INSIGHT: Newgarden, 2 crew in perfect sync

On the days where Josef Newgarden has lacked front-running pace, his Team Penske pit crew, engineers, and strategists have lifted the NTT IndyCar Series points leader to impressive heights.

A three-time race winner from nine rounds in 2019, Newgarden’s five podium visits have, at times, had more to do with the No. 2 Chevy’s supporting cast than the young star working the steering wheel and pedals.

Motivated by a team-first approach, the 2017 IndyCar Series champion hails his race strategist, Penske president Tim Cindric; his race engineer Gavin Ward; crew chief Travis Law; and everyone attached to the effort that has the Tennessee native positioned to vie for his second IndyCar title.

“These guys are incredible. They really are,” he said. “Tim is the man. In my opinion, he’s one of the best, if not the best, strategists on pit lane; and we have the entire crew to support that, whether it’s the engineers that are pitching in and helping create those decisions or the team executing on pit lane — everything that we’re doing, we’re really in lockstep.”

Newgarden’s win Saturday night’s DXC 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was another strategy-fueled effort where the No. 2 Chevy employed an alternate approach to pit stop timing that allowed the 28-year-old to pounce late in the 248-lap event.

“Honestly, we game-out everything before the race, as much as we can,” he explained. “You have to adjust. There’s always changes. You can’t be locked into one thing or another. But we try and look at everything that could possibly happen, and then we have some scenarios put in place. The really cool thing is, when we have all our strategy meetings, for the most part, what we talk about generally comes to fruition. It’s crazy.

“I don’t know how this always happens, but we will talk through some different scenarios and most of the time one of the scenarios we talk about ends up happening. So we end up following the procedure that we laid out beforehand and it just ends up working out.

“The preparation is incredible and the guys executing and their ability to adjust on the fly when they need to and they see something happen such as a caution or whatever it is — they’re just so good at adjusting and making the right call. This year they’ve just nailed it.

“I hope that we don’t change,” Newgarden continued. “I hope they continue to have their mojo because they have been on it and I’ve just been trying to do my part as well to support that. So far it has been clicking fantastically this year.”

Creeping into the conversation after Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Scott Dixon led the majority of the Texas race, Newgarden takes much delight in playing the role of spoiler.

“Well, first off, what I love is, I think we continue to surprise people in races, which is great,” he admitted. “That actually puts a smile on my face because we go about our work very well, but we’re a little bit stealthy by doing it. I can tell you this, though: If you want to know how, it’s all out there in detail. If you go look at the analytics, it is there to be seen and you will understand easily why we were able to do what we did.

“It starts with having a fast car — you’ve got to be quick at the right points in that race. What we did strategy-wise, and where we positioned ourselves from a fuel standpoint on our second-to-last pit stop, enabled us to be in a position when everyone pitted to run quick laps; to have the best in-lap; to have the best pit stop; and then to leapfrog to the front and just capitalize on that attack mode.

“We were willing to attack when everyone was on defense, trying to make enough fuel.”

Once the No. 2 Chevy was out front, Newgarden wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to stay there. The misfortune of another contender and a lack of grip in the second lane would eventually tip the win in his favor.

“With Rossi on the restart, it really started with Scott Dixon,” he said. “And I was very nervous about that. Normally, when the weather cools off and the cars become draggier, that’s when it’s very difficult to hold people back — especially on a restart — and I was really nervous with both Dixon and Rossi, once we got going, if I was going to be able to hold them going into Turn 1. Fortunately, we held just enough to where it didn’t become a problem.

“But, Alex was so good that night and so was Dixon,” Newgarden reflected. “If Dixon hadn’t got caught up in the incident with Colton , then I think it would have been a battle with him. And Colton and Rossi — I mean, it just would have been hard to hold anybody off. But our car out front was where it needed to be. In traffic, we suffered a little bit more than others, but out front, our car was very good. And as long as no one cleared me then I thought we were going to be just fine.”

 

Robin Miller’s Mailbag for June 12, presented by Honda Racing / HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Just wanted to point out for all of us die-hards who love to bitch over the last few decades that Texas ended with American drivers P1 through P5. The racing was awesome and it was not a pack race. Amazing performance for an American rookie who could have easily won (Herta). Another solid drive from another American rookie (Ferrucci). Great rivalry brewing between two American drivers who are now veterans and have another decade (at least) of racing against each other (Newgarden and Rossi). And even Marco finished in the top 10!

