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.”

 

No laps in the lead, but Herta stole the show

Colton Herta walked out of the infield hospital on Saturday night and watched the final 12 laps on the NBC camera that was waiting to interview him.

“Man, that was some good racing out there tonight,” he exclaimed.

Oh yes it was, and Herta was the main reason.

The 19-year-old American never led a lap of the DXC Technology 600, but he stole the show with his outside passes and daring driving before being knocked out trying to pass Scott Dixon for second place on Lap 229.

And the way he was chewing up people he very easily could have won his second race of the year.

“I don’t think there was any doubt about it. Colton was going to win,” said George Michael Steinbrenner, co-owner of the Harding/Steinbrenner team. “He is something else.”

The youngest winner in IndyCar history (he was 18 last March when he triumphed at COTA) looked like Alex Rossi as he carved through traffic, and was one of the few able to pass on the outside in his GESS Honda, looked every bit a seasoned veteran instead of a teenager making his debut at the ultra-fast Texas Speedway.

“It was fun while is lasted and I had a great car,” said the second-generation driver from California who also made a couple of great saves during the evening. “I thought it was good stuff because it wasn’t pack racing but it was good, hard racing, and you had to be handling to make passes.

“I’m really happy with how the car was. The GESS Capstone car all the boys did an amazing job. Big congrats to IndyCar for bringing the updates to the front wing and the new tires because it made the racing a hell of a lot better.

“We’ll keep trucking. This is a DNF that I’ll take because I was really happy with my performance.”

The deciding point of his race came as he was trying to get past five-time IndyCar champion and three-time Texas winner, Scott Dixon. Herta got a great run coming off Turn 2 and then dove to the inside. Dixon, one of the cleanest drivers on record, moved Herta down the track, under the white line, and they touched as they flew into Turn 3 at 220 mph.

They both spun into the wall. Later, Dixon took the blame.

“I just heard them saying the other car was looking inside and I started to track down to try and close it off,” explained Dixie. “It was toward the end of the race. As I was doing that and looking down, I could still see his shadow there on the apron and I knew it wasn’t going to work out there.

“Sorry if that was my fault. I was just really pushing and trying to get the most out of it toward the end of the race in the PNC Bank car.”

Herta accepted an apology from the ever-classy Dixon.

“ apologized and that’s what it seemed like from my point of view. I seen a replay yet or anything, but he just turned down on me from my point of view. I was there and he put me on the apron. I was more than enough ahead. He didn’t need to do it. That outside lane was there, and he could have run the outside. He must not have known .”

Maybe not, but everyone in the grandstand knew No. 88 was worth the price of admission.

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

Sato prevails for pole in intense Texas qualifying

Takuma Sato prevailed after an intense early evening qualifying session to claim the pole for tomorrow night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 42-year-old Japanese driver wheeled his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda to a two-lap average of 220.250mph — just enough to keep the top spot away from defending race winner Scott Dixon (220.162 mph).

“It’s been a great weekend,” said Sato, who also finished second in both practice sessions.

“Here in Texas, it’s kind of dreaming about it, be on pole. I have been saying that to the guys, that this is an iconic track in the IndyCar Series — high banking, very fast, passing. You never know ’til the very last lap.

“You see, Graham Rahal won by one corner or something from (James) Hinchcliffe a couple of years ago. Really, maybe at the end of the day, the front row here is safer. Obviously, you can control the race, which is the biggest part. But for the end result tomorrow night, it will be a completely different scenario.

“To be on pole is great, but at this track you can do .. anything is possible, from the back row.

“The team gave us unbelievable speed of the car. Just a phenomenal feeling to go that fast through the corners. In fact, I was keeping on the lower side of the range. car’s working extremely well. Huge credit to the engineering side, and my engineer, Eddie Jones. I was very happy for the boys, too.”

For Sato, who sits fifth in the NTT IndyCar Series championship standings, it’s the second pole of the 2019 season. He turned his first one into a victory at Barber Motorsports Park back in April.

Third was the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda of Sebastien Bourdais, who will start alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Honda locked out the top two rows for Saturday night’s 248-lap race on the 1.5-mile superspeedway, but the Chevys weren’t far off and there were six different teams represented in the top six starting spots. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud qualified fifth at 219.355 mph to provide a spark for Team Penske and Chevrolet. The 35-year-old Frenchman has certainly become comfortable at the high banks of TMS, having finished third in 2017 and second a year ago.

