NEWTON, IA — Josef Newgarden beat Pato O’Ward by 6.1784-seconds on Saturday. Newgarden was beating O’Ward again on Sunday by 2.8384-seconds on Lap 230. 5 laps later, Newgarden crashed after leading 148 of the first 234 laps, handing the lead to O’Ward.
The gift was his. Could he capitalize when he still had 2 more Penske drivers behind him?
“Obviously we were there, we were there to take advantage of an opportunity that got presented to us,” O’Ward said. “I think even with him not finishing the race, I think we still would have given him a hard time. There was still one more pit stop to go.
“Yeah, I was positioning ourselves to do what we just did. Super proud of the boys in the pits. The car was fantastic. I knew it was just all about getting into the Penske sandwich because, yeah, Will was not making it any little easy on me. I knew Josef was going to do the same. It was one thing to get up there, but one thing to pass.
“It just explains how hard it is, how difficult it can be whenever you’re going through the lap traffic, how you get some people, other people behind you are going to get them in a very different situation. That’s how you can lose or gain time.
“You’re never going to perfect it, but trying to lose the least amount of time possible in that situation.”
O’Ward would lead the final 66 laps en route to scoring his 4th career NTT INDYCAR Series victory in Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300. It was a gratifying weekend to which he scored 2 straight top 2 results at the Iowa Speedway.
O’Ward beat Will Power by 4.248-seconds on a more seasonable Central Iowa afternoon for his 2nd straight top 2 result. It’s a weekend he badly needed as he entered Iowa on the heels of 26th, 24th and 11th place finishes respectively. He went from 2nd in points after his runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 to 6th entering Iowa.
“Great weekend for us,” O’Ward said. “We knew we needed to execute this weekend, just to have a shot at the championship. We’ve let a lot of points go from us because of one thing or another.
“We executed. The guys were great in the pits. I did my job in the car. I knew we had the pace to win one. The problem was just trying to get up to Josef. One thing is getting up to him, and one thing is passing him. I’m glad he’s okay. We took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. I just walked away with it. I knew we had the pace to do it. It’s just about being in the right situation.”
Among his 4 wins, 2 of which are on ovals. The other 2 on road/street courses. For whatever reason, ovals have strongly suited O’Ward well in his brief career. He has 8 podiums in his last 10 oval starts.
“I think the team has a great package in the ovals,” he said. “I think that’s definitely our strong suit. We’re getting better in other areas.
“But, yeah, just as a team I think we go to every oval believing that we can beat anybody and we’re going to have as good of a package as anybody else.
“Yeah, going to other tracks is a little bit of a different story in terms of I think we’ve done a good job strategy-wise in ovals, whether it’s a superspeedway or short oval. We don’t seem to have that in road courses. So I think there’s some work to do there.
“Yeah, great job by the team.”
O’Ward says the biggest thing for him personally going into an oval race is just the confidence that he has knowing that his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet is one he can attack with.
“It doesn’t only go for ovals, it goes for street courses,” he continued. “You have to put a lot of trust in the car if you want to extract a lap time.
“Here in Iowa, it’s a tire deg race, it’s not a fuel race. It’s important to have a car that can last, but a car that’s good in traffic.
“While you’re wanting to get through traffic as quick as you can, you need to kind of hold back just a teensy little bit because you can over-burn quite quick.
“I don’t know if it’s one thing or another. I try and prepare physically as much as I can. In terms of video, I’ll watch a few minutes. Every weekend is different. All you can do, if you have a good feeling for it practice one, you just keep working at it.”
Now he moves from 75 points out to 36 behind with 5 races left in the season.
“I think the biggest thing is because everybody that’s fighting for the championship is having good weekends. No one is having bad weekends,” he noted.
“For us, we’ve thrown away and we’ve given away an easy hundred points just either whether it was a strategy or if it was I won’t mention the other ones. We’ve just thrown away a lot of points that would have put us in a way better position of where we are right now.
“I have no other choice but to try and claw back. We can just be more risky than others. I really don’t care. Four, five and six for me doesn’t really change anything. I don’t care for sixth or fourth. We need to go for one and two because we’ve already got a four and a three.
“The only way to do that is to win because you’re not going to get those points by being consistently in the top five. I think if you’re in the lead, it would be a different story, but we’re not.”