Final Gateway practice more than a passing fancy

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MADISON, Illinois – Two things were learned in tonight’s final practice for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline: The Team Penske cars are still fast in race conditions and there will be passing opportunities in Saturday’s race under the lights at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Championship leader Josef Newgarden (pictured above) paced the final 65-minute practice on the 1.25-mile oval, with the 21 cars turning a total of 1,536 laps. Driving the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden clocked a best lap of 184.079 mph (24.4460 seconds).

BOMMARITO AUTOMOTIVE GROUP 500: Final practice results; Combined practice results

Will Power, Newgarden’s teammate who won the pole in Verizon P1 Award qualifying earlier this evening, was third fastest at 183.295 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Another Team Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, was fourth in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet (183.079 mph).

Alexander RossiBreaking up the Penske parade up front was Ed Carpenter, who wound up second in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet (183.345 mph) for the team bearing his name. Carpenter believes he can compete with the Penske quartet in the race, but knows it must be a flawless effort from the No. 20 crew.

“There were times in that session where we had a P2 car, and there were other times where it didn’t feel like it,” Carpenter said. “I think a lot of it’s going to be making the right decisions for the start of the race and being able to adapt to it as the night goes on. Certainly I think we’re in the window, it’s just going to come down to making the right calls and strategy downforce-wise, and seeing where we end up.”

Team Penske swept the top four positions in qualifying. Newgarden, who will start alongside pole sitter Power on the front row, holds an 18-point lead over Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing heading into Saturday’s race. Dixon will start the race seventh and ran sixth in the final practice. The four-time series champion isn’t certain if a second racing line will develop on the recently repaved Gateway track but said there are still opportunities to overtake.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda. “I need to talk to Helio. I think he tried to go on the high side once in (Turns) 3 and 4 when I came out of the pits and it looked like he got really loose.

“I think the way and configuration of the track lets you get a good run out of (Turn) 2 and slipstream all the way up to (Turn) 4 and duck down in (Turn) 4 and get a good run to Turn 1. I think there are some passing opportunities, definitely a lot more than we had at Phoenix.”

Tonight’s session was the last before Saturday’s race. Teams and drivers will participate in a pit stop practice/competition at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday, with the crew posting the fastest time through pit lane including a four-tire change earning prizes and being introduced with their driver in prerace ceremonies. The session streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Live race coverage begins at 9 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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