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Josef Newgarden spins but leads IndyCar practice at Barber to punctuate tumultuous day

Shaking off a sleepless night, a tumultous week and a lack of testing at Barber Motorsports Park, Josef Newgarden turned the fastest lap in the opening NTT IndyCar Series practice Friday — two days after his victory in the season opener was stripped.

The Team Penske driver started his day with an emotional news conference, taking the blame but also claiming he thought his infraction (using push to pass on restarts) had been legalized this season.

"Definitely the best medicine in the world for someone like me," Newgarden told NBC Sports' Dillon Welch. "It’s just great to be out here. Good to turn laps. I was a litte off my game in the beginning for sure. I dropped a wheel, made a mistake and threw away a set of tires, which is unfortunate. We just kept going and came up with a new plan.

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nbc_indy_newgardenpresser_240426.jpg

‘I’m not a liar': Emotional Josef Newgarden ‘failed team miserably'; apologizes for ‘embarrassing’ IndyCar

Two-time IndyCar champion says he was unaware using push to pass on restarts was illegal at the time he did it.

"The positive thing is the car was really fast right away. Even when I made the mistake, I said I think the car was coming to me there. I felt really good and felt I had a good read right away. This team has done a great job. I love being here with the 2 car group. They’re great at what they do, give me a lot of confidence. I feel good about things."

His performance was a bit of a surprise given that Newgarden had woken up at 3 a.m. anxious about addressing the news media for the first time since his massive penalty.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric told NBC Sports before practice that the team expected to be "behind the 8-ball" because other teams had tested at Barber this year. Cindric also expected Newgarden to be worn out and "not in the best physical and mental condition" after a stressful 48 hours.

But it seemed to have little effect as Newgarden led the practice with a 1 minute, 6.7045-second lap around the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course.

Pato O'Ward, who was moved up a spot and declared the winner of the season opener when Newgarden was disqualified from St. Pete, turned the second-fastest lap, followed by Penske's Will Power.

IndyCar: Streets of St. Petersburg - Practice & Qualifying
IndyCar: Streets of St. Petersburg - Practice & Qualifying

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Many drivers don’t feel much sympathy for the two-time series champion.

Newgarden served a 5-minute penalty for causing a red flag 14 minutes into the session with his spin in Turn 15, but the three-time winner at Barber quickly found his groove again.

"You drop a wheel up top there, it can be difficult to save it," said the two-time series champion, who earned his first career IndyCar victory at Barber in 2015. "I didn’t save it. I just got too wide and didn’t see where I was. I was too conscious of it the next time. I was just trying to watch where I was placing the car, but this track is always on the limit. It’s one of my favorites for that.

"Barber is high speed, and you have to be so good through the corners. You have to be committed. The car has to be on the edge to be fast. I love the challenge of it."

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nbc_indyowardintv_220501.jpg

IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park: How to watch on NBC, start times, schedules, streaming

After an eventful week and a jumble in the championship standings, the NTT IndyCar Series will hold its first road course points race of the season.