Clint, Chicago

RM: I was getting ready to interview Graham Rahal on NBCSN after the race and he looked up at the scoring tower and said: “Americans sweep the top 5, when’s the last time we saw that? Very cool.” Well the last time, according to NBC stat guru Russ Thompson, was in the next-to-last IRL race of 2001, when it was Jaques Lazier, Sam Hornish, Eddie Cheever, Jeff Ward and Donnie Beechler. Now Wardy was born in Scotland but grew up in California, so I count him as an American. If you don’t count him as a Yank then it was Gateway the race before, with Al Unser Jr., Mark Dismore, Hornish, Cheever and Robbie Buhl.

Q: Scatter-shooting after attending Saturday’s race: Herta made a fan out of me, having the only stones in the field to use the outside of Turns 1&2. Scratching my head why Rossi didn’t at least try it once versus Newgarden in the late stages? Dixon/Herta was a 50/50 deal, but surprised Dixon conceded the way he did and Herta took little to zero fault for it. Much better race than last year, hope everyone enjoyed it. We need more ovals in the series. Aren’t you glad the FIA doesn’t officiate IndyCar?

Aron Morgan

RM: Herta is something else and was the star of the show, but he and Dixie were racing hard, going for the same spot, and it was avoidable but more of a racing accident than anyone’s fault. Rossi would have tried but never got a good enough run going into Turn 1. That b.s. call in the F1 race made me wish A.J. would have been in Vettel’s place, or at least owned his car. Can you imagine that post-race interview and podium ceremony?

Q: I thought the race at Texas was one of the best of the year. Colton Herta was doing some unbelievable passes until the contact with Dixon. What is it about Texas that seems to make exciting racing more often than not?

John Montgomery, Medford, OR

RM: The corners are a little more open than some 1.5-mile ovals and a second groove is usually possible, but Texas seems to bring out the aggression in drivers when it gets dark. And most seemed to think IndyCar’s aero change made for a good show. It wasn’t non-stop passing like the Hanford Device or stuck together like a pack race, you had to get your car working or take some chances (or both) to make passes.

Q: That was other solid race between Herta and Dixon. No one cut the other off, it was a fair fight. Respect to the two that race insane speeds. So to the point, IndyCar is just insanely good, but what do you think about Herta and Dixon?

Paul Angel

RM: I guess Colton could have backed off or Scott could have moved up, but then that kinda defeats the purpose of going for it, doesn’t it?

Q: Miller you have preached for years IndyCar needs a big rivalry. Right now it looks like Rossi vs. Penske. That’s OK, but I’m starting to see Rossi vs. Newgarden. It is becoming pretty clear that this will be the championship fight. If Penske is not able to steal Rossi, we could have a long-term rivalry. Newgarden impresses me more and more every week. Yes he drives for the best team, but no matter what issues the team is having, he ends up a factor in the end. I had to go back and re-watch the race again just to understand how he pulled out the win. Yes, it was a great call from the team to get him in position to have a chance, but it was his driving and refuse-to-lose attitude that won it.

I think the front-runners really overlooked him since he had not been running with them throughout the entire race. Very impressed with the rookies. Ferrucci with another great run. Herta, wow, Andretti had better go find some money. Ericsson is starting to find his stride. Lastly, a big shout-out to Conor Daly. I’m sure he is not happy with how the car ran, but to take a car that was not fast enough to qualify for the Indy 500 and finish 11th and only one lap down, that’s like a podium finish in my book. As an IndyCar fan, we can’t ask for much more this season. The racing has been great with plenty of storylines to follow!

J.R. Rouse

RM: That’s why it’s imperative that Rossi stays with Andretti, like I wrote last week – don’t break up the balance of power, and IndyCar needs to hope its current Big 3 lineup stays intact. JoeNew is a threat to win any race, and possesses a great temperament in the car that helps if things are rocky at the start. Daly did a marvelous job under the circumstances, while Ferrucci and Ericsson drove smart and smooth for their first test at Texas.

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MILLER: Time to make the IndyCar/NASCAR double-header a reality

It’s not a pipe dream, or a couple of fans fantasizing, or idle chatter on a radio talk show. It’s a bona-fide concept. And a damn good one.

An IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader is exactly what both series need right now to see if they can restore some life to oval-track racing. Think not? Look at all the empty seats at Bristol, Michigan and Richmond this season for Cup, and last Saturday night’s turnout at Texas for IndyCar.

There is no hiding the fact that the fastest and most exhilarating form of motorsports in this country has lost both its mojo and its box office. Gateway is the only oval in IndyCar to have come along in the past decade that’s managed to draw a good crowd and keep it, while NASCAR’s most impressive turnout is for its road race at Watkins Glen.

Think about that. You can sit anywhere you want at Bristol nowadays for either race, but there’s hardly room to walk, let alone park, at The Glen.

