-second separated Newgarden from Palou.

“The car is good,” said Palou, who picked up his first career win last week at Barber Motorsports Park. “We just got some traffic and really didn’t make the lap (time). Tomorrow we have another practice and qualifying and I think we’ll really be ready to be up there.”

Palou’s teammate Jimmie Johnson finished 24th 1:03:1317 in the No. 48 Carvana Honda. It was Johnson’s first practice ever on a street circuit.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Johnson of his first practice ever on a temporary street circuit. “Very tricky trying to get the tires up to where I have the comfort to start charging and the braking marks and power down marks right. But I kept all four corners on the car, didn’t end up in the runoff. Certainly step one of this process of learning how to go INDYCAR racing on a street circuit.  What a rush, what an experience!”

Teams have another practice session on Saturday morning from 9:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to get their cars dialed in.

Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is scheduled to start at 1:45 p.m., with live coverage on Peacock Premium and same-day coverage at 10 p.m. on NBCSN.

Live coverage of the 100-lap race starts at noon Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Jimmie Johnson attacking move to INDYCAR.

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson is attacking his first year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the work ethic you would expect of a Champion.

Johnson is two races into his INDYCAR career and each week presents a new challenge to the veteran racer.

“There’s just many new things,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I’ve not been on. A circuit I’ve not been on. There’s just so many new things it feels like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to do, transitioning from the big and heavy stock cars to a more powerful but lighter INDYCAR, reminds some sports fans of the time NBA Hall-of-famer Michael Jordan played baseball.

Johnson’s CGR teammate, six-time and reigning series Champion, Scott Dixon explained that what Johnson is doing would be like Dixon picking up his golf clubs and trying to go and win ‘The Masters’.

“Jimmie’s learning curve is very steep and very aggressive,” said Dixon. “Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen of anybody trying to do in sport. For him, he’s having to un-learn 20-plus years of what he was doing. I think his work ethic and attention to detail, we’re just going to have to give him some time to get comfortable.”

With a couple of races under his belt Johnson explained to Pittsburgh Racing Now what he’s looking for to go faster.

“Finding the edge,” said Johnson. “Finding it safely and consistently and that edge of grip and traction is two-to-three times what I’ve experienced in a NASCAR vehicle, so I keep reaching and occasionally I reach in the wrong areas but I keep reaching and trying to find it and I’m getting closer.”

Johnson is bringing his legendary work ethic to INDYCAR, spending countless hours trying to shorten his learning curve, impressing team owner Chip Ganassi.

“He’s a damn, hard worker,” said Ganassi. “He’s set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against racing against him in NASCAR. Now I got little feel for it. He’s a hard worker. My hats off to him.”

Ganassi knows there will be up and downs but isn’t setting any expectations for the seven-time NASCAR champ.

“I think some podiums would be considered a success,” said Ganassi. “He has the talent, he has the race craft. Once we get him comfortable I think the racer will come out in him.”

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Johnson is sharing the No. 48 with 2004 INDYCAR Champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.  Johnson will drive the road and street circuit and Kanaan will drive the oval races.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Kanaan of Johnson’s move to INDYCAR. “I think he’s trying to learn as quick as he can. As competitive as he is, he’s trying to go as fast as he can and sometimes mistakes happen. I think after the mistakes he’s been pretty solid.  He finished both races and he was getting a lot quicker towards the end of both races.”

Johnson’s transition is just like when open wheel Champions Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr climbed into stock cars.

“Some of the drivers had a hard time when they made the switch from INDYCAR to NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “That proves that INDYCAR is tough as well.”

Off the track Johnson has had success bringing a new sponsor, online automotive retailer Carvana, into the sport. What’s even more impressive is that he brought a new sponsor into the sport in the middle of a global pandemic.

“We were out working hard trying to find a sponsor through all the traditional means,” explained Johnson. “Literally through my wife (Chandra) and some friends in Oklahoma that she grew up in and around, led me to a phone call with Ernie Garcia (CEO) from Carvana. He instantly had a vision of the transition I’m trying to make and could grasp it.”

Carvana has embraced joining the sport and is not wasting any time activating the partnership with Johnson and the Ganassi team.

“Although he’s (Garcia) new to motorsport and they’ve never sponsored anything in auto racing, he could see this opportunity crystal clear,” said Johnson. “Very thankful to bring a new sponsor in and how they are activating is second to none and I’m really excited about the relationship.”

Part of Carvana’s activation is giving fans the opportunity to pick the color schemes that Johnson will campaign at various races by visiting their website and casting a vote: www.carvana.com/racing/indy/vote.

