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Josef Newgarden suspects that strong winds were the main culprit in Friday's incident-laden Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions at Barber.

The afternoon session in particular was interrupted by crash-induced red flags, while several other drivers also slid off the track but managed to continue without hitting anything.

"Today was very difficult with the wind conditions," said the Team Penske driver, who was fastest in the afternoon, but spun harmlessly at Turn 5 in the morning [main image]. "If you looked at the wind, it was kind of behind us today going into Turn 5, it was behind of going into Turn 12, and that's the most difficult wind direction you're going to drive around here. I think it's going to flip 180 [degrees] tomorrow.

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"We had some other issues going on that we sorted out on the No.1 car, but with the wind added in, it just contributed to the problem, and it made it tough for everybody. It wasn't easy regardless because of the wind, but then you have some other issues that contribute to it, it can make it really nasty. So T5 was tough today. Anywhere the wind was behind you, it was just tough.

"I think everyone will actually have a little easier time driving tomorrow. Hopefully that means less reds and yellow flags, but like you said, you've just got to prepare for that, so we'll try and stay on top of it."

The prospect of more favorable conditions for qualifying tomorrow could prove to be significant, with Sunday's forecast of rain putting even more of a premium on securing a good grid spot than usual.

"We'll need more changes with this [aero package] for the rain because it's got a lot less downforce," Newgarden said.

"You've got a lot less blanket on top of you pushing you to the ground. I think traction will be a problem with the rain. You've really got to prioritize braking and acceleration. I think those are the types of things we'll be looking for for the rain, and starting up front is critical, so we've got to try and be as close to the pole position, if not right on it. That'll be our priority. That's what we were doing today, is just trying to work on the qualifying car because it looks like rain on Sunday."

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The last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ran at Richmond Raceway, the event was dominated by Martin Truex Jr.

Truex didn't claim the checkered flag but he'll have a great starting spot when he tries again Saturday night – the pole. The reigning series champion was fastest in the first round and then the final round of qualifying, winning the pole with a lap of 123.859 mph.

The pole is the 18th of Truex's career and his third this season.

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"It's been a crappy two weeks, but that's part of racing," said Truex of his 37th and 30th place finishes at Texas and Bristol. "This team, I've got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we're doing, you can't let those things get you down. It's nothing we did, it was just circumstances.

"Proud of the effort today, everybody did a great job. We stayed focus on our plan and it worked out. So, just proud of everybody and hopefully we'll have a great run tomorrow night."

Chase Elliott will start second following a lap of 123.621 mph, which earned him his best starting spot at Richmond.

Completing the top five were defending race winner Joey Logano (123.581 mph), Denny Hamlin (123.542 mph), and Kyle Larson (123.220 mph).

The rest of the top 10 were Kurt Busch (122.900 mph), Erik Jones (122.872 mph), Jamie McMurray (122.828 mph), William Byron (122.811 mph), and Kevin Harvick (122.805 mph).

Drivers eliminated the second round of qualifying included Ryan Blaney (13th), Jimmie Johnson (17th), rookie Daniel Hemric (22nd) and Austin Dillon (23rd).

Other notables in the field: Brad Keselowski will start 28th and Kyle Busch 32nd.

NEXT UP: The Toyota Owners 400 at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

JGS 2018 BARBER 61212 1aJosef Newgarden and Spencer Pigot led Chevrolet to the two fastest laps in Friday afternoon's second Verizon IndyCar Series practice session at Barber Motorsports Park.

Following an off-course excursion Friday morning, Newgarden bounced back with a lap of 1m07.4345s for Team Penske, putting him just over 0.1s clear of Ed Carpenter Racing's Pigot.

"Good session for us," enthused Pigot. "I really like the flowing nature of this track. I've won here four times (in the Mazda Road to Indy) so obviously I like this place."

Sebastien Bourdais, third-fastest overall, kept the Honda camp in the mix with a 1m17.7971s in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing entry. But for many, the challenge appeared to be less about posting competitive lap times, and more about simply staying on the track in the first place.

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Juncos rookie Rene Binder tore the nose off his car when he sailed into the Turn 16 tire wall, bringing out a red flag with about seven minutes left on the clock. Andretti's Zach Veach also caused a stoppage when he went off at Turn 5, as did 2016 Barber winner Simon Pagenaud, whose crash at the same spot sidelined him from the final 20 minutes of the session.

Several others were lucky to escape similar fates, with Ryan Hunter-Reay distinguishing himself with a particularly lurid slide through the grass in the final minutes from which he emerged unscathed.