So if nobody shows up for ovals in either camp anymore, what’s the game plan? Keep putting up billboards, printing tickets that don’t get used and hope for a resurgence? Or try something radical? Something, by the way, that your television partner (NBC) thinks is a cool idea.

Sam Flood, the NBC executive producer and president of production, is a fan of the doubleheader concept. From what I’ve been told NASCAR’s Mike Helton is interested, and so is Jeff Behnke, NASCAR’s VP of production for NBC. IndyCar’s Jay Frye has been pushing the idea for a couple years, and it’s his NASCAR connections that have opened people’s minds.

That’s a lot of heavyweights, and NBC spends a lot of money trying to get people interested in motorsports, so maybe both sanctioning bodies should take this seriously.

What are the pitfalls? Well, somebody has to go first, but hell, that’s not a hurdle, that’s a no-brainer. IndyCar runs on a Saturday night under the lights, and NASCAR takes the spotlight on Sunday afternoon.

Where is the best place to pull it off? What track is best suited for a non-stop weekend of action and willing to do it? Even if means changing their date?

Don’t tell me the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that’s a terrible idea if for no other reason than we’ve already got two IndyCar races, and the Brickyard 400 is hardly a showcase for stock cars.

Kentucky, Chicago, Fontana, Charlotte or Richmond could probably work, but what about Gateway? Curtis Francois and Chris Blair do everything gung-ho and they’ve got the best title sponsor in IndyCar, John Bommarito, in their corner. The obvious pitfall is that Cup doesn’t run there yet – just the Truck series.

So an obvious choice would be Texas Motor Speedway.

“It takes all four parties, IndyCar, NASCAR, NBC and the track, and I like the idea,” said Eddie Gossage president of TMS over the weekend. “We’re interested if they’re interested, and I think it would help both series.”

Gossage already has a super ticket in mind. “How about a World of Outlaws show on Thursday or Friday night, Robby Gordon’s trucks, Legends cars, USAC quarter midgets and then cap everything off with IndyCar under the lights and Cup the next day? I think it could be huge.”

‘Huge’ is a relative term these days, but if Texas filled half its 112,000 permanent seats for IndyCar, that would be a great start. In the early IRL era there were 75,000-100,000 fans, but now IndyCar appears to struggle to draw 25,000, and the NASCAR turnout last March at TMS looked like one of the lowest in recent memory, so that could use a boost as well. Gossage would also entertain moving his traditional June IndyCar date to accommodate the NASCAR show.

Obviously, the hook for NBC is that it televises the entire NTT IndyCar Series and half of the NASCAR schedule, so if it did the double, it could televise two races for the price of one, more or less. But only if it could fall in the second half of the NASCAR season, since FOX has the first half.

Of course the slam-dunk promotion would be to have some of your biggest stars trading rides.

The natural double drivers would come from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi since both field cars in IndyCar and NASCAR. Will Power said on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast he’d love to drive a Cup car, and Josef Newgarden echoed that thought last weekend. Not sure if Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski would be up for 215 mph at Texas for 250 laps, but maybe they’d try something tamer like Gateway.

Kurt Busch did a fine job at Indy back in 2013 and Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson belongs in an IndyCar so that’s an easy swap, while IndyCar’s gold standard, Scott Dixon, deserves to get a chance to branch out and try a tin-top.

Texas has the size to easily accommodate both paddocks, and after 31 IndyCar races Gossage needs a fresh angle besides good racing on his high-banked oval. If Richmond gets back on the IndyCar schedule for 2020 then maybe a 2021 twin bill could be possible, and all Gateway needs is a Cup race to pursue a doubleheader.

I can hear all the “experts” already weighing in about why this won’t work because IndyCars are much faster and NASCAR won’t go along with it, but the bottom line is that both series could help each other and draw some national media attention, as well as more eyeballs and maybe a big sponsor.

If it doesn’t work, so be it. But why not try? What would either side be afraid of? Empty seats?

 

INSIGHT: How Carlin is navigating some choppy seas

Trevor Carlin has been navigating the depths of inner resolve since May 19.

With two of his three NTT IndyCar Series entries failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 race, the Briton has recently been thrust into adversity as his sophomore IndyCar team searches for the moorings to stabilize the outfit. Those efforts aren’t proving to be swift or easy.

Known as one of the sport’s biggest characters, Carlin’s been on a mission to quell any concerns regarding the team’s future. With a hand-picked group of talented crew members to support, the business side of the operation is where he and co-owner Grahame Chilton are focusing their energy as the 2019 season reaches its halfway point.

