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.”

 

Strategic win for Newgarden in Texas

Josef Newgarden won the latest Texas shootout for the NTT IndyCar Series, holding off Alexander Rossi for the win Saturday night in the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Newgarden, in the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Team Penske Chevrolet, led the final 47 laps on the 1.5-mile superspeedway. He and Rossi went wheel to wheel numerous times in the closing 10 laps as the Andretti Autosport driver tried overtaking maneuvers on the outside heading into Turn 1. Newgarden thwarted each attempt and held on by 0.8164 of a second to collect his 13th career win, third this season and first on a superspeedway.

Graham Rahal finished third, rookie Santino Ferrucci fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth.

The 248-lap race ran caution-free for more than the first half, until Zach Veach brushed the SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 2 on Lap 135. The No. 26 Gainbridge Honda did a 360-degree spin but Veach kept it off the wall and came to a stop in Turn 3 with only a flat tire.

The race’s second caution came when James Hinchcliffe slid wide into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on Lap 219. The final yellow waved when the cars of Scott Dixon and rookie Colton Herta touched while battling for third place in Turn 3 on Lap 229, sending both into the SAFER Barrier. All the drivers were unhurt from the incidents.

The caution for the Dixon-Herta incident set up the shootout to the finish between Newgarden and Rossi.

Pole sitter Takuma Sato led the first 60 laps of the race until making his first pit stop, but his No. 30 ABeam Consulting Honda slid into the pit stall and made contact with crewman Chris Welch. Sato was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for hitting crewman. Welch was evaluated and released from the track’s infield care center.

Ferrucci collected a career-best fourth-place finish in the No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Hunter-Reay led a race-high 90 laps in the No. 28 DHL Honda but was forced to make an extra stop for fuel and wound up fifth.

Tony Kanaan finished 16th in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet but tied team owner A.J. Foyt for second place on the Indy car career starts list with 369. It also extended Kanaan’s record streak of consecutive race starts to 309.

The win allowed Newgarden to extend his championship lead to unofficially 25 points over Rossi after nine of 17 races.

An encore telecast of the DXC Technology 600 airs at 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN.

The next NTT IndyCar Series race is the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday, June 23. Live race coverage starts at noon ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

Detroit beat goes on for Newgarden with Race 2 pole

An already great weekend for Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden got even better in qualifying for the second half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix double-header. The Race 1 winner again led his qualifying group, but this time reversed the order from yesterday to best Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for pole position for this afternoon’s race. He did so despite his faster red tires coming in to their sweet spot faster than he anticipated.

“I got it on the first one — normally the second lap is our peak lap, but I could see the grip was there so I had to go,” related Newgarden. “The second lap was done — the tires were already burned off so I had to maximize that first one. Must have got lucky!”

The luck came in the form of another slight mistake from teammate Will Power who, up slightly on Newgarden’s time on his final lap, brushed the wall slightly and as a result faces another midfield start, this time from 11th.

After the challenging weather conditions of Saturday, Sunday’s qualifying ran under clear skies — which are expected to remain that way for the race this time. But this is Belle Isle, where weird things seem to happen, and yesterday’s weather still managed to impact the action in the form of water runoff that forced a lengthy mid-session delay before the second, faster group.

As was the case Saturday, qualifying was run as a single session split into two groups getting 12 minutes each rather than the customary knockout format. However, yesterday’s group order was reversed, which meant that yesterday’s faster group had to run on the theoretically slower first session on a track de-rubbered by overnight rain.

Sure enough, the early “banker” laps on the black primary tires were upward of two seconds slower than the previous day’s qualifying. Most in Group 1 therefore waited into the final minutes to switch to the alternate reds. Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot and Harding Steinbrenner’s Colton Herta all took turns laying down fast laps before Rossi went to the front, then bettered his own time with a 1m15.1825s to guarantee at least a front row start — and another vital championship point, awarded to the pace-setters in each group.

“I’m not expecting it to hold up but I think we did the best we could,” shrugged Rossi.

Herta held on for second, 0.4s down on Rossi, ahead of Dixon and an resurgent Patricio O’Ward for Carlin. The Harding Steinbrenner phenom was already looking ahead.

“In years past, if you’re second you can kind of slot in most of the time; if you’re third, you want to be on the inside going into Turn 1,” said Herta. “On the outside, nothing good happens…”

The second group figured to be faster, but had an early curveball thrown them when water flowing out of the tire barriers in Turn 6 prompted a red flag.