Attracting a new sponsor to your first year competing in the highest form of open wheel racing in the United States may surprise some people but those who know Jimmie Johnson aren’t surprised at all.

“He’s relentless,” said Kanaan. “He’s the type of guy, he’s going to make this work. I wouldn’t count Jimmie Johnson out just yet.”

Johnson and the No. 48 Carvana Honda return to the track with the GMR Grand Prix, May 15 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Three-time Indianapolis 500 Winner Bobby Unser Dies At 87

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

(Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser died Sunday, May 2 of natural causes at his home in New Mexico.  He was 87.

Unser won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” in 1968, 1975 and 1981 and is one of just 10-drivers with 3-wins in the event.

“There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser,” said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Team Penske. “Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track, and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen. Bobby brought so much to Team Penske during his time with our team, including a memorable victory in the 1981 Indianapolis 500.”

Unser’s last ‘500’ win in ’81 put him in elite company as he joined Rick Mears as the only two drivers to post ‘500’ wins in three different decades. Unser produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career “500” starts and led 440-laps in 10 races, still 10th on the all-time list.

“When you mention icons in racing, and particularly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bobby Unser was a legend,” said J. Douglas Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “He could drive, and win, in any type of car and on any type of track. Over the last several years, I have seen the true Bobby Unser – the man who loved our sport, loved the Indianapolis 500 and loved to be with the fans. He would go out of his way to do whatever he could to be here in May to help us keep motorsports growing.”

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Prior to his success at Indianapolis, Unser dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, claiming a record 13-victories.  Unser also won in USAC Sprint Car, Midget and Stock Car competition, earning seven career USAC Sprint Car feature victories and placing third in the standings in 1965 and 1966. He also won six USAC Stock Car races and three USAC Midget features.

Unser climbed out of the cockpit and into the broadcast booth where his uncompromising style and matter-of-fact delivery provided some of the most entertaining commentary in open wheel racing history simply because he knew what he was talking about.

Unser was highly regarded for his technical prowess and keen engineering mind.  Unser was also widely sought as a test driver because he would always push the car to the limit.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

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Pato O’Ward gets first INDYCAR win in race 2 at Texas Motor Speedway

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Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

FORT WORTH, TX (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Patricio O’Ward has been knocking on the door of winning in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and he finally knocked that door down by winning race two of the doubleheader on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

O’Ward passed Josef Newgarden with 24-laps remaining  and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory.  The win was his first in the INDYCAR series and the first for a Chevrolet, that is not a Team Penske entry, since 2016.

“Finally!” exclaimed O’Ward in victory lane. ” I feel like we truly earned our win today. The pit stops were fantastic. The car was very well-balanced. I was able to attack. I didn’t feel like I was in defensive mode. I felt like if I was let loose, I could attack and I could get the job done.”

“It was a decent day for us,” said Newgarden. “Can’t be too disappointed with the second place. Obviously we were in the catbird seat there at the end. The only thing I was worried about, just seemed like we were lacking some speed for whatever reason. Pato’s Chevy seemed to be performing a little bit better than my Chevy.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal came home third after trading the lead with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in the midpoint of the race.

“Solid day,” said Rahal. “I think last two stints I got just way too loose. But before that, I thought we did an excellent job. The guys, one heck of a pit stop there on the second-to-last stop, which really got us into, what, from fifth to third. From there I thought we could attack pretty hard. Great work by them.”

Dixon, winner of the Genesys 300 on Saturday night, finished fourth after starting from the pole in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

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“Huge congrats to Pato,” said Dixon, who extended his lead in the Championship standings to 22-points over O’Ward. “I was watching from back a few spots there, and what he did there at the end was a tremendous drive, especially against one of the best guys in the field.”

Several cars failed to make it to the first turn of the race after Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda hit the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet when the back of the pack approached the green flag, triggering a melee that involved seven cars and eliminated six.

“When someone checks up in front of you, you should still be in control of your car,” said Bourdais after leaving the infield care center following a mandatory checkup. “It’s still no excuse.”

Conor Daly took the wildest ride in the crash turning over after contact and sliding down the track on the roll hoop and Aeroscreen before turning right-side-up when it touched the infield grass. Daly climbed from the car without assistance.

“On our Bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next,” lamented Daly. “I really hope we can just start turning things around. It’s been a rough start. But I’m good. I’m all right.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is off next weekend and the following week the Month of May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway begins with the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course on Saturday, May 15.

INDYCAR Texas Race 2 Results

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