Coming off a promising IndyCar debut in 2018 with two full-time entries for Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, Carlin Racing’s second season has been fraught with frequent change. Heavily rumored during the offseason to be considering a part-time schedule that cleaved the five oval races from his calendar, Chilton confirmed the move on Tuesday, opting to concentrate on the remaining road and street courses. Conor Daly will pilot Chilton’s No. 59 Chevy this weekend on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval; drivers for the Iowa, Pocono, and Gateway ovals have yet to be identified.

Kimball, whose first eight years in IndyCar were fully funded by the same sponsor, entered 2019 with a significant budget reduction, leaving Carlin with a vacancy to fill at approximately 10 of the 17 races. Reigning Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward, whose deal with Harding Steinbrenner Racing fell through shortly before the season-opener, found a perfect opportunity to rebound at Carlin, where he was signed to compete in the majority of the races where Kimball was sidelined.

Having now depleted his small budget, O’Ward competed last weekend at Detroit through the support of Chilton’s sponsor, Gallagher, an insurance company the elder Chilton led through 2018. Without an infusion of cash, or the continued generosity of Gallagher, the young Mexican phenom’s days as an IndyCar driver could be over.

Carrying the weight of multiple problems to solve, Carlin opened the conversation with Max Chilton’s change of direction, and how the life-altering oval crash at Pocono suffered by Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens served as a pivotal moment for the 28-year-old U.K. native.

“To be honest, the Max scenario, we’ve been conscious of it happening for some time,” he told RACER. “Max, he’s a good kid, and Robert Wickens is a great friend of his, and whatever anybody says, Pocono shook an awful lot of people up. And only the real diehard guys would say it didn’t shake them up, because I saw everyone’s faces at the moment, because I was standing there when it happened.

“So Max is brave enough to put his hand up and say that certain circumstances where the risk is massive, the speeds are super-high and certain bits of certain tracks aren’t necessarily as safe as we want them to be. And is it worth the risk? I said to him, mate, if you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it, there’s no need. You’re a young man with a whole life ahead of you. You don’t need to put yourself at risk, and you should never drive a superspeedway race if you’re not sure.

“You need to be 100 percent confident and focused, and driving forward, never, never be ready to lift off and back out of it, because that’s when the accidents happen.”

Attempting to qualify for his fourth Indy 500, Chilton was one of three drivers, including teammate O’Ward, who were bumped from the field of 33 during time trials. Having led 50 laps of the 200-lap race in 2017 at Chip Ganassi Racing on his way to finishing fourth, Chilton’s aptitude on ovals was never in question.

Since coming to the U.S. in 2015 after a lifetime spent in European road racing, Chilton was a quick study in the American oval artform, earning a win at Iowa with Carlin in Indy Lights. Upon his graduation to IndyCar in 2016, three of his four best results have been produced on ovals. Carlin takes umbrage with those who paint Chilton as less brave than others for calling time on oval racing.

“He’s had excellent support, and it took him a while to come to a conclusion,” Carlin continued. “And as it happened, there was a few big wrecks in Indy, but nothing major, and he would have done the race if he had qualified, and I’m sure he would have done a good job. I think he looked slow and hard at it, because he’s not fighting for the championship. He loves doing the road courses, and the street courses, and he loves driving an IndyCar, but he doesn’t see the point in putting himself through the danger.

“So I respect his decision, I think he’s very brave to make it, considering all the trolls are out there and love to dig at certain people in the sport, and I think Max has just done and said what a lot of people are thinking, actually. He’s got the choice, and he’s taking it.”

Carlin says Chilton’s mid-season decision to step away for the ovals will not impact the team’s budget with the No. 59 Chevy. But it leaves the second car shared between Kimball and O’Ward as the ongoing problem to solve.

“Max’s plan doesn’t change anything; the budget’s still secure for this year,” he added. “Charlie’s car was always going to be an issue financially, and at the end of the day, it’s my job to fill the shortfall, and I’m working at it. We’ve had a deal with Pato that’s filled some of the voids. Hopefully we can keep that going. He’s at risk financially, I have to say. It’s not fantastic, but it’s also not disastrous.

“We run the team carefully financially, and we know where we’re placed – we’re not a deep pocket, Penske, Ganassi, Andretti-type team. We’ve always got to be careful. That’s why we don’t have spare cars and all that stuff. We’ve only got one crew of blokes and they’re all at the circuit, there’s no-one back at base. And when we’re racing, everyone’s at the track. Everybody.

“So it’s my job to find the funding and the drivers to help us move forward, and that’s what we’ll keep doing. And I see no reason why we won’t have two cars on the grid every race this year. It keeps us in the game, Leader Circle-wise, for 2020.”

