INDIANAPOLIS — Colton Herta told me on Friday morning how he wanted to turn his top five finishes into podiums. That and eliminating rookie mistakes that he made last year were his two goals to accomplish in 2020. If a win or two came is way, then it would be an added bonus.
Well, Herta came close to a podium in Friday’s race. He had the speed for a win but was on the wrong tire strategy. With Saturday’s race being 10 laps shorter than Friday’s, it meant that tire strategy was pretty much irrelevant. Everyone was going to be on the same strategy with the same tire designations.
Herta, caught his teammate Alexander Rossi and passed him for second with 11 laps remaining. He then staked a claim to get Will Power for the win but Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet was just too strong. Herta, had to settle for second, his first podium that wasn’t a race win.
“I think I kind of left everything out there,” said Herta. “I used up a lot of my tires trying to catch back up to those guys. We just didn’t really have it at the end. I think I burned up the rears a little bit too much to the point where Will (Power) could hold me back. I do think we were a little bit faster than him, but, unfortunately, we just didn’t put it together in the first stint until too far back, and that kind of hurt us going into the next two stints.”
On Friday, he felt like he had a car capable of a win too.
See, he was the only driver in the top five of the starting lineup electing to begin the race on the Firestone Black’s. With strategy going to be key in terms of the Reds being faster and lasting longer than normal too, the tire strategy would be flipped here in the cooler conditions to where you’d want to pit earlier when starting on the Black’s and be able to go the rest of the way on the Red’s.
That’s why he felt like if he could keep the guys behind him at bay, he could settle in and really be in a good spot for the rest of the 85 Lap race.
“For me, it’s going to be less aggressive because I’m starting on the black tires where everyone in front of me is on reds,” Herta said to me on Friday morning about Friday’s start. “I even think two guys behind me are on reds also. For me, it’s going to be trying to keep those guys behind me, then after the first 2 or 3 laps hopefully it balances out and I can drive normally at that point and not worry about them and just focus on my own race.”
It worked too. Herta went from third to second on the opening lap. He had a very intense battle with pole sitter Rinus VeeKay for the lead for a while, but VeeKay on Red tires pulled away with Herta settling in for second.
That was his race to lose at that point.
Herta, went with the Reds on the second stop while VeeKay would go to the Black’s. It didn’t take long for Herta to find the lead with the quicker tire. The problem from then on was, Herta was also trying to stretch a fuel number and his rear tires were going away.
Running the Red’s long because he pit early on the first stint on the Black’s hurt him. That allowed Josef Newgarden to close him and force Herta into a rare mistake in running in hot into Turn 1 while leading on Lap 59 and running through the corner. His rear tires were gone.
He’d come out second while running on scuffed Red Tires.
So, they decided to go conservative with the Black tires for the final stint and it was over. Everyone else up front was on Red’s and he went from second to fourth in the end.
“The start and overall of the race was kind of what I was expecting because of the switch-up of tire choices and how a lot of people were starting on blacks and not so many on reds. I thought it would give a good chance in the second stint to move forward. In the end, we were just too loose. We wore out the rear tires and just didn’t have the pace to make the strategy work. We tried to do all we could and ended on blacks.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the pace at the end, but we’re really happy with the Gleaners car and proud to carry the No One Runs On Empty message today. I hope everyone remembers that you can donate now, $0.88 a month at Gleaners.org, and help save 135 families from hunger.”
It’s frustrating for him because he also said to me before the race on Friday that he wanted to turn those fourth, fifth and sixth place finishes he keeps scoring to podiums.
“I really need to turn these fourth and fifth place finishes that we’ve had so often this year and turn them into first, second or third and that will really make the championship,” Herta said. “I think if we can get a few wins next year, and stack those podiums, I think it can look really good going into next year. Just trying to get more podiums.”
Now he’s done so and has shown great improvement from his rookie season to this sophomore. He’s had seven top five finishes in 2020 compared to three a year ago. He’s also had 11 top 10’s in 13 races this year too with having 11 in 17 races a season ago.
Herta’s end of season goal was to catch Josef Newgarden for second in the championship, but that’s now over with Newgarden leading him by 69 points with one race left.