MADISON, Ill — On Saturday, pit lane or a pit sequence to be exact, cost Josef Newgarden a top five finish in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 from the World Wide Technology Raceway. On Sunday, it was pit lane as to the reason for why Newgarden was the first repeat winner in the 12 race history of the NTT IndyCar Series coming to the 1.25-mile St. Louis area race track.
24 hours prior to Newgarden’s triumph, he was running fifth in his No. 1 Chevrolet at the halfway point of the race. He and his teammate Will Power to go along with Jack Harvey hit pit lane near Lap 100 for the second time of the day. Unfortunately for them, a caution was displayed in the middle of the sequence which ruined their days.
Newgarden would finish 12th as a result.
On Sunday, Newgarden wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. They went conservative on the approach to their pit strategy and got lucky that Will Power ran the final sequence long. Newgarden and Pato O’Ward had a drag race off pit road which Newgarden prevailed.
That proved to be the winning pass.
Newgarden, entered the pits third and exited the sequence first.
“It was very close, yeah,” Newgarden said of the race off pit road with O’Ward. “Honestly I wasn’t sure, I thought he was going to maybe back out. We were just slightly ahead thanks to my crew. My pit crew has been just unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say. I think they’ve been fast or fastest in the majority of races we’ve been in. They’re so good on pit lane. We’ve been dialed in, the way we stop, launch, everything dialed in metrically.
“We just got ahead of him. I was curious. I moved on him just a little bit to try and show him that we were ahead. I thought maybe he would lift out. Made sure I hit the button just right on the cone so he didn’t get a good jump. I was just kind of surprised to see him holding on the outside. He did a great job.
“We gave each other room. We went two-wide. We raced all the way to turn three. I think the first thing I would say is he’s doing an amazing job himself. Pato has been a real talent. I always believed he was a strong driver, was going to do well in INDYCAR or anywhere he sort of ended up. It’s nice to see him find his success and doing a great job.
“He drove me well, drove clean. Certainly deserved to be up there and had a shot at winning the race, as he should. Pretty fun to be in that fight at the end.
“I didn’t win the race today. My pit crew won it. I’m not shy to say that. I’ll take it however I can get it.
“I felt like we had a great car. We stayed in position all day. We just needed an opportunity. It was very, very hard to pass. So, you know, if you had a bobble here or there, you needed to be in position to take advantage of it. It was just great. They gave me an opportunity to race O’Ward at the end. We raced out of pit lane. That’s what won us the race.”
Newgarden, says that his crew is arguably the best on pit lane right now.
“Yeah, if you look at the charts, I think my crew has been P1 on pit lane I think five or six races,” he continued. “Maybe not that many, but four or five of the races we’ve been fastest on pit lane. They’ve been doing an amazing job, deserve all the credit, no doubt. We had a fast car, but they put it over the top to get the win today.”
Now, Newgarden is back in the championship fight. He came into the weekend 84 points down. Following his 12th place finish on Saturday mixed with Scott Dixon’s win, Newgarden was 117 points arrears. Now, with a win on Sunday and a fifth place effort out of Dixon, he’s back to 96 points down with three race weekend’s left.
“I mean, it’s critical,” Newgarden said of his win on Sunday, his 16th of his Indy Car career. “Yesterday hurt. The 500 hurt even more. It’s a shame, we’ve just been bitten one too many times this year. Normally I feel like the cycle kind of comes around, it starts to ease up on you and starts to hurt someone else. This year it’s just not seemed to ease up on us a whole lot. We’ve had a lot of yellow situations which have gone against us.
“I think yesterday was the third yellow that really hurt our race, just has taken us out of contention. We’ve had a couple other issues here or there that some of them were self-induced, some were out of our control. We’ve just not had a very smooth year.
“In all honesty, I think we could have had four or five wins by this point. We’re not there. We’re a little bit behind. But we’re trying to chase and catch back up and do what we can. We have to keep fighting and try to claw back. That’s all we can do.
“We seem to keep losing ground. Two steps forward… We normally take a step forward and two back. I think if we can reverse that trend, we can fight for a championship.
“It’s getting hard now. Yesterday was just tough. If we can flip that where we take at least two steps forward and maybe a step back, it’s okay, you’re coming out with a net win.
“But we just keep washing with less. We can’t quite claw forward. We just can’t have situations like yesterday where the yellow bites us. We can’t afford that. We cannot afford that with the amount of points we are down.
“If that type of situation keeps happening to us, then unfortunately you’re never going to claw back where we’re at right now. It’s just not going to happen. But I believe we can.
“If those things stop happening, I think we can fight him with. What do we have, five races to go now? It’s tough. We have to have some help. But it’s possible. Anything is possible with that amount of races left.”
Newgarden, said that he thinks his cars may be better this year than last year’s championship run, it’s just that luck keeps going against them.
“We have had really good cars,” Newgarden continued. “We’ve had good cars to compete, running up front, led a lot of laps. We’ve just had too many races that have completely gone against us. It’s unfortunate because the races that go against us, or Will Power, they seem to go Scott’s way. He seems to be the benefactor of our misfortune more often than not.
“I don’t want to harp on it because it’s racing. I’ve had years where we’ve had everything go our way, and Scott has been on the opposite end of that. It kind of ebbs and flows. You can’t complain too much because it goes back and forth.
“This year we’ve been doing a great job. Had three poles. Close to another one yesterday. Not like we’re doing a bad job. We have had good cars. We’ve bitten one too many times with bad luck. Just been hoping it’s going to stop at some point and unfortunately it hasn’t completely stopped yet.”