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

MILLER: For Pagenaud, this was more than just an Indy win

We don’t know if Roger Penske was planning to replace Simon Pagenaud after this season. His contract was up and so was Alexander Rossi’s, and The Captain is always looking down the road for the next fast face.

The French veteran is 35, and Rossi is 27. Prior to this month’s IndyCar GP, Pagenaud had been winless since 2017, while the Californian has been the talk of the paddock for two years with his rapid ascension to the top of the IndyCar queue.

Some on Rossi’s Andretti Autosport team were nervous, constantly asking, ‘Was their driver heading to Team Penske in 2020?’

Personally, I’ve said I wasn’t sure Rossi wanted to go to there; that Honda was going to do everything it could to keep him; and that he seems like a driver who might put loyalty before anything else.

I didn’t want to see him go because that would just upset the balance of power. I believe it’s better for IndyCar if Rossi stays with Michael Andretti.

But after Sunday, I don’t think what once figured to be the story of Silly Season has any oxygen left.

Pagenaud drove at the highest level possible this month. He swept May, and took the broom to all of those rumors. He won a thrilling battle with Rossi to snare the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and, more importantly, he secured his job.

You win Indianapolis for R.P., and you’re not going anywhere except back to North Carolina to re-sign for at least two more years.

To his credit, the Friendly Frog never seemed concerned about his place in the paddock during the slump. His standard response was that he hadn’t forgotten how to drive and he felt confident he’d have a seat somewhere in 2020. He never got snooty when asked if he was worried about his future, and he remained even-keeled through the shaky start he had this year.

Certainly there was no reason to spoil Pagenaud’s magnificent Indy 500-winning moment on Sunday afternoon with any questions regarding his status. But he made a couple of good points that always apply to Indy and to racing in general.

“Obviously in racing you need a little bit of luck on your side. You need everything to go your way,” he said. “So it did today. I could do nothing wrong, quite frankly. And sometimes I can’t do anything right. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my talent; that doesn’t mean my team is not doing a good job. It’s just you have to accept that there’s a little bit of mystery out there that you can’t control.

“All you can do is the best you can and extract the best out of yourself in every situation. The rest? It sorts itself out really.”

Ever since getting paired with engineer Ben Bretzman at Schmidt Peterson in 2012, they’ve been a tough combination, winning four times for SPM before The Captain snatched them both up in 2015.

Simon was the 2016 IndyCar champion and finished second to teammate Josef Newgarden in 2017 before they lost their way in 2018. He started off this year with a 7-19-9-6, and the Rossi whispers were getting louder.

Then he staged a marvelous charge in the rain to overtake Scott Dixon and win the IndyCar Grand Prix. He followed that up by winning the Indy pole in his Menard’s Chevy. And then he applied the coup de grace on Sunday in a dandy duel with the racer who may have been offered his seat before the month began.

But R.P., whose standard response when asked about a driver’s future is that he doesn’t discuss anything until after the season, went off script Sunday.

Asked if Pagenaud would be back next year, Penske replied: “What do you think? Do you want to answer that question for me? Absolutely.”

That was a done deal when Simon flashed under the checkered flag a few car lengths ahead of Rossi. In the toughest circumstances, when you know that you have to deliver for the most successful team in American motorsports history and the clock is ticking, Pagenaud performed like a badass these past three weeks.

He kept his composure and his job. Viva la France.

Pagenaud takes pole in a turbulent Indy 500 qualifying

Simon Pagenaud edged Ed Carpenter for the pole position; Kyle Kaiser captured the hearts of underdogs everywhere; and Fernando Alonso got bumped out of the 103rd Indianapolis 500. Those were the major storylines of Sunday’s emotionally charged qualifying session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pagenaud gave Roger Penske his 18th Indy pole with a 229.992 mph run – just a fraction faster than Carpenter’s average of 229.889 mph in his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. And his young driver Spencer Pigot gave ECR two-thirds of the front row with a run of 229.825 mph.

It was the closest split (0.103 of a second) for the front row in IMS history, as well as closest spread between pole and 33rd (less than three mph), but those facts were almost anti-climatic following the day’s Last Row shootout drama.

Alonso, whose McLaren team struggled on and off the track all week in its Indy debut, made a deal to run dampers from Andretti Autosport but only got a couple of hot laps in before rain halted the morning practice period. The two-time F1 world champion went out essentially cold turkey on the new setup and responded with a four-lap average of 227.353 mph after James Hinchcliffe posted a 227.543 mph four-lap average.

But when Sage Karam cranked out a 227.740 mph average, it left Alonso on the bubble with two drivers left.

