Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden appears to have done the right things to get himself ready to compete in Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (noon ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

In the days following a head-cutting fall at Iowa Speedway, Newgarden said he stayed in a dark room at his home, avoided distractions and gave himself time to rest.

“I just went in and rested for 48 hours as intensely as I could,” two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden said. “Nothing really bugged me; I just did things because I’ve heard they’re the right things to do.

“Light didn’t bug me, screens didn’t bug me, but I avoided all of that for 48 hours and tried to rest as much as possible. By the time Tuesday came around, I felt pretty solid.”

Newgarden was checked Thursday afternoon by the INDYCAR Medical Team, then was evaluated again by the group Friday morning after the series’ first practice, a 90-minute session in which he posted the second-fastest lap in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.

In afternoon qualifying, Newgarden earned the fifth starting position for the 13th race of the season. Thirty-four points out of the series lead, Newgarden said it was an important comeback to remain in the hunt for the series title.

“I’m just happy to be back,” he said. “I was really very motivated to be here this weekend. I knew if we weren’t in this race, it would be very difficult to stay in the championship fight. That was kind of the ‘it’ for me. I knew we have to be in the race.”

Newgarden said he thought it was beneficial that “I’m in great shape, and I felt very good most of the week.” He thanked members of the INDYCAR Medical Team for their support.

Newgarden said the rest period prohibited him from being in the simulator Monday, which would have helped he and team work on final race weekend details.

“It would have been nice to have that prep, (and) I think we could have been in a better position coming into this weekend, but we’re not in a bad spot,” he said. “Luckily, we have great cars here at Team Penske; I have great teammates to lean on. We qualified in the top five.”

Ilott: ‘I’m a Man of My Word’

Series rookie Callum Ilott was confirmed Thursday to a contract extension with Juncos Hollinger Racing. Ilott said he signed the contract earlier this season, before other teams began acquiring about his availability for 2023 amid one of the craziest – and earliest – silly seasons in the sport’s history.

Ilott said he hasn’t wavered from his commitment to the Indianapolis-based team co-owned by Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger.

“At the end of the day, Ricardo and Brad have put a lot of investment in from the beginning, gave me the opportunity to come out here,” he said. “The trust in them and the trust in me, vice versa, I really respected that.

“We did the deal quite early this year to continue, (but) I’m a man of my word. Of course, there was a lot of interest from other (teams), but I was very honest from the very beginning if anyone approached me, ‘Look, this is what the situation is.’

“But yeah, I’m very happy to continue. I think we’ve got a lot of momentum. Also, there’s interest for engineers and people to join, as well. I think as a team we’ll grow – hopefully quickly. It could be slowly, but we’re definitely on the right track to improve.”

Graham Rahal (No. 15 One Cure Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) tweeted: “Callum is an exceptional talent. Well deserved. Looking forward to racing you for years to come.”

Juncos and Hollinger confirmed their interest to add a second full-time car for 2023 – Juncos said it is a “huge” competitive disadvantage to be a single-car team – but the pieces are not yet in place.

“We’re going to prioritize the quality,” Juncos said. “Having one car, you can still perform quite OK, (but) no question the second car will put us to the next level. That’s the intention.”

Ilott said he’d like to have a veteran teammate to help him grow, particularly on the oval tracks. His career in Europe never included such a venue.

Struggles in Qualifying

There will be some strong cars starting in the back of Saturday’s 25-car field.

Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) will start 20th, Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport) 22nd and Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) 25th.

Dixon wasn’t pleased with how his team executed, saying a fear that it wouldn’t have time to run a banker lap on Firestone primary (black) tires due to Ericsson’s stalled car led to being sent out on alternate (red) tires into traffic. Dixon also didn’t have the right front wing adjustment he needed.

“That was a complete mess,” he said. “Amateur hour.”

The good news is, Dixon and other drivers who didn’t advance through the first round will have an additional set of fresh alternate tires in a three-stop race that favors them. Ericsson will have two additional sets of reds due to stopping his car on the first lap while on primary tires.

Brakes were apparently only one of the issues Grosjean’s team dealt with Friday. On the team’s radio, an apology came for the “messy” day. Grosjean responded sternly.

“We can’t keep going like this,” he said.

Ericsson’s team replaced the engine in his car Friday afternoon.

Laguna Seca Gets Project Approval

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, site of the final NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the season, has received county approval to begin a $14.9 million project to resurface the 2.238-mile permanent road course and replace the start/finish bridge, an investment to ensure the long-term future of the internationally known facility.

Construction is scheduled to begin in November. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be held Sept. 11 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

The Day Ahead

Saturday’s schedule is one of the busiest of the year at IMS. The on-track action begins with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup at 8:15 a.m. ET followed by NASCAR Cup Series practice and qualifying at 9:35 a.m.

NBC’s broadcast of the Gallagher Grand Prix starts at noon ET, with the green flag estimated at 12:30 p.m. NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race, the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard, follows at 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard rolls off at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Odds and Ends

  • Former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 at IMS in 2017, will ride in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports during the preliminary laps to Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race.
  • Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) said he and his engineer, Craig Hampson, have frequently decided to take a more radical approach to chassis setup to excel, and it proved beneficial Friday in winning the NTT P1 Award. Meanwhile, teammate Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) has gone the more traditional path with setups. O’Ward will start third in Saturday’s race.
  • Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) admits to performing his best when he doesn’t overthink things. NBC broadcaster James Hinchcliffe put it succinctly Friday on the Peacock Premium broadcast: “The less he thinks, the faster he drives.”
  • Be sure to check out Marcus Ericsson’s helmet. It features the Borg-Warner Trophy that he earned his place on May 29 with an Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory.
  • Santino Ferrucci won’t get to drive an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car this weekend, but being the driver Team Penske selected as a potential stand-in for Josef Newgarden made his week. “The greatest compliment I’ve received in my career,” he said.
  • Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of Jimmie Johnson’s final Brickyard 400 at IMS. Johnson won on the oval four times (2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012).