When action resumed some 50 minutes later, a few, including Sebastian Bourdais, opted to try reds straight away just in case of another red flag. Newgarden nevertheless led the early going on blacks before Bourdais edged him on his second red tire run. The late runs put Newgarden back in front with a 1m14.8607s that held up for pole to his aforementioned surprise.

Indeed, the lack of info on how well the red tires will hold up made for additional intrigue about the race.

“We figured out the second lap on the reds was probably the best and I put all my effort into the first lap and the rear was gone by Lap 2,” related Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, 14th on the final grid. “We had the pace, just mismanagement on my part. It’s not much, just takes a few tenths of a second to be back there.”

Could be worse — you could be Tony Kanaan, who said of his A.J. Foyt Racing entry, “I lack everything — front grip, rear grip, the car feels like it’s on ice.

“It makes it hard to explain to your engineer. He said, ‘What do you need?’ I said, ‘I need everything!’ Basically over the concrete the car is really slippery so I need more grip. We are trying to figure out, should we run softer, stiffer… downforce, we have everything on the car we can have. I think we’re lacking a little on the damper side; we’re trying to figure that out. We have nothing to lose and I can assure you, we are rolling the dice!”

UP NEXT: Detroit GP Race 2, 3 p.m. ET, NBC.

RESULTS

 

Newgarden bests Rossi in Detroit Race 1

You have to be good, and have good fortune, to win any NTT IndyCar Series race, especially in a wet/dry race like the first race of the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic double-header turned out to be. Josef Newgarden and his Hititachi Penske team were all that and more to win their second race of the year and the 12th of the young American’s career.

Newgarden vaulted from third to first on his sole pit stop of his day, thanks to a timely caution that came out just as he left the pits and gave him track position ahead of the Honda-powered cars of Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon that had looked in control in the early, wet stages of the race.

“It was the perfect call to get us the position that we needed,” said Newgarden, who went from tied for the championship lead to 25 points ahead with the win. “I was hoping it dried up, I thought that would give us a little more opportunity to do something, but our Chevy engine was awesome — had the fuel mileage, the horsepower, the driveability, and in Chevy’s backyard, that was amazing. We worked so hard in the off-season to get our street course cars ready, and I think we were ready today.”

Rossi had felt ready too, but it wasn’t enough, as the Andretti Autosport driver finished second to a Penske for the second straight week, this time by just 0.8237s after another late-race shootout.

“These yellows are tough, man” rued Rossi of the timing of the stop that cost him the lead, and ultimately the win. “It’s part of the game in IndyCar and it’s the same for everyone. But we had a really good car in the wet and we were able to control the race, and then track position on a one-line track — because obviously there was really only one dry line — there wasn’t much I could do.

“I’m frustrated. I think we had the best car again today…but ultimately for one reason or another we’re not on the top step of the podium.”

After severe weather delayed the start, IndyCar switched from the planned 70 laps to a 75-minute timed race to fit the TV window. That threw an extra element into the strategy game. With light rain forcing a start on wet tires, the key became how long you could afford to stay off slicks on the mixed concrete and asphalt track surface, given that the shortened distance made only one refueling stop necessary.

Polesitter Rossi had a safe advantage due to Race Control’s decision to opt for a single-file start. Not so Zach Veach, who looped it on the pace lap while jumping on the power too soon, forfeiting his eight-place qualifying position and ensuring the time race started under yellow. The predictably contentious first lap under green didn’t last long as Takumo Sato drifted into Pato O’Ward and there was another spin, this one by Matheus Leist — although not before Scott Dixon darted past a squirrelly Newgarden for second.

The second try for green went more smoothly, with Rosenquist moving up to third behind Rossi and Dixon, who quickly established a comfortable advantage. Further back, Will Power carving his way up to seventh from 12th at the start. The Australian added Colton Herta and Sato to his his list within a handful of laps to effectively erase his qualifying miscue. Teammate Simon Pagenaud, too, excelled in the wet making up six places in the early going.

Marco Andretti made the brave move to be the first slicks some 15 minutes in, and was 20 seconds off the pace on his out-lap. However, a dry line was rapidly forming and a lot of anxious radio messages were exchanged over when to follow. A full-cause caution then waved as Ed Jones drifted into the wall at Turn 7. That turned out perfectly for Newgarden, who had stopped for slicks as the yellow came out, and therefore cycled into the lead.

But it was the opposite of perfect for Power, who error-prone season took another gutting turn, this time through no fault of his own: The right-front tire changer failed to correctly connect the wheel on his stop and it fell off as the No. 12 Verizon Chevy left the pit lane. Power was able to three-wheel back to the pits and continue from the back of the pack.

To make matter worse, he was called back when a penalty was applied for an unsafe release.