Robert Wickens, meanwhile, managed just five laps before being parked with a water leak in his No. 16 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Honda.

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Robert Wickens watched most of Friday's second practice session from the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports timing stand after an engine issue sidelined his No. 6 Honda. The Canadian rookie was only able to turn five laps before a water leak was found, and with a related loss of water pressure, the 28-year-old parked his car before something catastrophic took place.

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"If there's no water in the engine, then it overheats and then it blows up, so we took precautions to keep the engine alive," he told IndyCar Radio.

Among the more impressive items from the second practice was Wickens' pace in those five early laps. His SPM entry sat inside the top 10 for most of the session, and was only relegated to a final position of 16th when drivers went out on low fuel and new tires to conduct qualifying simulations. Wickens' countryman and teammate James Hinchcliffe turned 21 laps in the sister No. 5 Honda and was 18th fastest.

"You have an hour [of] Free Practice 2 here in Barber and we did two competitive lap times," he added. "We're just watching everyone else improve their cars and do better, so it's pretty disappointing."

If there is one place that could stop the roll Kyle Busch has been on it would be Richmond Raceway.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series point leader knows it too, as Busch expressed that he felt okay, not great, after two practice sessions Friday. The feel Busch had for years early in his career when coming to this short track, which often led to domination, is still missing.

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"Just a little bit too much slipping and sliding for our liking, but we'll see if ours is any less than anybody else out there that we can be one of the best cars for the race Saturday night," said Busch.

Busch's numbers at Richmond read like a book with two chapters.

In his first 15 races (spring 2005 through spring 2012) Busch scored three victories and 13 top-10 finishes. In that time frame Busch led nearly 900 laps.

However, in the ten races since Busch has been shut out of the winner's circle with five top-10 finishes and only 166 laps led.

"Success is almost forgotten it's been so long ago, so we certainly want to get back to our winning ways and doing a better job of being up front and winning here at Richmond," Busch said. "We're just kind of missing a little bit.

"There were some rule changes years ago that had some things kind of taken away from our camp, and things that we were doing that made us a little bit better than our competition and we haven't quite figured out what was left in order to make ourselves better than the tools that we had at that time, so still some work to do."

While much has been made about Kevin Harvick's fast start that saw him reel off three consecutive wins, Busch has been the driver hot on his tail.

"Man, I think we're pretty equal honestly," said Busch. "I think I've got to give them the nod a little bit. I think they're a little bit better than we are. I think [Kyle] Larson's right there as well, too. I think he may actually be in the mix as well; the 42 was strong last week. I think the 42 is strong this week – he's the fastest car certainly on the short run in practices thus far here at Richmond.

"It's going to be a fight to the end, you know?"

Busch enters Saturday night off two straight Cup victories and seven consecutive top-seven finishes. And even with a 25th-place finish in the Daytona 500 – the only time Busch has failed to finish in the top 10 – he still has a remarkable 5.4 average finish on the season.

"I think we kind of saw the guys, the main players rise to the top last year through the end of the regular season and through the playoffs and I think those same guys are kind of the guys right now with some few more mixed in," said Busch. "I think Denny's [Hamlin] getting better.

"I think Kurt's [Busch] getting better. I think a couple of the Hendrick cars will start showing their speed here probably in the next three months or so I would predict. And we'll see what happens with how it goes down between now and then."

Scott Dixon admits that he's still adapting to the off-season changes at Chip Ganassi Racing, which downsized from four cars to two and hired Ed Jones to replace departing veteran Tony Kanaan during the winter.

The reduced car count translates to less data to draw upon during a race weekend, which Dixon concedes is a relative disadvantage, although he said that loss is offset by gains in other areas. But the four-time champion believes that the contrast between the personalities of his new teammate and his previous ones has been almost as jarring.

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"It's been an interesting off-season to say the least, downsizing from four cars to two, to having a very loud teammate like TK across the other side of the engineering table, to Ed, who's very quiet, pretty laid-back. If he was any more laid-back, I think he would fall over," Dixon said.

"It's definitely a different vibe. It's a change in environment. I think it's been good for him and myself to get up to speed with a new teammate, to have it on a one-on-one situation. I miss the group of four. I miss my teammates from last year. But Ed has been a great addition, and we've already seen some good results from him, and look forward to seeing some more come through to the end of the season."

Stylistically, the loss of an animated character like Kanaan has also forced a change in working style inside the team.

"As I mentioned, it's very quiet in the engineering office now, so I would see that as a positive," Dixon continued. "But I also miss the noises of TK and the faces and him taking the mickey out of everybody the whole time.

