SONOMA, California – Nothing slows Josef Newgarden. Certainly not food poisoning or car trouble.
One of four remaining contenders for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Newgarden recovered from illness and mechanical issues during the morning practice Friday to record the fastest lap during the second practice session for Sunday’s season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma.
INDYCAR GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Practice 1 I Practice 2 I Combined practice results
Newgarden said he felt well enough to participate in the morning session at Sonoma Raceway, but his No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet encountered fuel-pressure issues and didn’t make it on track.
“I had food poisoning last night, for sure,” said Newgarden, who turned the fastest lap – 1 minute, 17.8156 seconds (110.338 mph) – during the second session on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course. “I’ve been up all night. My girlfriend texted me at the end of the first session because she thought I was too ill to drive, but it was just a coincidence. It just looks funny. It wasn’t because of the sickness. It was more because of car problems.”
All four challengers showed pace during Friday’s second session. Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Will Power recorded laps among the top six. Dixon had the second-fastest lap, followed by Power in fourth and Rossi in sixth. Ryan Hunter-Reay logged the fastest lap of the day in the morning practice (1:17.5742, 110.681 mph) when added horsepower from push-to-pass was available.
Dixon leads Rossi by 29 points as teams prepare for Saturday’s Verizon P1 Award pole qualifying. Newgarden and Power are each 87 points behind Dixon.
Newgarden said the morning fuel issue and subsequent scrapped session didn’t affect him, in part because Team Penske tested Sept. 6 at Sonoma.
“Not a huge setback, in my opinion, just because we were able to test,” Newgarden said. “That makes a world of difference. You sort of already know what you have and what you want to do. I felt like getting back on it this afternoon wasn’t really a big deal.”
Dixon went off course briefly at Turn 3a halfway through the afternoon session. He recovered and brought the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda back on track without a yellow flag. His fastest lap was just 0.0112 of a second behind Newgarden’s best lap.
Afterward, Dixon was philosophical about his attempt to win a fifth championship, which would put him alone in second place all-time behind A.J. Foyt, who recorded seven championships in his career.
“There are many scenarios and situations throughout the season that we could have done better or we could have had more luck here and there,” Dixon said. “I’ve found that, over the course of the year, it kind of evens its way out. I can’t change that, so I’m not going to think about it.”
Power, who won the championship in 2014 after finishing second in 2010, 2011 and 2012, appeared relaxed following Friday’s session. After entering the media center for interviews, Power began singing Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Soul to Squeeze,” then acknowledged that winning the pole position Saturday would be a tall order.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet said. “The track is very low-grip. Obviously, we have less downforce this year. It’s just so hard to put a mistake-free lap together.”
Rossi wasn’t pleased with his No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda’s handling. While competitive, his best lap during the second session was more than a half-second behind Newgarden’s best lap.
“We definitely have some work to do overnight,” Rossi said of his Andretti Autosport crew. “We need to put our heads together. It’s not the first time we’ve had a bad Friday. I have a lot of confidence in the No. 27 NAPA team.”
A third practice session is set for 2 p.m. ET Saturday ahead of Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 6 p.m. Both sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with NBCSN airing a same-day qualifying telecast at 8 p.m.
Live coverage of the 85-lap race to determine the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series champion begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.