Rookie Pato O’Ward gave Trevor Carlin’s back-up car a good ride but fell just shy with a 227.092 mph run; and then it was all down to Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser had gambled, choosing not to practice Sunday morning in his Juncos Racing Chevy. Yet with all the pressure of the world on his 23-year-old shoulders, the 2017 Indy Lights champ delivered like a veteran and ran 227.372mph.

That was 0.0019mph quicker than Alonso and gave the sponsor-less, small team based on Main St. in Speedway, Indiana, its most rewarding day ever.

“It was the most emotional 48 hours of my life, but I’m just so proud of this team,” said Kaiser.

For Alonso, but mostly for McLaren, failing to qualify was a humbling experience. But the 37-year-old Spaniard was classy in defeat.

“We were 31st on Saturday and 34th today; unfortunately, not fast enough either day,” said the driver who was so impressive in his 2017 Indy debut for Michael Andretti’s team. “It’s disappointing, because we were here to race.”

Asked if he would return to IMS, he replied: “It”s too soon to make that decision.”

Pagenaud, supposedly on the hot seat at Team Penske after a winless 2018, continued his pursuit of job security with a splendid run to take the 11th pole of his career after winning last weekend’s IndyCar GP.

Carpenter, a three-time pole-sitter here who revels in driving on the edge at IMS, came about as close to taking number four as one can get.

And Pigot, who turned the fastest speed in Saturday’s preliminaries, came oh-so-close to repeating on Sunday.

Behind the front-row trio, Ed Jones, the third member of Ed Carpenter Racing who had been quick all week, locked down the Row 2 inside slot, followed by Colton Herta and Pagenaud’s Penske teammate, defending Indy champ Will Power.

Sebastian Bourdais gave Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan Racing another good ride and will start seventh on May 26, while Josef Newgarden takes the green flag in eighth and 2016 Indy winner Alex Rossi lines up ninth.

RESULTS

Penske credits continuity for his team’s ongoing Indy success

Team Penske’s appearance before the Indy 500 media is an annual tradition, but took added on weight Friday ahead of the 50th anniversary of the team’s first appearance at The Speedway. Asked what he felt were the key ingredients to his team’s ongoing success at the 500 — which to date includes 17 wins among 12 different drivers, including Will Power’s triumph last year — Roger Penske highlighted the continuity and commitment behind its program through the years.

“I think it’s all about the team. (We have) over 700 years of experience in the garage area this year. I think it’s the continuity. We have low turnover with our team. Always have had the best drivers.

“To me, the time and effort we put into Indianapolis is so important because over the years we’ve built our brand around Indy. You think about the notoriety we get for competing here, being successful. It’s amazing.

“I looked at a stat here a couple of weeks ago. We’ve led 2,300-plus laps here, over 11 races. It’s not just the race you win, but it’s the consistency, the team leading laps, which has given us the success.

“But the interesting thing is we have four guys here that want to win the race. There’s only going to be one. I think the effort and time, to see them work together, we have an open and transparent relationship with the drivers. We’re a team — one team, not four teams. I think that’s kind of the way we operated.

“(Mark) Donohue was a student of that also, very open. We built with Gary Bettenhausen in ’72, two good drivers and cars. I came here back in ’51 with my dad. I guess we were gone for a couple years. I take my vacation so I can come here and have fun.”

Power gathers data for Penske’s “book” in practice. Image by IndyCar

The “fun” for the drivers will include plenty of challenge in using the tools available to master the ever-changing track conditions at Indy.

“I’ve been struggling with a loose car,” reigning champ Power admitted. “Just depends where you’re running, the wake of the car in front, how many cars in front of you, how your balance is.

“I guess this front wing is pretty sensitive because it’s a small front wing to dirty air. If you’re close, you’re going to get some push. You have to find a way to set your car up to be strong in traffic without losing the front.”

“I would agree with Will,” concurred Josef Newgarden, who joins Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves in Penske’s ‘Gang of Four’ at Indy. “I think everyone is trying to experiment. The tire, it is different. It reacts differently than last year. I think it has some similar characteristics, so I think a lot of what we were dealing with last year we’re still dealing with today. There’s also new variables. Will said he has trouble with the rear of the car, too.

“Trying to balance how you fix multiple problems is really what you fight here all the time. You fix the rear, you hurt the front. It’s a balancing act as always.

“Understanding the changes each day is important. Today could be very different than yesterday. Track has been washed off a bit. Temperature is going to be pretty high. You have to build this book so on race day you know the conditions, what it’s going to be, you can make the best decision possible.”

Pagenaud, who is looking to emulate Power’s 2018 trick of an Indy GP-Indy 500 double this year, agreed that the variety of configurations to try out — and getting them to work in concert with other elements of the setup — are a key part of what makes Indy unique from a driver’s standpoint.