"There's pros and cons on both sides. The information flows a little bit quicker [now], but there's only two cars. The disadvantage is, I really enjoyed looking through three other car sets of information throughout a weekend. There was a lot of stuff to consume, and every driver does... whether good or bad, they do something a little bit different that you can try and hone in on, which I think helps."

With Jones still very much in his settling-in phase at Ganassi, Dixon said it will take time for the pair to find a rhythm in working together. His benchmark is the relationship he developed with Dario Franchitti, with whom he was partnered at Ganassi for six years.

"The first part of the season is always a little bit tough," Dixon said. "You're trying to find patterns. I think the best home for our team, at least for the pattern side of it, was Dario and myself. I'd say right now we're kind of on the early stages. Ed is coming from a team that had very different setups, and he's trying to work through that himself. I think he's had good feedback. But yeah, just very early stages."

Dixon and Jones go into this weekend's race at Barber sitting sixth and ninth respectively in the points, with Jones having scored the team's highest 2018 finish to date when he crossed the line in third at Long Beach last Sunday.

 ONZ4901gRenault will look to introduce an upgrade to its power unit "as late as possible" due to the restrictions on new components in 2018.

Having been allowed to use four of any component during last season, this year those limits have been reduced to three of the internal combustion engine (ICE), MGU-H and turbocharger. On top of that, only two of the MGU-K, energy store and control electronics are allowed for the full season, limiting the amount of performance upgrades that can be introduced without penalty.

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Renault allowed its customer teams to use more power over one lap at the Chinese Grand Prix, and managing director Cyril Abiteboul says an improvement in race performance from the hardware will have to wait for an upgrade.

"Yes, absolutely [there was a step], but it's more in qualifying than in the race," Abiteboul told RACER of the performance boost in China. "So that's something that maybe helped everyone on Saturday but that's not in the race. The improvement in race trim will come a bit later in the season, in particular with power unit number two."

Asked if the second power unit was likely to be introduced in Canada, Abiteboul replied: "As late as possible.

"Equally, I want some performance as soon as possible but obviously with the sporting regulations you want to introduce your power unit number two as late as possible. But before that we will be able to talk a little bit more about fuel and these types of things, because you can change fuel so that may be coming a bit earlier than that."

1015107874 LAT 20180414 31I95275With Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claiming a spare power unit was not ready for his team after Daniel Ricciardo's turbo failure in FP3 in China – something he attributed to a shortage of spare parts at this stage of the season – Abiteboul clarified: "No, there is absolutely no shortage.

"No, no, no. We are just making sure to have the best parts available when we fit an engine into a chassis. Let's be clear, we were not expecting to have any particular problems at this point of the season, that's why sometimes it requires a bit of juggling around between the different customer teams; but we have done that precisely to make sure he has the best hardware currently available."

open uri20120930 9228 s7lp3fTicket demands for IndyCar's return to Portland International Raceway have skyrocketed during their first week of sales.

According to event promotor Green Savoree Racing Promotions – and numerous fans who've reported large blocks of prime seating have been sold while trying to secure their tickets – reception to the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Grand Prix of Portland has surpassed internal projections.

"The Grand Prix of Portland launched advance three-day tickets and passes, plus the RV Club, on Monday, and so far sales have exceeded our team's expectations," Jerry Jensen, general manager of Grand Prix of Portland, told RACER. "RV spaces sold out within hours of going on sale, and we're looking at adding additional spaces to accommodate fans who are on the waiting list."

More than a decade has passed since Indy cars visited the Pacific Northwest. Once a staple on the sporting calendar, the CART IndyCar Series and its successor, the Champ Car World Series, made annual stops at Portland dating back to the 1980s and on most occasions, a large fan base turned out to watch the open-wheel cars and stars.

With a long gap since the last Champ Car race was held in Portland back in 2007 (pictured), concerns were held as to whether new and former fans would show an interest in the Verizon IndyCar Series and its Labor Day weekend event. Based on a busy opening week of ticket sales, it would appear those fears were unfounded.

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"Our due diligence told us clearly that the Portland market had strong demand for the return of Indy car racing," said Kevin Savoree, whose company also promoted the St. Petersburg, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio races. "This first week on sale, it seems that we're off to a great start in Portland setting a single-day record for our company for advance sales across our family of events!

"The Verizon IndyCar Series has a strong field of teams and drivers. The new 2018 [bodywork] has produced three different winners in the first three races, and the 102nd Indy 500 is just weeks away. The Grand Prix of Portland is going to be an important race in the championship sitting as the next to last round on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar."

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