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By taking the checkered flag in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway, Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) scored his 10th career Indy car win and the 189th in the illustrious history of Team Penske.

Pagenaud’s teammate Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) followed the Frenchman across the line by 9.1028 seconds, with Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) rounding out the podium.

“Those were the longest 50 laps of my life,” said Pagenaud of his final stint, in which he led after assuming the lead on Lap 137 of 250. “I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it. It was stressful.

“The car was phenomenal. It was an incredible day for the Menards Chevrolet. It’s been a fun day. This is incredible. This is my best win. You need to be so strategic to win on an oval and today was the perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier.”

With the win, Pagenaud jumps into the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead after four of 17 races. He and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Honda), who finished fifth in Saturday’s race and is now second in the title hunt, are the only two drivers to finish in the top five in each of the first four races.

Pagenaud’s win notched a pair of additional milestones for Team Penske. It was the team’s 450th race win in any motorsports form and the team’s 100th Indy car win on an oval.

For Hildebrand, it was his first top-three finish since he was second in the 2011 Indy 500 and his sixth career top-five.

“I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed that we had here in preseason testing,” said Hildebrand, who returned this weekend after missing the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a broken hand. “Team has a great short oval package. I know that from doing some testing last year.

“Excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin’. I mean, I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three, but I think we might have had the best car on the track.”

 

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Drivers stocked with Honda engines and aero kits recorded the six fastest laps of the three-hour evening practice, after Chevrolet drivers nailed down the first four spots in the afternoon session.

Tonight it was Marco Andretti, driving the No. 27 hhgregg Honda for Andretti Autosport, who led the 21-car contingent with a lap of 189.122 mph (19.4541 seconds).

He was followed by another legacy name driver, Graham Rahal, whose best lap was 188.642 mph (19.5036 seconds). Rahal, in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, also logged the fastest lap of any driver tonight without benefit of a tow from a car in front, at 188.098.

“It’s always encouraging (to see your name at the top),” Andretti said. “It’s still early but it’s a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be.”

The contrast in manufacturer showings between the two practices heightens anticipation for tighter competition between the two in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Chevy collected its fifth straight manufacturers’ championship last year, winning 14 of 16 races and 13 of 16 pole positions.

“I think we’re pleased with the performance today,” said Rahal, Honda’s highest placer in points last season in fifth. “Obviously, we have to take into account that it’s a test, but we worked through a lot of stuff. I don’t think we were necessarily looking for speed to be honest with you, so I was a little bit surprised when we went out right away and did that lap time. We actually backed it up again completely on our own at the end of the session.”

Following Andretti and Rahal on the night session speed chart were: Takuma Sato in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (188.088), defending Phoenix Grand Prix race winner Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (187.944), Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda (187.702) and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda (187.488).

JR Hildebrand, in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing entry, was the fastest Chevrolet in the second practice at 187.028, backing up his fourth-place showing in the first session (188.543).

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, set the top lap in the afternoon practice – 190.129 mph – that held up as the best circuit of the day.

“I think we had a pretty good start to today,” said Newgarden, who finished a career-best fourth in the 2016 championship behind the Penske trio who are now his teammates – Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves. “The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start.”

Saturday's final day of the test includes two more sessions, from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET.

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Will Power's No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was riding fine as he enjoyed a Sunday cruise through the Alabama countryside. That was before a punctured tire left the Team Penske driver deflated.

Power led 60 of the first 76 laps in Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First and was comfortably out front. But with 14 laps remaining in the high-speed road race at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske team manager Jon Bouslog gave Power the bad news over the team radio. Computer telemetry revealed his rear tire was losing air pressure fast.

At first, Power didn't want to believe the team's command and said his car felt fine. He was still running “race pace” and staying well ahead of the second-place car driven by teammate Josef Newgarden. But a lap or two later, the telemetry showed the tire had dangerously low air pressure and Power was starting to feel the car “dribble” underneath him like a basketball.

Power pulled into the pits on Lap 77. He finished 14th and continues to take a beating in the Verizon IndyCar Series points, also sitting 14th in the standings after three of 17 races. When Power climbed out of his car after the race, he was visibly angered by the turn of events but quickly realized there was little he could do about it.

“I couldn't believe it,” Power said. “It was such a great car … such a great car! It had so much pace. I felt the tire going down and then it started bottoming more.

“That's five races in a row starting with Watkins Glen last September that we've had bad luck,” said Power, who started the Barber race from the pole position a record fourth time. “I can't believe how bad of a run I'm having.”

Power was hoping he could “will” the air to stay in the tire, but that was only a dream.

“Oh, man, you work so hard for a day like that and then you don't get it,” Power said. “It's so annoying.

“We definitely have what it takes to win, but I just want a good result. I want to finish without an issue. This is just too much.”

Bouslog didn't want to deliver the bad news to his driver but had to in the interest of safety.

“I feel horrible for Will and these guys,” Bouslog said. “From the very first minute of the practice session (Friday), we were good this weekend. Will was focused, the pit stops were great and the strategy was good with these guys.

“It's gut-wrenching. That's why we stayed out (as long as possible). We wanted to make sure it wasn't a (tire pressure monitoring) sensor but they were convinced it was a puncture. It was a slow leak so Will didn't feel it right away. Unless somebody made a big mistake, it was going to be Will's day.”

David Faustino, Power's longtime race engineer, had set up a fantastic car and potentially a winning strategy. Faustino was also deflated after the race.

“We had the best car, for sure, and we executed well and that's not easy here,” Faustino said. “I was proud of what we did to still be leading on the final stint, be able to pull away and pit and stay ahead and all that.

“It's definitely heartbreaking to come down to a small puncture making the difference in a race like that.”

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The newest driver for Team Penske ran the fastest lap this afternoon in the opening session of a two-day Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Phoenix Raceway.

Driving the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, Newgarden’s top lap of 190.129 mph (19.3511 seconds) set the pace as the 21 drivers turned 910 laps in the first of four three-hour practices on the 1-mile oval.

Newgarden, who joined the 14-time Indy car champion Penske outfit this year after finishing fourth in the 2016 championship with Ed Carpenter Racing, said the plan was to use this weekend’s test as another opportunity to get better acquainted with his team.

“For us on the 2 car, we’ve got to really work to just understand our Verizon group with everyone that I’m going to be working with,” said Newgarden. “There’s going to be a lot of changes for me, just moving from a different team to a new group.

“We’ve had a couple days on track already and I think this will be a continuation of what we did back in October. We’ve just got to keep trying to gel with each other, figuring out what I need from the car, figuring out how I communicate and how they communicate. That will just get better the more time we have.”

Newgarden’s former boss, Ed Carpenter, was second fastest in the session with a lap of 189.990 mph (19.3652 seconds) in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. Will Power was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy (188.637 mph) ahead of JR Hildebrand (188.543), who replaced Newgarden this year in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy for ECR.

Alexander Rossi, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, was the fastest Honda driver and fifth overall in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts entry for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian (187.611).

The open test resumes with a three-hour evening session from 8-11 p.m. ET today, with two more sessions scheduled for Saturday.

 

 

 

         

 

 

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