As most teams are concentrating on finding the shortest path to Victory Lane, Carlin, along with a few other IndyCar teams, is trudging through the difficulties of growing a fickle business that’s based on corporate backing and private funding brought by drivers.

IndyCar’s Leader Circle program, which commits just over $1 million to each entry, provided it partakes in every race, is a motivating factor for Carlin to keep both cars on the grid amid rising and plunging fortunes. The desire to run Chilton, Kimball, O’Ward, Daly, and whomever else is needed to trigger Leader Circle contracts for next season speaks to Carlin’s greater ambitions; despite the current dramas, his will to move past the issues and continue racing in IndyCar is resolute.

Looking ahead, it’s hard to predict who will be driving Carlin’s cars at every round in 2019, much less 2020 and beyond. With teams in countless open-wheel categories throughout the world, some of Carlin Racing’s rising talent could make its way to IndyCar, and with an impressive list of alumni – many whom race in Formula 1 – there’s apparently no shortage of offers to step into one of the twin-turbo V6 Chevy-powered machines.

“I get a number of the big high-profile ex-Carlin drivers always asking me about a test and jumping in the seat,” said Carlin, who’s run Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, and both McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris, among others, in junior series.

“Of course, these guys are now paid drivers and they want me to put them in for free and pick them up as paid drivers… And, unfortunately, I’m not quite in that situation to be able to offer that.”

O’Ward, in particular, has demonstrated the team’s potential by out-qualifying many of IndyCar’s title- and Indy 500-winning veterans. Kimball, whose oval prowess is well known, has shown Carlin Racing’s skills in IndyCar’s most unique discipline. There’s plenty of promise to draw from, which should allow Carlin to get the program back on the positive course it was charting prior to Indianapolis.

“We must help ourselves in all areas, primarily with budget,” he said. “There’s a list as long as my arm of drivers that want to come and do it, and they message me and say, ‘Hey Trev, you know, you need somebody, give us a shout.’ These are all good, high-profile drivers who want to come and race IndyCar. So, as I said, it’s my responsibility to find the money, so I can put them in the car. And that’s the approach we are taking.”

Robin Miller’s Mailbag for June 5, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: Another good broadcast by NBC, if you ignore losing the feed. A toast to the director who made the call to go to the in-car camera of Marco Andretti on Saturday after he switched to slicks. That drive had us all on the edge of our seats. People can dog on Marco all they want, but he kept it out of the wall in really tough conditions, which can’t be said of other drivers in dry conditions.

Watching on Sunday, I was happy for Ericsson and the ASPM Team. It led me to think about the performance of the rookies. When you look at the rookie class this year and the equipment they have, I think it really highlights how special Robert Wickens is and the performances he put on last year. What are your thoughts on this year’s rookie class and their performance to date?

John Balestrieri

RM: Like I said in Monday’s column, this rookie class may not rival 1965 (or 1963, which was also stellar) but it’s the youngest, fastest and most promising in a long time. Just look at Ferrucci lately. He and engineer Mike Cannon have obviously clicked and he’s giving Dale Coyne a great ride. I told Juan Pablo Montoya that Pato reminded me of a young JPM, and Colton’s collective cool and savvy is hard to fathom for 19 years old. Felix and Marcus have a lot of experience, but the battle for rookie of the year is shaping up to be a dandy.

Q: I often wonder why they don’t do an oval race the weekend after the Indy 500. I like street courses and road courses, but they can be a bit boring in my opinion. Weren’t IndyCars originally designed to be race cars on oval tracks? Do you see them changing what track they race at on the weekend after the Indy 500 in the future?

Erynn C.

RM: I beat that drum for several years to no avail. Yes, IndyCar should be on an oval right after Indy because you’ve got the momentum of “must-see TV” and a street race just doesn’t keep people engaged. It’s great that Chevy has a home race and R.P. has made Belle Isle a real event, but flipping Texas and Detroit would be my druthers. But, no, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Q: So 200 points have been awarded in the last eight days. Who have you got for the title, Miller? I’ll take Newgarden. I loved you putting the question to Roger about a fourth car for Rossi on the NBCSN qualifying show. I know you’re a betting man, so what’s your bet on where Rossi draws his paycheck in 2020?

Ryan Terpstra

RM: I picked Rossi to take the title before the season, and I’m saying he stays at Andretti with Honda and engineer Jeremy Milless.

Q: Why did IndyCar agree to a 75-minute timed race with the engines firing at 3:55pm CST if they knew the NBC TV window ended at 5:00pm CST? If they knew they would have to switch channels because 75 minutes would go beyond the TV window and a channel change to CNBC would be required, why not run the full race distance? Would the fans of Undercover Boss reruns be more upset than IndyCar fans? I think the Belle Isle circuit puts on an entertaining street race, but as good as race two was, I feel equally confused by race one.