Even worse off soon afterward was Dixon, who clipped the inside wall and slid into the tires at Turn 6 and out of the race shortly after the restart with a half-hour to go. Remarkably, it was the first DNF in two years for the reigning series champ.

The extra yellow was beneficial for Newgarden, whose pit stop was deemed to have not given him a full load of fuel and made it questionable whether the Hitachi No. 2 had enough to make the finish. Not to worry, though, as another caution soon followed when Leist caught the barriers at the end of the back straight to bring the yellow back out. Moments before that, Sato pulled off a sweet pass on Rosenqvist in Turn 3 to move up to third.

All this set up the joint championship leaders going head to head on the restart with a dozen minutes left. Newgarden managed the start perfectly while Sato resisted a Rosenqvist’s effort to return the favor on him, ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.

The leading pair quickly broke away from Sato and made it all about each other for the win. The Honda driver closed in on the back side of the course but the Chevy man was quicker through the fast Turns 1 and 2, enabling him to edge away again and maintain just enough over the final countdown of the clock.

And the critical timing of that pit stop? Not quite as lucky as it seemed, noted Newgarden’s strategist, team boss Tim Cindric:

“Looked like when we needed to pit down that lap or the next lap and typically, when those guys start putting on dry tires and it’s wet, there’s a caution at some point in time, so we tried to get in as early as we could,” he noted. “He did a great job holding him off, obviously.”

RESULTS

UP NEXT: Race 2 qualifying, 10:30 a.m. ET

The Day At Indy, May 18, with Pigot, Clauson, Newgarden and Herta

It’s another packed episode of The Day At Indy podcast, as a wild day of qualifying for the Indy 500, led by our opening guest — Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot — saw McLaren Racing and Fernando Alonso miss out on securing a spot in the field, while Tim Clauson’s Clauson-Marshall Racing USAC dirt racing program earned the 30th and final position available on Saturday.

Clauson is joined by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden who, like Pigot, earned the right to vie for pole position on Sunday after capturing a spot in the Fast 9.

We close with Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta, who posted the fifth-fastest speed and will also take a shot at pole, and who shares several insights on his amazing performance today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Newgarden and Rossi fastest on Wednesday; Alonso, Rosenqvist crash

It was a gorgeous day for going fast Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it was also an expensive one.

For the second straight session, Team Penske topped the speed chart as Josef Newgarden led the way with a lap of 228.856 mph in the Shell Chevrolet, and Alexander Rossi was fastest with no tow at 224.648 mph in the Andretti Autosport Honda.

But the stories of the day were the big accidents by Fernando Alonso and Felix Rosenqvist.

Alonso became the first driver to hit the wall when he got high Turn 3, pancaked the SAFER barrier, then slid backwards into the infield wall and slithered back across the track where he slapped the outside fence in Turn 4. The two-time world champion escaped injury, but his McLaren Chevy was extensively damaged.

“It was understeer on the car, and even if I lifted the throttle on the entry of the corner, it was not enough, and I lost completely the front aero,” said Alonso, who will go to his backup car tomorrow, and is also expected to change engines. “The wall came too close and too quickly. Unfortunately it happened today. We will lose a little bit of running time again. I’m sorry for the team, but we will learn and hopefully we will come back stronger tomorrow.

“I’m disappointed and sad for the team and for the guys. We worked quite a lot on the car and definitely now it’s quite damaged, so I feel sorry for the team and for my mistake. We will learn from this and hopefully tomorrow we’re back on track and back stronger.”

Alonso’s accident came just past 12:30 p.m., and just after Happy Hour began, Rosenqvist ran into trouble negotiating Turn 2. He slammed into the outside SAFER barrier, then shot across the track and plowed into the recently-installed SAFER cushion. Will Power and Jack Harvey were following closely behind and both missed the spinning rookie – Power by just inches.

“I was behind Colton (Herta) and just trying to run the car in traffic, and I just felt a very sudden change of having a bit of push, and it went very loose very fast,” said Rosenqvist. “I couldn’t react to it. Luckily my team has built a really, really good car, a really safe car. I’m completely fine. I just have to really analyze what happened there.

“I’m not sure if I was down on the curb. It kind of looks like I could have been up a little bit, and that probably explains it. I cannot really remember. A shame, but that’s how it is.”

His Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was badly damaged, so he’ll also be a backup car Thursday when practice re-opens.

Power turned a lap of 229 mph on Tuesday and dismissed it as no big deal. Ditto for his teammate.

“It means absolutely nothing,” said Newgarden, the 2017 IndyCar champion who leads the standings after five races. “Just a number that doesn’t mean anything,.I do think we have a pretty good race car, but it still needs some work.”

