After finishing in second place in last weekend’s 2019 IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas, Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden has stated that his strong start to the season “goes a long way” for his potential championship challenge.
Newgarden’s second place on Sunday, coupled with his win in the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, has put the Penske driver at the top of the championship standings after two rounds; with the American hoping that he can continue to put in strong results to challenge for the title by the end of the season.
Newgarden’s weekend at COTA started off reasonably with three decent practice sessions. However, the Penske driver would be left disappointed after qualifying on Saturday after just missing out on a spot in the pole position shoot-out. The gap between himself and Scott Dixon, who was the last driver to advance into the final round, was a mere four-hundredths of a second.
As a result, Newgarden would qualify in seventh place; far from a bad result but also not where Josef wanted to be.
“We made a lot of progress as the weekend has progressed,” Josef said after qualifying, “but it just wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t a good enough lap. I missed it a bit to start the lap in [Turn] 19. You have to take a lot of risks the way we are running it. I think we did a good job of getting up as far as we could.
“Overall, we’ve had a good weekend with the PPG Chevrolet. I’m proud of everyone on how hard they’ve worked. We just need to make sure we have a good race car. There are two races – the race for the pole and the race itself. We might have lost this one, but we can still win the war.”
At the start of the race, Newgarden moved up to sixth place on the opening lap, moving ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and falling in behind Dixon. At the first pit-stops, Josef’s strategist, Tim Cindric, opted to bring the #2 driver in for an early stop to try and use the pace of the fresher tyres to jump the cars ahead of him. The strategy worked a treat, with Newgarden jumping both Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay after the first stops.
Newgarden and Cindric’s strategy of pitting early continued throughout the race, ultimate paying off in a major way just after the final pit-stop on lap forty-three, which was proceeded just one lap later by a caution. With the leading drivers being caught out by the caution, Newgarden would be left in second place for the race restart, with only Colton Herta ahead of him.
Newgarden was in a potentially strong position heading into the ten-lap sprint to the finish. He had almost triple the amount of push-to-pass boost than Herta. At the restart, however, Herta pulled away. The gap between Newgarden and Herta was over a second after the first lap and the gap would continue to grow over the final few laps. In the end, Herta would build a gap of over four seconds, which would decrease to three on the final lap.
Newgarden would have to settle for second place, with Josef admitting post-race that he was “a little disappointed” not to be able to go one step higher on the podium.
“I thought we might have had a shot there at the end.” Newgarden said after the race on Sunday, “A lot of things played into the race today. We had a little luck and I thought that could play into our favour to race for another win. The PPG car looked good and felt good, it just wasn’t enough there at the end. So, I’m really proud of our guys. I’m proud of Team Chevy. I’m a little disappointed we missed it by a bit, but we’ll go on to the next one.
The result would be Newgarden’s second podium in the opening two races of the season, following on from his win at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks prior. As a result, Josef is now leading the championship by eighteen points over Colton Herta, with Josef going on to say in post-race interviews how the podium finish will help his championship bid in the long run.
“A second place is big for us,” Josef continued, “We talked about the fact that you need to have podium finishes if you aren’t winning races and this goes a long way to our championship run.”
Based on his past form, there is every chance that Josef could score big points once again at the next round of the championship at Barber Motorsports Park. Josef scored his first-ever IndyCar race win at the track back in 2015 and has finished on the podium there every year since. This year, Newgarden will be aiming to take his fourth win at the Alabama circuit, which would also be his third in a row.
The 2019 Grand Prix of Alabama will take place on Sunday, April 7.