Jim Sarow, Whitefish Bay, WI

RM: The weather obviously played havoc with everything and the lightning kept forcing 30 minute delays in any decision, so IndyCar and NBC simply tried to out-guess Mother Nature.

Q: Why was there no pack-up that caused Marco Andretti to drop to 20th? Marco should have cycled to the lead since he pitted for dry tires before the rest of the field. Townsend Bell said on the broadcast the field should have been packed up to prevent cars going too fast under a yellow flag. Why the change in procedure?

Rob Peterson, Rochester, NY

RM: Statement from IndyCar: Race control was reviewing data and closing rates and based off the information the pack-up was developing. The goal was to get the pits open as quickly as possible for the competitors and fans, but given the circumstances that included cars on different tires and a cold track, it did not occur as expediently as was envisioned.”

Q: At the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned grump, as much as the end of the first race this weekend was fun to watch, I was annoyed that Tim Cindric was able to tell JoNew what Rossi was doing with his push-to-pass. It’s a great addition to be able to use tactically and is much better than F1’s DRS. But if the team has the information on what the others are doing, then the drivers don’t have to do anything but push it when the team tells them to do, and you may as well not bother with the concept. Also, surely such coaching pisses the drivers off?

Jordan, Warwickshire, UK

RM: I agree, and I wish IndyCar would go back to not giving out that information because it defeats the purpose of push-to-pass. I’m sure it pisses off the drivers – just like you viewers.

Q: Why no penalty for Sato when he lost it and crashed O’Ward in Race 1? Same question for Newgarden spinning in front of Hinch and Rossi in Race 2? I understand neither was intentional, and Newgarden came out the worst for his error, but Sato benefited from his and it really hurt O’Ward. Seems as if Race Control is afraid to pull the trigger.

Rick, Marengo, Ohio

RM: I think both were simply racing incidents. Sato slid in wet conditions and used Pato as a buffer from the wall, but it wasn’t intentional. Josef’s penalty was fairly obvious since he was out of the race, but again, it was aggressive driving and going for it and paid the price.

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MILLER: Random thoughts from a busy few weeks

Likes, dislikes, news, rumors and some fast takeaways from the last few weeks:

The rookie class of 1965 was pure gold with Mario Andretti , Gordon Johncock, Al Unser, Joe Leonard, Billy Foster, George Snider, Sammy Sessions and Carl Williams, and with three future Indy 500 winners, it will likely never be topped. But this year’s lineup of talented kids continues to impress. Santino Ferrucci, fresh off his seventh place at Indy and ROY honors, led 19 laps at Detroit and was on his way to another good result when he got caught out by a yellow flag. Marcus Ericsson earned the first podium of his IndyCar career with a splendid drive in race two, and Felix Rosenvquist finished fourth in Saturday’s show. Colton Herta, stung by four straight DNFs, bounced back to qualify fourth and fifth, and Pato O’Ward probably passed the most cars of the weekend as he overcame an untimely yellow, a long pit stop, being squeezed into the wall Saturday, and then crashed on the opening lap Sunday, only to roar back and take 11th in the finale.
Not going to print my annual rant about the pathetic purse at Indianapolis where a third of the field made $200,000 and change, but let this number sink it: Eldora Speedway is paying $175,000 to win the 36th annual King’s Royal in July. That’s 50 laps on a half-mile dirt track in front of 20,000 spectators. That should be embarrassing to IMS, which raised all the ticket prices this year and has had the same purse for a decade.
It’s great to have IMSA and IndyCar share a weekend, but it should happen more often than just Long Beach and Detroit. Mid-Ohio, Road America, Portland and Laguna Seca would be great additions, and would help both sides. There was a good turnout on Saturday for IMSA, and a lot of the fans enjoy both series.
Trevor Carlin suffered through what he called “the worst month of my career” at Indy, but the respected car owner vows to try and keep O’Ward despite the expected competition from Red Bull. “I’m working on it,” said Carlin over the weekend.

Always refreshing to hear a champion owning up to a mistake. Points leader Josef Newgarden, who won Saturday’s race, was trying to pass James Hinchcliffe and stay ahead of Alexander Rossi when he lost it going into Turn 3 in Sunday’s race. “(James Hinchcliffe) checked me up and I had to go down a gear, and then we were in a bad situation with (Alexander) Rossi behind us,” he said. “I can’t blame anyone. It’s my fault. It’s ultimately my fault with the way this happened. I thought (Hinchcliffe) didn’t have to come straight across the track and I got held up. It’s still my fault; I should have made a better decision there. Obviously, it’s not the right thing that I did, and that’s on me.”
I despise single-file starts like Saturday’s. It screws the fans (just like counting yellow laps to start a race) and the track was treacherous but not impassable. This group of drivers has been racing hard and pretty damn clean for the past couple years and they’ve got a throttle and a brake, so let them race.
Felix Rosenqvist is fast and has a great future, but he’s got to quit crashing because Chip isn’t known for his patience.