“I think for everybody, when you show up here, it’s a bit of a head rush when you go through the banking there,” said Pagenaud. “The cars are really fast, and even in race runs, in long runs, it’s very physical.

I think we’ve got a really good race car,” Pagenaud continued. “I’m pretty happy with it. I feel comfortable. I feel happy — the happiest I’ve ever been and it helps me being an even better driver and make better decisions. I got to get back in my groove after Indy. Certainly, Detroit wasn’t at the level I wanted it to be. Understandable, but I think we’re back in our groove.”

Additionally, Spencer Pigot posted a respectable sixth in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.

The top rookie in the 22-car field will be Colton Herta, who qualified 10th. The session was “disappointing” for Alexander Rossi, who will start 11th.

The only incident of the session belonged to the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, Tony Kanaan brushing the Turn 2 wall and failing to record a time. He will start last.

QUALIFYING

Sato’s resurgence fueling RLL’s 1-2 punch

Takuma Sato is enjoying an epic late-career resurgence entering Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Holding fifth place in the championship, the 42-year-old Japanese driver has visited the podium three times in the eight races held so far, including a win at Barber Motorsports Park (photo above) and a third at the Indianapolis 500.

At an age where fiery ambition can wane, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pilot is surging, leading RLL in the standings as ninth-place teammate Graham Rahal looks to join him at the sharp end of the NTT IndyCar Series field.

In forming the 1-2 punch that team owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, and Mike Lanigan have wanted for many years, Sato says he’s happy to be the ‘1’ at the moment, but isn’t letting it cloud his mind.

“As teammates, we are completely working together. But at the same time, is the nearest rival, isn’t he?” Sato notes.

With Rahal as his measuring stick, Sato is thriving alongside the American star who he knows, on any given weekend, could lead the team to victory.

“It’s not beaten, but working together is such a pleasure because is so honest,” he said. “And the competition level in the team is obviously high, so he pushes me and I push him. Unfortunately, he had too many unfortunate situations .

“So perhaps, on a piece of the paper, maybe not the result he wanted; but he showed obviously the great speed. I’ve had better season so far but we’ll see how he’s looking up for the rest of the season.

“My goal is obviously working together and building the next level, lifting the next level for the team. And that’s exactly what Graham wants, too.”

Regarded as the nicest driver in the paddock, Sato had a laugh while describing how harmony with Rahal is the goal, but there are limits to being a teammate’s No. 1 fan.

“For the personal level, of course he wants to beat me and of course he wants to be winning in the races, and so do I,” he continued. “So, it is healthy competition happening in a team, and at the moment, there is nothing dragging down for both of us. So, it’s working pretty good so far.

“Obviously, we don’t know the future, right? If he discontinues this work, Graham might piss me off. Maybe. I don’t know, I can’t tell (laughs). But for now, the whole team, for me, it’s working certainly better than last year. Obviously not the best, because we’re not winning every single weekend. But I think it’s just working better.”

Dixon paces rain-shortened opening practice at Texas

Reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon led a Honda 1-2-3 in a rain-shortened opening practice for the DXC Technology 600 on Thursday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

The defending race winner and pilot of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda posted a session-best lap at 23.638s (219.308 mph), edging Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato by 0.0049s. Sato’s RLL Racing teammate Graham Rahal rounded out the top three.

“It started okay today,” said Dixon, a three-time winner at the 1.5-mile superspeedway. “We had the tire test here (in March). I think that tire test really helps a lot of us roll off. (We) had a few issues with balance.

“I think a lot of people had it, especially with the added temperatures from when we tested here. So that was interesting for us and then, unfortunately, we got the weather. We didn’t get to run as much as we would have liked. Hopefully, they can add some additional time tomorrow. But all in all, the PNC Bank car feels decent right out of the gate.”

Firestone came prepared with a new right side tire compound, which was based on testing from March and last October. In preparation, they also brought a backup right side tire set that is expected to be “faster wearing than the primary.”

IndyCar confirmed an additional 30 minutes to prior to tomorrow’s one hour practice, which will be used primarily for tire scuffing and pit stop practice.

The two hour practice was halted briefly for moisture just over a half hour in, with the heavy rain wiping out the session completely just 10 minutes before the halfway mark.

Top Chevrolet honors belonged to Charlie Kimball in the No. 23 Carlin entry, who was 0.196 off the top spot at fourth overall. Team Penske’s Will Power completed the top five.

After being called up this weekend to replace the Max Chilton, who is stepping away from ovals for the remainder of the season, Conor Daly finished 22nd on the timesheets in the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet.

Results to follow