Josef Newgarden leads eventful opening IndyCar practice at Laguna Seca

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Josef Newgarden led the opening practice Friday for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Monterey, beating a squadron of Hondas at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway.

Newgarden turned a lap of 1 minute, 11.7215 seconds on the fourth of 11 laps around the 2.238-mile road course in his Team Penske No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet.

The next 10 cars after Newgarden all were powered by Honda, starting with Colton Herta (1:11.7927). The Andretti Autosport driver, who is trying to defend his 2019 victory at Laguna Seca, avoided damage when he went off course in a spin through the Corkscrew corner late in the 45-minute practice.

INDYCAR AT LAGUNA SECA: Details for watching Sunday’s race

Points leader Alex Palou (1:11.9750) was third on the speed chart off his victory at Portland International Raceway, followed by Ed Jones (1:12.0166) and Alexander Rossi (1:12.0625). The rest of the top 10 were: Oliver Askew, James Hinchcliffe, Jack Harvey, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

With two races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season, Palou leads by 25 points over Pato O’Ward with Newgarden (34 points behind), Scott Dixon (49) and Ericsson (75) also in contention for the championship.

After losing the points lead to Palou with a disappointing 14th at Portland, O’Ward was 14th in Friday’s practice session. Dixon, who is trying to win a seventh championship, had the 11th-quickest lap.

FRIDAY’S SPEEDS: Click here for the full practice chart

Any driver 54 points outside of the points lead after Sunday’s race will be eliminated entering the Sept. 26 season finale at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Sunday’s race will mark only the second IndyCar race in 17 years at Laguna Seca, which was removed from the 2020 schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many drivers testing the limits around the 11-turn natural terrain layout, there were several off-road excursions that also included Rossi, Helio Castroneves (who briefly got stuck in gravel), Dalton Kellett and Callum Ilott.

Scott McLaughlin also appeared to stall slightly off course as time expired in the session.

There will be another practice at 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday before qualifying at 5:05 p.m. ET (Peacock Premium).

Josef Newgarden leads eventful opening IndyCar practice at Laguna Seca originally appeared on NBCSports.com