Josef Newgarden

SONOMA, California – He claims he wasn’t out to make a statement, but Josef Newgarden did precisely that on practice day for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

The championship leader headed into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series finale led both 45-minute sessions at Sonoma Raceway as the Team Penske driver looks to close in on his first title.

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Practice 1 results; Practice 2 results; Combined practice results

Holding a narrow three-point lead entering the 2017 finale weekend, Newgarden’s fast lap in the second practice – 1 minute, 16.2485 seconds (112.605 mph) – was under the track record established last year by teammate Simon Pagenaud. Newgarden also paced the morning session with a lap of 1:16.3950 in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I love to lead all practice sessions if possible, so it just worked out that we happened to lead two today,” Newgarden said, brushing aside the thought that he was out to make a statement to the competition today. “That's good and that's a great start. We've got to try and keep that up. But we try and lead every session if possible, and it just so happened today we got a couple under the bag.”

All four Team Penske drivers sat atop the end-of-day time sheet, with Pagenaud second, Helio Castroneves third and Will Power fourth on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile permanent road course.

“I think it was a good session for us – good two sessions, really,” said Newgarden, in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series season and first with the most successful team in Indy car history. “I feel like the Penske cars are fast. We've had obviously a lot of test time, more than others recently. We had (a private team test) last week and then the (series) open test Thursday as well, so it's plenty of track time hopefully for us to sort out our stuff.

“I feel like we've done a pretty good job with that and I think that reflected in the times today from the whole team. We're all pretty close and have a good handle, I think, on what we want. It's a matter of putting that together (in qualifying) tomorrow.”

Takuma SatoPagenaud, seeking to become the first repeat series champion since Dario Franchitti in 2011, was second on the time sheet with a lap of 1:16.2871 (112.549 mph) this afternoon in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. Since track records may only be set in Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying or races, Pagenaud’s Sonoma lap record of 1:16.2530 (112.599 mph) remains intact at least until Verizon P1 Award qualifying on Saturday.

“I'm very happy with how the car behaved, whether it's on new tires or older tires, and I think our pace on older tires is best to anyone right now,” said Pagenaud, fourth in the standings, 34 points behind Newgarden. “So I feel very confident that if we start up front (in the race), we can be gone.”

Castroneves was third in practice in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:16.3471, 112.460 mph). Completing his 20th year in Indy cars and still seeking his first championship, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is third in the standings, 22 points out of the lead.

Power, the 2014 series champion, was fourth on the combined speed chart with a lap of 1:16.4322 (112.335 mph) set in the first practice session. The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is fifth in the standings entering the weekend, 68 points behind Newgarden.

Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is second in the standings, three points in back of Newgarden. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was seventh on the combined speed chart today with a lap of 1:16.5863 (112.109 mph) in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda.

“We’re right there, though, and we’ll have to see how things shake out for qualifying,” Dixon said. “I think we need to bring a little more speed and see what happens. Qualifying tomorrow is one thing, and I think last time we won this (at Sonoma in 2015) we qualified ninth, so anything is possible, really.”

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi finished fifth and sixth, respectively, on the combined time sheet. Hunter-Reay’s best lap in the No. 28 DHL Honda (1:16.4829, 112.260 mph) came in the second practice while Rossi’s top effort in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda (1:16.5720, 112.130 mph) came in the first session.

On-track action continues with a 45-minute practice at 2 p.m. ET Saturday that streams live on Verizon P1 Award qualifying to determine the pole winner and the important championship point that accompanies it airs live on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Sunday’s 85-lap race offers double the normal race points, with 100 going to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and decreasing to 16 points for 22nd place. Live coverage on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday. It will mark the 12th consecutive year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is determined in the season’s final race.