“It’s just very important to try all these configurations, make sure that the car behaves the same with every one of them. That’s really the trick,” he noted. “That’s why it takes so long to set the car up, is to figure out all these little bits and pieces together, what does it do to the balance of the car.

“It’s fascinating. Sometimes the wind tunnel tells us something but reality is a little different. It’s another element we have to take into account.”

First up is the preparation for this weekend’s pole shootout. Asked how much emphasis he and his team put into the run for pole, The Captain indicated that the results from Team Penske’s half-century at Indy speak for themselves.

“Well, if you’re interested in numbers, we have 17 wins, 17 poles and 17 pit stop contests,” noted Penske. “I guess it’s pretty important…”

Penske, ECR, top Tuesday practice charts at Indy

Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing ruled the opening round of practice on Tuesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Will Power posted the fastest lap of 229.745 mph in his Verizon 5G Chevrolet — just a tick quicker than teammate Simon Pagenaud’s best of 229.703 mph in his Menard’s Chevy.

“All the big speeds came from big tows,” said last year’s Indy 500 victor. “What IndyCar wanted Firestone to do with the tire is exactly what it has done, which is help that front work off the corner so you can follow closer; and you’ve just obviously got to get your car to work around that.

“It’s kind of hard to judge the true speeds of cars right now by themselves. You don’t know what aero configuration people are running, whether they’re doing qualifying sims or they’re in race trim,” Power continued. “We don’t know where we stack up, honestly, as far as true speed.”

But Carpenter’s crew won the day by posting the best speed without a tow from another car. Ed Jones, in the Scuderia Corsa Chevy who is driving all the road races for ECR, clocked a lap of 224.542 mph, which was easily the best of that category.

Carpenter, last year’s pole-sitter and race runner-up, was fifth fastest among the non-towers with a lap of 223.135 mph in the Preferred Freezer Chevy after running the third quickest tow lap of 228.653 mph.

It was a busy seven hours as all 36 cars made it onto the track and completed nearly 3,000 laps,with the only incident Colton Herta’s spin on the warmup lane in Turn 2.

Temperatures were in the ’60s all day — some 20 degrees cooler than is forecast for qualifying this weekend.

Besides Carpenter, six other drivers topped 228 mph:three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves, Herta, Sebastian Bourdais, Zach Veach, Alex Rossi, and Marco Andretti.

Pato O’Ward was stymied by mechanical problems in his bid to complete his rookie test, so he’l be given 40 minutes on Wednesday morning before official practice begins.

PRACTICE 1

Pagenaud’s show for the ages

With 10 laps to go in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, leader Scott Dixon held a six-second advantage over third-place Simon Pagenaud. In basketball parlance that’s a slam dunk because the five-time champion is pretty much untouchable when he’s out in front.

But on a wet IMS track, Pagenaud put on a show for the ages. The soon-to-be 35-year-old Frenchman began running laps a second quicker than Dixon and bolted into the top spot with one lap to go with a nifty outside pass in Turn 8, completing one of the most remarkable rallies in modern IndyCar history.

“I think it’s my greatest victory,” said the ecstatic veteran following his drive from eighth place to Victory Lane in the Menard’s Chevy. “I always hope for rain. I love the rain because it’s a dance where your driving talent comes out.”

Running down Dixon required all the talent he had, but even Pagenaud wasn’t sure he had enough in the end.

“With two laps to go I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch him and was just about ready to settle for second,” he explained. “Then I thought, ‘I’ve got too much pace to give up,’ so I kept pushing. I didn’t have any push-to-pass left so I knew the infield section was my only shot at overtaking Scott.

“I took a lot of risks, for sure — probably more than Scott — but I couldn’t believe our pace. I didn’t plan that pass in Turn 8, it just happened. He had trouble coming off Turn 7 and I got a good run. I could see he was struggling, so I just went for it.”

The 2016 IndyCar champion hadn’t won a race since the 2017 finale at Sonoma and there have been persistent rumors that Roger Penske was going after Alex Rossi to replace him for 2020.

“I think I’m driving better than I did in 2016 and I thought the results would come. You just have to be patient,” Pagenaud continued. “Last year our whole team struggled to understand the new car, so we went back to the basics. We’ve had some bad luck in qualifying this year but I knew we had good pace.”

Asked about the criticism, Simon smiled and said: “I answered it. I know what I’m worth. I just have to get everything right. We did that this weekend, slowly and surely. The stars just didn’t align. The performance has always been there this year. The team has been fantastic giving me what I need, so here we are.”

It was the third win in this race for Pagenaud, which tied him with teammate Will Power, and gave Team Penske its fifth triumph in six starts in the May opener.

“It’s great to win again for Roger and let’s be honest, it was good for me as well.”