BELLE ISLE, Mich — Josef Newgarden had the field covered for the early portions of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. He gave Penske their first pole of the season this morning then jumped out to a 10+ second lead from the get go. See, Newgarden was doing a different strategy than everyone else. He started the 70 lap event on the Firestone Black tires. 12 cars right behind him were on the Firestone alternates.
Newgarden, knew he could go longer than those guys and was going to build as big as a lead as he could. He was doing just that too.
Rinus VeeKay pit on Lap 2 then again on Lap 15. Romain Grosjean pit on Lap 2 as well. Both of them had troubles later on. Alexander Rossi went to Lap 16 but had to change a front wing on his stop and was behind the eight ball from then on out. Conor Daly pit on Lap 9 but didn’t have much for Newgarden.
That left Colton Herta, Alex Palou, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal as his main challengers at that point. Then came Dalton Kellett’s problems on pit road. He stalled at pit exit and when he tried to get going the right rear wheel nut flew off so he stopped again. With a potential of a caution coming out, Newgarden and all those behind him had to pit.
The strategy advantage was gone.
“Yeah, just our breaking day for sure, finished second, and yeah, just kind of was what it was there at the end,” Newgarden said. “Felt like we had a good car and just didn’t work our way strategy-wise and some of the times that we had to pit where we thought we had to pit because a yellow was probably going to come out, I think it all just didn’t play into our favor.”
Newgarden’s advantage went from 10.0894-seconds on Lap 30 to 10.3294-seconds on Lap 33. The thing is, they had to go with the Firestone primaries again since the caution never flew in order to build that lead up again. But, Herta was now on the primaries and coming fast.
The advantage dropped to 7.8706-seconds by Lap 40. Three laps later, it was down to 6.9577-seconds. Herta, pit for his final time on Lap 45. Newgarden had to on Lap 46 in order not to lose too much ground since Herta would be on the blacks and he on the reds to the end.
24 laps on used reds isn’t ideal.
That’s why the lead was down to 3.0590-seconds on Lap 47. It was 1.3418-seconds on Lap 50. Despite leading every lap of the race at that point, the advantage was no longer his. Herta was not only coming, he was there.
Newgarden, had to play defense and was doing a good job. Then, the caution comes out for Jimmie Johnson on Lap 54. It helped in a sense that allowed Newgarden not to have to run too long on those reds but it also bunched up the field.
At this point, Newgarden really needed the race to stay green. But, after just one lap, we saw another caution and it allowed Pato O’Ward to really capitalize.
“Yeah, they were fried,” he said of his tires in the end. “I think probably the worst part was we had to put about 10 extra laps on those tires because we thought the caution was going to come out in that first stint around lap 18 I think we pitted, and you just can’t risk missing the caution. If you miss the caution, you’re just hosed. It just completely ruins your day.
“I think that compromised us more than anything. Then we had to run 25 laps on used reds, so that was not ideal, and then the cautions bunching us up probably hurt us, as well, just brought the whole field back to it. I think we probably could have held Colton off potentially if we just would have run cleanly to the end there. But that’s kind of impossible to say. I’d have to see that play out. I think, yeah, just the cautions and the potential caution is more of what hindered us today.”
Newgarden, ended up holding Herta off. O’Ward, was just too good as he couldn’t do enough to hold him back anymore.
“Yeah, it is what it is. Move on to the next, but felt like we had a good car,” Newgarden continued. “Really proud of our team. I thought they were really resilient this weekend, which is important, and it’s a great job for our partners at Team Chevy to get a one-two here, so pretty stoked for those guys and certainly our partner Hitachi and everybody from Penske Corp that was here supporting us.
O’Ward powered by Newgarden with three laps-to-go. Newgarden tried to make it hard for O’Ward, but his tires were just too far gone. The two made contact, but it was minor and the feelings of Newgarden towards O’Ward don’t change.
“This is one of the future stars of INDYCAR,” he said when he beat O’Ward in last year’s season finale on the streets of St. Pete. “He’s already a star of INDYCAR. I’m a huge Pato fan, so it was fun to race him. He’s driven me so clean. Even when it was very difficult at the end of the race, all of the pickup on the tires, it was tough to clean off, he’s just a great competitor. I’ve really loved driving against him.”
He said on Sunday after a third battle in the last nine races against him for a win that he doesn’t think the Mexican driver has done much differently than last year. It’s just he’s gaining more and more experience.
“I don’t know that he’s done anything different, but he’s — I think he’s picked up where he left off last year,” he said. “They were in the fight last year and they’ve got strong cars certainly at McLaren. They were in the fight pretty much all the way through last season. I think you’re seeing a lot of the same.”
As to the end of the race move? Was O’Ward too aggressive?
“Definitely I think on the limit, but I think it was good hard racing,” he said of it. “There’s a kink on the back straight so it’s not perfectly straight, so to be fighting side by side, I think you probably get a little bit of contact like that. It’s not completely abnormal down in that section of the track. But he was coming like a freight train. My tires were cooked, and he was having great drives off the corner, as you saw.
“I think that’s what kind of did us in. It almost did us in with Alex, too. Thankfully we were able to hold on to second, but yeah, just hard racing.”
O’Ward almost echoed Newgarden’s comments on the end of the race move.
“Yeah, he was moving me on to the marbles,” said the race winner. “He knew where to put me in order for me not to be able to get him, but I didn’t move, so we kind of both went into each other, I guess. That straightaway isn’t really straight.
“Yeah, it was a good battle, I think. I think it makes it more exciting whenever there’s a little rubbin’ rub.”