Newgarden discusses differing fortunes in Detroit doubleheader weekend

by Jordan Groves

Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden has spoken of the contrast of emotions he experienced during last weekend’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Detroit Grand Prix race weekend. Newgarden won the first race of the weekend held on Saturday and went on to claim pole position for the second race on Sunday. However, Newgarden would be involved in an accident during Sunday’s race and would subsequently finish multiple laps down in nineteenth place.

The annual doubleheader race weekend at the Belle Isle Street Circuit often provides an opportunity for drivers to go from ‘hero to zero’ or ‘zero to hero.’ Scott Dixon demonstrated this perfectly after winning on Sunday despite crashing out on Saturday. For Newgarden, however, the circumstances would be reversed.

Saturday’s race would be heavily affected by rain. Newgarden, who started on the front row in second place, remained on the tail of pole-sitter and race-leader Alexander Rossi for the duration of the wet stages of the race, but Penske would pull Newgarden into the pits for dry tyres before any of the other front-runners at the time.

The stop was timed perfectly, as a caution would come out following an accident for Ed Jones. This put Newgarden at the head of the field for the ensuing race restart after the drivers who had yet to switch to dry tyres were forced to do during the caution period.

From there, Newgarden would maintain the lead of the race over Alexander Rossi. The pair would fly away from the rest of the field in the final ten minutes of the race, but due to the track still being treacherously wet off of the racing line, overtaking was even more difficult than usual at Belle Isle. As a result, Newgarden would cross the line to take the chequered flag by just eight-tenths of a second.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

With the win, Newgarden would retake the championship lead that he lost a week previously at the Indianapolis 500; building a gap of twenty-five points to team-mate Simon Pagenaud. After the race, Newgarden would praise his race strategist, Tim Cindric, for making the perfectly timed pit-stop call that effectively won him the race.

“How about that call by Tim?” Newgarden said after Saturday’s race. “It was the perfect call to get us in the position that we needed. I was hoping it would dry up, I thought that would give us more opportunity to do something. But our Hitachi Chevy car was awesome. The Chevy engine was perfect. I had the horsepower I needed. The fuel mileage; the driveability. In Chevy’s backyard, this was a big one. 

“It’s great to have Hitachi with us. So many people here from Japan. It is an honour to have them here. So pumped to have them here.  So pumped to be with Team Penske. We really wanted this one. I can’t tell you how hard our whole team worked the whole off season to make sure our street course cars were ready, and they were ready today.”

Newgarden’s great form continued into qualifying for the second race of the weekend on Sunday. Making the most of the superior track conditions in the second group of qualifying, Josef would nail a lap of 1:14.8607 to take pole position. Alexander Rossi, the pole-sitter from Saturday, would qualify in second-place; thus promising a second part to the pair’s battle for the win.

A mixture of tyre strategies saw Newgarden and Rossi fall into the midfield after their pit-stops, with those ahead having yet to pit and therefore gaining track position. The pair soon got into a battle with Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe. Mid-race, Hinchcliffe would emerge from a pit-stop right in front of Newgarden, with Josef being forced to back-off in order to not run into the back of Hinchcliffe. This allowed Rossi to close up onto the pair as they approached turn three.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Into turn three, Newgarden would dive down the inside of Hinchcliffe, but would subsequently go into the corner too deep and half-spin into the barrier on the outside of the corner. Hinchcliffe would collect Newgarden and would then be pushed into Josef’s car further by Alexander Rossi, who had also suffered a half-spin but would be able to re-join the race unscathed.

The subsequent repairs that needed to be made to Josef’s #2 Chevrolet saw him drop to an eventual finish of nineteenth-place, twenty-one laps down on the race leaders. With Rossi going on to finish in fifth-place, the Andretti Autosport driver would move into second place in the championship standings, taking Newgarden’s advantage back down to fifteen points.

Post-race, Newgarden would take responsibility for the accident between himself, Hinchcliffe and Rossi. He would go on to state that he felt “sorry” for his team and to his pit-crew for his “mistake.”

“[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,” Newgarden 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 feel bad, and it hurts at the moment. I feel sorry for my guys, sorry for my team, sorry to Chevrolet. We had a good day yesterday and thought we were going to have a good day today. I actually thought we were fine and then I picked up too many marbles on the inside, and [that lane] was too slick and as soon as I tried to turn the rear, I lost the rear. I just picked up too much debris. It’s a mistake. I should have analyzed that a little better, should have gone left [around Hinchcliffe], not right. It’s on me.”

Newgarden won’t have long to wait to have his shot at bouncing back after his disappointing second Detroit race. The NTT IndyCar Series will be back in action this Saturday Night, June 8, at Texas Motor Speedway.

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