Watching Zach Veach’s in-car camera during qualifying at Detroit was as good as watching Marco Andretti’s wild ride on slicks in the rain.
My other annual Soapbox Sermon is the schedule. Indy GP, Indy qualifying, Indy 500, Detroit doubleheader, Texas and then a test at Elkhart Lake. Ludicrous, and brutal for the mechanics. IndyCar needs to give the teams a break after May.
Lots of complaints about the first 100 laps of Indy being processional and not very exciting because everyone is saving fuel. So a very smart racing man I know has an idea to try and remedy that: incentives. Pay $50,000 to lead lap 50, $100,000 to lead lap 100 and $150,000 to lead lap 150. Get sponsors for all three and promote it.
Michael Andretti on Rossi’s future: “He wants to be here and we certainly want to keep him. I’ve just got to find the money.” Methinks Honda will help.
I asked Roger Penske during our qualifying show on NBCSN if there was any chance of moving Belle Isle back a week to give the teams a little breather, but it didn’t sound like that was an option.
Pretty cool to see the elation in Marcus Ericsson’s face after his first IndyCar podium, and it’s easy to see he made a good decision to come to America.
The Captain did confirm four cars in 2020. “For Indianapolis,” he said.
Speaking of Indy, Andretti would welcome Fernando Alonso back if they can get Honda of Japan to bury the hatchet.
How about The Menard’s Indy 500? After four decades of trying, John Menard finally made it to Victory Lane with Simon Pagenaud and Team Penske, so why not ask the billionaire who loves IndyCars to become the title sponsor? Have him throw in $10 million and it goes directly into the purse. A five-year deal. Trust me, he wouldn’t miss it, and he’d be a hero to all of open-wheel. Save Big Money and Give It To Indy at Menards.
A lot of people want Rossi to go to Penske, but why? We need to keep the balance of power – Dixie at Ganassi, Rossi and RHR at Andretti and Willy P., JoNew and Simon at Penske. But I’ll bet The Captain has his eye on O’Ward or Herta. How about a Rick Mears-type deal to get started next year?
A former NASCAR official accused IndyCar of “manufacturing” the outcome at Indy because it used the red flag after the Lap 178 crash. That’s almost too funny to comprehend.
Best crowd I’ve ever seen at Detroit. If there are still 20,000 seats and if all those chalets were full, it was north of 30,000.
After Dixie crashed on Saturday, our stat guru Russ Thompson figured out the last time the five-time IndyCar champ did that on his own was 2014. That’s almost as astounding as this: in 311 starts, the Kiwi has only had 25 accidents total (and most of those weren’t his fault). Oh yeah, if you hadn’t noticed, Sir Scott is pretty good at bouncing back from a rare bad day.

INSIGHT: McLaren begins its Indy post-mortem

On Sunday evening in the Monaco paddock, the McLaren hospitality unit was a somber place. What should have been a tense and nervous few hours with hundreds of eyes glued to the nine massive screens that stretch up over three levels ­– and potentially a big celebration at the end of it all – was a non-event.

Ten people sat around watching the Indy 500, while the majority of the team continued with their work and the hospitality crew packed up.

The failings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a weekend before meant many of the team that should have been Stateside were at home, or a lucky few in Monaco instead. The reasons for those failings had been laid bare shortly after Fernando Alonso was bumped from the 33: an unprepared team – exemplified by a lack of a steering wheel and a spare car being re-painted a different shade of orange – had not gotten everything together in time to make the show.

“When you get into things like ‘we didn’t have a steering wheel’, it wasn’t like someone forgot to get a steering wheel,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown tells RACER. “Just to give context, we were going to do our own steering wheel, we didn’t get it done in time. Yes, Cosworth sells them off the shelf, but getting ready for Indy, everyone’s ordered them, so it ain’t Walmart where you walk in and go ‘I’ll take one of those’.

“By the time I got the call – ‘Oh ****, we need a steering wheel’ – Carlin got us one and I got us one from Cosworth, because you need two. So while the story was raw and made us look pretty bad – which we deserved – it wasn’t like ‘****, no one got a steering wheel!’.

