Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Team Penske pressure and A.J. Foyt’s return

Team Penske has won the Grand Prix eight times.
IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden walks towards pit row before a practice session. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden walks towards pit row before a practice session. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 8

ST. PETERSBURG — As if Team Penske needed any more pressure at one of its best tracks, there’s this: Penske’s NASCAR team has won back-to-back races and eight of the last 15.

“Yes, we are aware of it,” Penske driver Josef Newgarden said.

It wouldn’t be a surprise for Newgarden and his teammates to match or top what Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have done in the other series.

Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud all finished in the top six in points last season, and Penske has dominated the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The team has won the event eight times, and Power will be gunning for his eighth pole since 2010 during Saturday’s qualifying.

[ RELATED: View a gallery of photos from the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ]

Foyt back

Racing legend A.J. Foyt is back at the track to watch his drivers (Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan) for the first time since having back surgery and a staph infection in July.

“I feel pretty good,” the 84-year-old said. “I’m not a t100 percent, but I’m a good 85 or 90.”

Foyt, who attended the Daytona 500, will be at his first IndyCar race since the June 24 Grand Prix at Road America.

[ RELATED: What you need to know if you’re attending the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ]

Carlin adds O’Ward

Carlin officially announced that reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward will run the team’s second car for 11 IndyCar races this season, starting with the next event at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in two weeks. Veteran Charlie Kimball will drive the team’s No. 23 Honda this weekend.

O’Ward was scheduled to drive the second car for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, but that deal fell through last month.

New Port Richey native RC Enerson tested with Carlin recently and had hoped to take the partial ride.

[ RELATED: Left paralyzed by a fiery crash, Robert Wickens aims to drive again ]

He said it

“That was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life. Literally you feel like you're playing with the team, which was very scary. They're very, very good at what they do, NHL players. A lot of respect for hockey out there.” – Newgarden on going behind the glass at a recent Nashville Predators game with NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire

Practice notes

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest time of the day (1:00.8969), just ahead of Windermere native Spencer Pigot. Marco Andretti, rookie Colton Herta and Max Chilton rounded out the top five.

Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist was the fastest in the morning session (1:01.8215), with Hunter-Reay second.