There's something to this kid from Nashville, Josef Newgarden.
In a late afternoon festival of drafting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the rookie was first to crack the 222-mph barrier, speeding to 222.486 with a massive tow on his 41st of 47 total laps for the afternoon.
Driving the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dollar General Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car, Newgarden was one of 29 drivers on the 2.5-mile oval track this afternoon during the traditional six-hour session in preparation for the 96th Indianapolis 500.
He led several times, as more than half a dozen drivers took a spot at the top of the leader board, six of them alone during the final, "happy hour" period.
"It's another strong day," said the 2011 Firestone Indy Light champion. "We're stepping through it each time and we have a lot more to go still. We've obviously got a good car; we've come out really strong, as well and really, we just need to maintain that."
On the third day of practice, it was the first time drivers went out in packs; there were a total of 1199 laps completed, but neither Simona de Silvestro nor either of the two Dragon Racing cars (for Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge) made an appearance.
Jean Alesi prepares for practice - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
Significantly, Jean Alesi passed his third phase of the Rookie Orientation Program, putting together 15 laps of 210-mph or better, in his No. 64 Lotus-powered Dallara--albeit with some help from the Team Penske trio who were lapping around the same time.
"I am finally beginning to understand why so many of my friends who raced here over the years were always so excited. I want to put on a good show for the Indy fans, so I am attempting to stay 100 percent focused on my task which is, of course, to make the car go as fast as possible," he said.
The first engine failure of the meeting came when Graham Rahal's Honda let go shortly after 4PM.
He'd been using the same engine in his No. 38 NTB Ganassi Racing car since the start of the season and it was jut 75-100 miles from being changed out; the team said he'd have to do a 10-place penalty at the Detroit Grand Prix for the failure, as no one is receiving the 10-spot penalty for Indy.
Behind Newgarden came Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, powered by Chevrolet. " Everybody is trying to run in groups and get that feel for the car in traffic, and I think we accomplished that today with the (No. 28) DHL Sun Drop car," Hunter-Reay said of his 221.629-mph lap. Andretti added: "When we went out to do our race simulation runs, there's a lot of tag-a-longs," after turning 221.519 in his No. 26 Team RC Cola Chevy.
Quietly, Scott Dixon has been sneaking up the speed charts and was fourth today at 221.499 in the No. 9 Target Honda, the final driver in the 221-mph range. After experiencing some earlier damper issues and stated, "We came out for our last run just after 5p.m. and went through another sequence of mechanical and damper items, and that was it."
The balance of the top ten were Sebastian Saavedra's No. 17 AFS/Andretti Autosport Chevy, JR Hildebrand's No. 4 National Guard Chevy, Dario Franchitti in the second, No. 50 Target Honda, Oriol Sevia's Panther/DRR Chevy, Takuma Sato's Rahal Letterman Lanigan No. 15 Honda and the no longer clean-shaven No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevy of James Hinchcliffe.
With nothing but good, sunny and warm weather forecast through the end of the week (including Pole and Bump Days), everyone has plenty of time to practice and practice well. Boost goes up for Fast Friday and for qualifying days.