After two weekends off, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to action today at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. The scenic 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course offers a little bit of everything from elevation changes and high-speed corners, to tight corners and a challenging entry to pit lane. This is the 39th time that IndyCar will race here, as the second half of the season gets rolling.

In Friday's lone practice session, it was Josef Newgarden that laid down a best lap of 67.054 seconds as the 27 drivers combined to turn 673 laps. The two-time champion led the way for Team Penske as teammates Scott McLaughlin (10th) and Will Power (14th) did not have the same pace.

“The car feels really good,” Josef said. “I think the temperatures definitely made the trap speed low, and it felt very difficult to drive the car today to bring it up to temperature. I’m relatively happy. I think our car was good off the truck.”

Newgarden enters this weekend with all of the momentum. The Penske ace won is coming off his million-dollar win at Road America and is the defending race winner at Mid-Ohio. He won the race from pole position, something that has become a trend here. Four out of the last five races here have been won by the pole sitter, including the last three. That is something to keep in mind for qualifying tomorrow.

Alex Palou is surprisingly still winless this season, after eight races. The reigning series champion was 2nd fastest today, with Chip Ganassi teammate Marcus Ericsson just behind in 4th. Between those two was Felix Rosenqvist, who continues his impressive season in the No. 7 Chevrolet for the Arrow McLaren SP team.

"We did an experiment in that first practice session and it felt pretty good," Felix said. "We just couldn’t get clean runs on the black Firestones. Ending the session P3, I think we were competitive on the red tires. Like always, the session was just messy, so we will go back and see what happened. But this was a positive start to the weekend." Rounding out the top five in practice today was Andretti Autosport's Colton Herta.

Pato O'Ward and Alexander Rossi were not far off in the opening session, with the surprise of the day being David Malukas for Dale Coyne Racing. The rookie continues to impress, once again outperforming his veteran teammate Takuma Sato, who had an off-course excursion late in the session.

There are many drivers that have performed well here over the years, most notably Scott Dixon. The six-time champion has six wins at Mid-Ohio and finished inside the top-five on 12 occasions. Those are staggering numbers but he has just one victory here in the last eight races, and is still searching for his first win this season. Dixon was 9th fastest in practice today.

Power is another guy to monitor, especially tomorrow during qualifying. The veteran is hoping to inch closer to the all-time record for poles, and could very well do that here. Power has started on the front row nine times at Mid-Ohio, which includes five poles. He won this race in 2020, has six total podium results, and has finished 4th three times.

Both Penske and Ganassi will be strong but there will likely be a driver in the Andretti stable to watch, too. Rossi has been running exceptionally well the last few races, and is ready to snap his winless streak that has exceeded three years. After a 5th place finish in the Indy 500, a runner-up result at Belle Isle, and another podium finish at Road America, this could be his week.

Rossi has been very good here, as he boasts the best average finishing position (5.1) among all active drivers. He won this race from pole in 2018 and his last six finishes here are 6th, 1st, 5th, 3rd, 2nd, and 5th. "This break has been nice but it’s time to get back to work at a place where we’ve always been strong," Rossi said. "I'm looking forward to seeing the fans and putting on a show for them."

Outside of those drivers from the "big three" teams, there are a couple of Honda pilots that have had some success around this course. Helio Castroneves (13th) won here twice during his time with Penske, but those wins came more than two decades ago. He hasn't raced here in an IndyCar since 2017 but does have two poles and three additional podium finishes on his resume.

It's hard to forget Graham Rahal's iconic victory here in 2015. The hometown favorite has been extremely fast in his 15 starts at Mid-Ohio. In fact, he has an average finishing position of 5.0 over his last eight starts here. It has been a rough season for the RLL Racing team though, and that continued today as the team’s three drivers were 20th, 22nd, and 24th in today’s practice session.

Sunday's 80-lap race happens to fall on the Independence Day weekend, which gives the event that much more of a celebratory feel to it. The atmosphere is always quite festive at Mid-Ohio, but there is sure to be plenty of fireworks on and off the track.

There were some tense moments in the most recent race at Road America, most notably between Palou and Ericsson. The Ganassi drivers made contact in the opening laps of the race, which knocked Palou out of contention. The Indy 500 winner has apologized for the incident, but also appeared to do nothing wrong in the incident. Ericsson holds a 27-point lead in the championship heading into this weekend.

Another dust up that occurred in Elkhart Lake was the one between Power and Devlin DeFrancesco. The rookie made a mistake and got into the rear of Power's Penske machine, sending him into the concrete wall. Power lost his grip on the top spot in the standings, and was furious at the time of the incident, and has gone as far to say that series officials need to consider parking the Andretti Autosport driver as punishment.

“I think they should park him for a bit,” Power said after the race. “I think that it would be a smart thing and make him think about it, because he didn’t just do it to me. Kyle Kirkwood came up after the race and said, ‘Did DeFrancesco run you off, too?’ So he’s clearly doing it to a lot of people.” Outside of the penalty in the race, no disciplinary action was taken.

The action picks up even more tomorrow with another practice session at 9:30 ET followed by qualifying at 2:45 which will both stream live on Peacock.