Scott Dixon has the second-best lap in traffic of 228.855 mph in the PNC Bank Honda and Spencer Pigot, was also over 228 mph in ECR’s Chevy.

Rossi only ran 46 laps before putting his NAPA Honda in the barn, and he seemed pretty happy.

“There seems to be an inherent pace in the car, so that’s good,” said the 2016 Indy winner, “We accomplished everything we wanted to today, but I’m not really sure what all of this means.”

For the second straight day, Tony Kanaan was quick all by himself, running 224.630 mph in the ABC Supply Chevy, and Ed Jones backed up his non-tow speed on Wednesday with a lap of 224.227 mph in the ECR/Scuderia Corsa Chevy.

RESULTS

INSIGHT: Newgarden finds his happy place

Josef Newgarden arrives at this weekend’s Indianapolis Grand Prix on an almighty roll. He’s off to a career-best start to the season, his eighth in NTT IndyCar Series competition, with a win to open the year and subsequent finishes of second, fourth, and second again at the most recent round.

Entering the month of May, Team Penske’s 2017 title winner holds a handy 28-point lead in the drivers’ championship over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi. From the outside, Newgarden has the look of someone who’s found a new level of focus and effectiveness in the hunt for his second IndyCar crown.

So, what has the young American changed to reach this new peak? Absolutely nothing.

“Honestly, it feels same as last year,” he told RACER. “It’s just that things are flowing pretty well for the most part. I think our speed…has probably moved around a little bit. Our street course cars are better, but our road course cars haven’t been as good at the moment, so that speed has moved a little bit from last year.

“But what we’re doing on my car, what the team’s doing, we’re all doing the same stuff, it’s just there’s nothing really biting us on our car. There’s no odd yellows at the wrong point of the race; we’re picking the right strategy. We haven’t had any snags, I guess. So hopefully that’s the case all year. Kind of like Scott Dixon had last year, where nothing really seemed to go wrong.”

A master of deflecting praise, Newgarden insists he’s the smallest contributor to the No. 2 Chevy entry’s success so far in 2019.

“I really don’t think it’s me,” he says. “I’m driving just the same as last year. If anything, maybe every year I’m getting a touch more methodical. I could definitely buy into that. Every year, I think you get a touch more methodical. I think Dixon’s no different. Every single year he’s been in this sport, he’s gotten a little bit more patient, a little bit more methodical.

“Maybe that’s part of it, but I’m doing a lot of the same stuff. I’m still aggressive, when I need to be. I’m doing everything I did last year, honestly, but so far, we haven’t had anything crazy pop up where we’ve been bit really bad. But we have a long way to go, I could still make a mistake. We’re only four races deep, so there’s a lot of room here to see where things go.”

The chemistry between Newgarden and his new race engineer, Canada’s Gavin Ward, has also contributed to the early results.

“He’s good,” he agrees. “To be honest, I’ve not had a bad engineer since I started in IndyCar. Nathan O’Rourke, Jeremy Milless, Brian Campe, and Gavin Ward. I’ve had the best engineers. You’re giving me the best engineers, what do you expect?”

“He’s a superstar. Look, the guy’s calm, collected, seasoned. He’s not seasoned in IndyCar necessarily, but he’s seasoned. He’s raced many years, this is the same deal in F1, he knows how these cars work. We have zero issues. We’ve a got rock star crew chief in Travis Law, and I can say that about everyone on the team.”

Newgarden’s quest to earn back-to-back championships last year for Team Penske was derailed when a string of disappointing finishes, starting at the Indy GP, left him down in fifth in the final standings. To improve his odds of getting off to a strong start and maintaining it through the month of May, the 28-year-old revealed the one key change he’s made – possibly the key to his good fortunes in 2019.

“I’m trying to be a little bit more selfish with my time, and it’s to simplify things for me a bit,” he said. Team Penske’s got a lot of obligations, which I enjoy filling. We’re so thrilled with the partners that we have, but when it becomes too much with appearances and obligations away from the car, I say it now. You have to.

“And this year, I’ve got a lot going on. I moved to Nashville. Kind of back to old school, living in a one-bedroom apartment with my fiancée. It feels like old-school racing days. But I’m having fun. I’m having a good time, and we’ve got a great thing going this season. Right now, it’s all clicking. But it can change in a heartbeat.

“And not to look at this negatively, but you could go out of the month of May and say, ‘What the heck’s going on with Newgarden?’ And we could be eighth in points. It’s like that. So you’ve got stay on top of it, but so far, everything looks good.”