Will Power, Scott McLaughlin, and Josef Newgarden sent a message on Friday that Team Penske has every intention of winning Saturday’s 250-lap race at Iowa Speedway.
Newgarden was among the fastest in the 26-car field for most of the 90-minute session — the only practice on the schedule for the doubleheader — and he was usurped by Power, who set the bar with a 173.285mph lap in his No. 12 Chevy and remained at the top for the duration. McLaughlin followed Power moments later with a best lap of 173.083mph that was good enough for third; Newgarden’s quick lap of 171.557mph set on his fourth tour stood strong and was still good for seventh at the checkered flag.
With impound rules governing Saturday’s activities, drivers are forced to start the race with whatever chassis setup was chosen for the morning qualifying session. As a result, most teams focused on finding the best race setup instead of chasing ultimate speed that would make the car perfect for qualifying but undrivable for two hours of racing.
“I think we’re in the window,” Power said. “Obviously, a lot of good cars and drivers, so you’re never going to predict who is going to be where. I’m hoping to finally have a good qualifying — at least start at the front. I feel good about the car.”
For most of the 90-degree afternoon, the incident-free session was led by Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly. His 173.239mph run in the No. 20 Chevy ended up being good for second after Power displaced the field as Bowtie-powered cars went 1-2-3.
Fourth belonged to Alex Palou, fastest of the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers with a 172.764mph lap in his No. 10 Honda. Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward was fifth in the No. 5 Chevy at 172.687mph and the top six was completed by CGR’s Marcus Ericsson in the No. 8 Honda with a 171.819mph run.
As most of the front-running drivers felt confident about their cars going into Saturday, some were perplexed by their lack of pace. Teams will work late into the night to find improvements to apply for qualifying, but with no opportunity to try those setup changes before the grid is set or prior to the race, whatever’s done to the car heading into qualifying is what the struggling drivers will be stuck with when it’s time to go racing.
“It was a tough first session,” Alexander Rossi said of his 20th-place Andretti Autosport Honda. “We’re not even in the window, to be honest. We have some work to do overnight. This was our only practice session, and we go straight into qualifying tomorrow. It’s a parc ferme race so it could be a struggle tomorrow.”
The session opened with the customary practice of teams sending their drivers out to perform an installation lap before all 26 entries pitted and sat for varying lengths of time. After 30 minutes, Daly was the fastest with a 173.239mph lap in his No. 20 car and most drivers had turned between 15-30 laps which flash by in less than 19 seconds for most of the field.
Daly set the lap on his first run, as did Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal, who followed behind in second and third, which held through the halfway point in the session. There was little in the way of movement as teams concentrated on race setups, but once the shift to qualifying simulations was made, Palou jumped up to second with 35 minutes to go. O’Ward was next, taking second from Palou.
At 26 minutes remaining, Jimmie Johnson shot to sixth, and when it reached 20 to go, Power took and held the top spot with a 173.285mph and teammate Scott McLaughlin climbed to third just before the track went yellow to wait for a fox to make its way across the track and clear the circuit.
UP NEXT: Qualifying, 10:30 a.m. ET