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Frenchman fastest at Indy practice

– Simon Pagenaud already has one Indianapolis victory in his pocket. He may soon be in position to win the second of this month’s triple crown.

Four days after becoming the first IndyCar driver to win a road race at the famous speedway, the Frenchman jumped to the top of the speed chart on one of the strangest practice days in memory. Pagenaud turned a fast lap of 226.122 mph Wednesday – becoming the first driver to top 226 mph this week – after track officials extended practice by one hour.

“It’s always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying,” Pagenaud said in his normally understated tone. “That would be great, but the car is fantastic. I’m very happy.”

On Wednesday, rain washed out the first five hours of practice. Track officials, using the flexibility gained when Indiana went to daylight saving time in 2005, added the extra hour.

Pagenaud made the most of it by beating out American J.R. Hildebrand for the top spot. Hildebrand was second at 225.854.

“It’s great to see that the car has the speed in it because at the end of the day you rarely go through practice with guys that are capable of setting those fast times, they end up being the guys that have the quicker cars,” said Hildebrand, who is driving for Ed Carpenter.

“Certainly our focus is trying to make sure not that we put in a big tow lap, but that we can catch up to that guy and pass him, and leapfrog through the next few guys,” Carpenter said.

Here are three other things to know from Wednesday’s practice:

Quick trip

Though 29 cars made it onto the track for practice, one was notably absent: Kurt Busch’s No. 26. With the forecast calling for rain all day Wednesday, the 2004 Cup champion, who is trying to become the fourth driver to complete “the double,” decided to make a quick trip to Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Charlotte.

He is expected to return for Indy practice today and Friday.

Rookie crash

English rookie Jack Hawksworth became the first driver to crash on the oval this month. He spun in the third turn and slammed into the SAFER barrier before stopping in the chute between the third and fourth turns.

Practice was halted after the crash, at 6 p.m., so the SAFER barrier could be repaired. Hawksworth climbed out of the car on his own, was checked at the infield medical center and cleared to drive.

“I have no idea what happened, to be honest. We just went into three and it just snapped, so we’ll have to look into it,” he said.

Weather issues

Rain wiped out almost nine hours of practice time over the past two days, and the weather isn’t expected to get much better until qualifying Saturday.

There’s a 30 percent chance of rain today and a 50 percent chance Friday.

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