“And then if you look at all the problems that we had, they all came from lack of preparation, because yes, we didn’t get the gears right. The day before, had we got the ride-height right, we would have identified that we didn’t have the gears right. Why didn’t we get the ride-height right? Because we changed set-up that we were rushing on. Why were we rushing on it? Because we didn’t do Thursday…

“It’s like the late Bill Buckner – it’s the final mistake and everyone remembers that, but they did lose two games before the ball rolled through , and he ain’t the only guy who had made an error. It was just one of the final moments.

“So at the end of the day, we weren’t prepared for Texas and never rang the bell, which is my fault because I saw it but was assured that everything was under control, and it wasn’t. And you saw the result.”

While Brown was on the ground at IMS to see the final stages of the attempt unravel, he then spent the following weekend in Monaco. A full post-mortem will now be carried out to identify things like when the spare car was sent to be re-painted, who made the call to do so, and why concerns weren’t voiced earlier.

Bob Fernley was head of the McLaren Indy project and his departure made him an immediate scapegoat, but his contract only ran until the 500 regardless. What Brown really wants to know now is the finer details of what tripped his team up.

“I know what I saw, I know what wasn’t done, but what I don’t yet know is the minute-by-minute,” he said “I want to know. I don’t want to just generally know why it wasn’t ready, I want to know who made those decisions, who was consulted, why were those decisions made… I want to do a full post-mortem instead of a half-story.

“We want to go back. Until we do the post-mortem and then sit around the table and go, ‘What did we learn? What would we do differently next time?’. Then the conversation becomes that we want to do it, is there anything that we find we should have done differently but we can’t right now for whatever reason?

“So that will be the sequence: What happened? What would we do differently? Do we want to go back? We want to go back. We will go back. Will we go back in 2020? That will depend on what went wrong this year – can we make sure that’s not going to happen next year?”

An obvious piece of the puzzle that Brown says is already in place is Gil de Ferran. The sporting director was hands-on in F1 when work began on the team’s Indy program, but with Andreas Seidl now installed as team principal and James Key as technical director, all of Brown’s players are on the field.

“I would have liked Gil de Ferran to be involved from the word go, but he was heavily focused on Formula 1,” he said “So that’s one thing that I know I would want to do differently, and he’ll be able to do that from now on.

“So my gut is, we’re going to be in a much better position. We’ve done the learning, we’ve bought the cars, we’ve got the equipment, so much of what you would need to do to go has been done. Now it’s about learning where we made the mistakes, and fixing those.”

Now with a car at the factory and Fernando Alonso about to be free from his WEC commitments, entering a race later this year might have been attractive to both McLaren and the Spaniard. Brown insists that won’t happen, and while a race or two in early 2020 is much more likely than a full-time program Brown says the project does not center around Alonso’s involvement.

Still hungry for the Triple Crown, Alonso felt the car McLaren had given him by the end of Bump Day would have been a real contender once the gear ratios were adjusted, and in that there is hope he will still be behind the wheel of a future McLaren entry. After all, the team missed out by one spot on each of Saturday and Sunday – by 000.02mph and 000.019mph respectively – when the closest field in Indy 500 history was set.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Brown says. “In a public sport, you put yourself out there, and you’re going to have your supporters and your critics. I recognize that, I acknowledge that, I accept that.

“There are a lot of uninformed opinions. I see something like ‘I can’t believe they only did one test day’. That’s all we were allowed to do. There are certainly a lot of people that don’t understand, but then there’s also people who say ‘you’re McLaren and you have an expectation and not qualifying is not acceptable’, and I agree.

“So I think what we took on was a big task, it was brave, we got it wrong and we’ll come back fighting. Some people – which I appreciate – recognize that, and then some people don’t recognize that, don’t want to recognize that, aren’t fans of ours and therefore take shots at us.

“That’s the nature of ; whether you go to a football match and you’ve got one guy who is cheering for a team and another guy who is screaming at the quarterback because he threw an interception… I’d like to see him try and throw a touchdown pass. But that’s sport, you have to accept it’s that type of environment.”

Even in the face of such criticism, Brown is confident the members of McLaren’s executive committee share his hunger to return to Indianapolis. A final call on 2020 is likely to be made in the coming weeks, and even if there are roadblocks to an immediate return, it’s clear the 500 is now unfinished business to more than just Alonso.

“We want to go back and I’d like to go back,” Brown insists. “If we’re going to go back next year, we’ll want to make a quick decision so that we’ve got maximum preparation, because a lack of preparation is what got us where we are this time.

“I don’t want to predict that we’re going to go back. I’d like to go back. All the reasons why McLaren should be at Indy are still valid reasons, and we’re not quitters. We’re racers.

“Even though this was the lowest point in my career and a massive high-profile failure, you’ve got to get back on the horse.”