Newgarden tops busy day at Indy

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With qualifying out of the way, drivers swarmed the track Monday in an effort to run their cars under race conditions and prepare for Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

All 33 entries turned laps in the 3.5-hour session scheduled for the same time of day as the historic race on Sunday. Josef Newgarden, who will start the Indy 500 from the middle of Row 1 in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, clocked the fastest lap today, 227.414 mph, as teams spent the bulk of the session running in packs to gain a greater understanding how their cars will perform on race day.

“I think today is the most representative day that we’re going to get going into Sunday, which was great,” said Newgarden, the two-time race winner in 2015 for Ed Carpenter Racing. “Everyone was in a pack together, which was great, because that’s what we need to see.

“To me, some guys looked good at certain points and then they looked really bad at other points. I think that’s how it’s going to be on race day.”

A pair of teammates who have both won the Indianapolis 500 followed Newgarden on the speed chart. Tony Kanaan, the 2013 race winner, put the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy in second on the day at 226.393 mph. Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy, was third at 226.339 mph.

“I’m glad we were finally able to get the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet up to speed for practice today,” said Kanaan, who will start the race on the outside of Row 6. “I’ve felt really good about my race car since the early sessions and it showed how strong the car is in race setup today on track. We made a lot of progress overnight and it helped put our qualifying run behind us. We’re 100 percent focused on the race now and just figuring out the best strategy to get back up front.”

Twenty-one-year-old Sage Karam was fourth on the list at 226.045 mph in the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet, just ahead of Pippa Mann, the top Honda of the day at 225.833 mph in the No. 63 Susan G. Komen entry.

“Due to the weather forecast later in the week, I think everyone was really trying to get their car running well in race trim,” said Karam, who will start in the middle of Row 8, “and that is what we were trying to do today, too. We worked on fuel numbers, pit stops and many things. I think we have a good baseline moving into Carb Day and the race.”

For Mann, it was the first occasion to log significant laps – she completed 116 – since crashing in qualifying Saturday and seeing minimal track time before qualifying on the inside of Row 9 Sunday. With only the one-hour practice remaining Friday on Miller Lite Carb Day, Mann needed the track time.

“This was like Carb Day on steroids because we were out there doing it for (nearly) four hours,” Mann said. “Nobody wants to go out there and tear up a race car this close to race day, for sure. It was pretty hairy out there, but that’s representative of what it will be like in the race.

“In the race, when you have that many cars in a group, you won’t be able to run fast times. You’ll have to use all the gears and occasionally use the brakes. I know that sounds weird here. It gets really interesting and difficult and you are reacting to what everyone is doing, not just what your car is doing.”

A total of 2,886 laps were completed today, the most of any day since the track opened May 16 in a session that was 2.5 hours shorter than most other days. Nine drivers ran more than 100 laps each, led by Carlos Munoz (No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda) and Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) with 117 apiece.

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