MADISON, Ill — Josef Newgarden was somewhat displeased with his Bus Bro and Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin as the skies opened up and wrecked fury on the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway facility on Saturday evening. We were just 42 laps from the finish and Newgarden felt like McLaughlin wasn’t racing him clean on the out lap before.
See, each had went off strategy when Jack Harvey brought the first caution of the race out on Lap 145. They knew it was time to do something different and for Newgarden’s case, he was surprised no one had done so to that point.
“It was a bit processional in the first half,” Newgarden said. “Literally every car just went to fuel save. Everyone wanted to try to make the three-stop work. I was surprised at how many people committed. Seemed like the whole field flipped to it. Wasn’t a lot happening then.
“As soon as that caution 150, 155, something like that, when it provided that opportunity to pit again, it changed things up, put people on different strategies. That made it really exciting.
So he and McLaughlin each hit pit lane on Lap 148. It was the winning move. Each now has fresh tires and could pounce on the ones in front who didn’t. It only took Newgarden 8 laps to go from 7th to 1st and when he did so, he checked out opening up a 4.3902-second lead in just 5 laps. 5 laps after that, his advantage grew to 6.9040-seconds.
He had the car to beat. It came to life. McLaughlin’s car was also coming on strong too in getting by Pato O’Ward for 2nd not too long after. On Lap 180, McLaughlin trailed Newgarden by 6.8208-seconds. By time he pit for the final time on Lap 206, he cut over 5 seconds off his deficit being 1.6372-seconds arrears.
Newgarden pit one lap later. When he exited the blend zone, McLaughlin was there to get him and proved the undercut worthy. The two battled for that top spot among their strategy which irked Newgarden.
“Yeah, I mean, first with Scott, it’s a little bittersweet because we have a great friendship,” said Newgarden. “He’s a tremendous competitor. I rank Scott as one of the most elite drivers in the world, not just here but in the world. He’s top class. Very difficult to beat.
“We get along really great. He’s a tremendous teammate, hard worker. It’s not the easiest friendship to have because we’re competing.
“At the end of the day he wanted to win the race and I wanted to win the race. I was frustrated that we slipped behind him on the pit cycle. I felt like we had the position on him, and that frustrated me.
“I think ultimately we have a tremendous working relationship. Nights like this are good. At the end of the day if we’re battling together, things are going well. We want to see that pretty often. I think we will see that often. Scott is not going to go anywhere. He’s only going to get better. I hope we have more battles. They will be tough because I respect him a lot, consider him a friend, but he’s also a competitor.”
When the last few that were trying to run their 2nd to final stint long pit, it handed the lead to McLaughlin on Lap 213. Rain started falling at Lap 214. The race went red on Lap 218. Was this it?
Luckily for the fans, it wasn’t. The rain was short lived. Track drying ensued. We went red at 6:55 p.m. locally and refired the engines at 9:05 p.m.
In that 2-hours and 9-minute window, was Newgarden plotting how he was going to get McLaughlin on the restart?
“That wasn’t really planned,” Newgarden told me. “I was just going. I don’t know where I’m going, I’m just going. He’s going to go as hard as he can to the corner, I’m going to go harder. It may work out, it may not. That’s sometimes my mentality. It seemed to work tonight.
“But it wasn’t super premeditated, the actual maneuver. It can good so many ways. If I get a big run on Scott, go inside of him, that’s one thing. If I go outside of him, that’s another thing. I didn’t have a big run on him.
“I’m just reacting. I’m going to bullet this first lap quicker than him and I was ready to do that. Fortunately we were prepped and ready and it worked out.”
Newgarden made a power move by McLaughlin in Turn 3 and never looked back en route to his 4th win in 7 tries at WWTR.
“I’m thankful to my teammate,” he said. “I thought Scott drove me with a tremendous amount of respect. He raced me hard, he wasn’t giving me anything, but just gave me a lot of respect like you would expect from a teammate. I think he goes above and beyond sometimes.”
McLaughlin admitted that he knew that he’d have nothing for Newgarden anyways. He felt like Newgarden had a better car and now that the conditions changed to a night time finish, he was well aware his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet wasn’t going to be as strong as it once was during the day.
“No. I think the slipstream effect here, when you can get a run, it works pretty good,” he said of the final restart. “Not surprised. I did all I could to try and break away as much as I could. I went into one pretty hard. I think if we had got through the turn three, maybe I could have held him off. He was quick.
“Like I said, I think my car, it just wasn’t quick enough once the sun went down. That’s part of it. Unfortunately I think if we just keep going green, it would have been different things if it hadn’t have rained.”
He lost 2nd place to hard charging David Malukas on the final lap. For Malukas, he spent that entire time trying to ease his nerves because he knew that he had a massive opportunity for a career race when/if we’d get back green.
Malukas had pit on Lap 211. With a caution flying 3 laps later, he was in 5th place and had the freshest tires outside of anyone besides Graham Rahal (he pit on Lap 212). He knew that he’d have an advantage once we’d restart the race. So how does a 20-year rookie manage those nerves for that extended of a period out of the car?
“Yeah, I wanted to get going so badly,” Malukas told me. “You just sit and you dwell on it, you overthink, do different simulations in your head of how the start is going to go, what’s going to happen.
“At the same time I knew the longer we waited, the better our car was going to be. The cooler the temperatures, going off the information we had at practice. I knew the engineers were getting excited because they knew the situation as well. They’re giving me little tips. I could tell they were a little bit nervous.
“Okay, I kind of just need to get away from them. I could feel their nervousness coming off me. I wanted to go out and focus.
“Yeah, it was a lot longer than whatever the delay was. To me it just felt like it was a day. I just wanted to get back out.”
He made the most of that opportunity but knew he had to endure 3 Penske’s to get to the top spot. He nearly got by all 3.
“I saw them go through one and two. Oh, my God, they’re Penskes. I’m going behind Penskes right now. This is crazy,” he admitted.
“To me, as a kid, I used to always watch. I just could only dream of it. Every time through practice, every time they passed me, I always let them by, Man…
“It’s definitely special to me. I was trying so hard to not get nervous. I mean, I was nervous, but I was trying so hard not to get overexcited and do something stupid. Yeah, it’s definitely intimidating when there’s two Penskes in front of you.”
He made quick way of Will Power and Pato O’Ward but by time he caught McLaughlin, the clock was already expiring. There was 1 lap left. He made a bold move on the outside of Turns 1 and 2 to get by and just fell short of getting Newgarden in front for the win.
McLaughlin said he had nothing for Malukas there either.
“I think our car was very good in the afternoon, late evening when the sun was still out,” said McLaughlin. “After the sun went away, lost my balance in that last stint. Didn’t have what Josef and David had. David was strong, coming at us really hard. Obviously me and Josef pulled away. I sort of knew I didn’t have much.
“Midway through the stint, started loose. Hard to get runs similar what I had in the daylight.
“Yeah. I mean, I did what I thought. I went the high line against Josef, that didn’t work. I went low line against Dave thinking, He’s a rookie, he might not, he might not. Then he did. Oh, well, I was wrong. Went around the outside.
“It was a solid move. Credit to you. It was awesome. That’s what oval racing is all about. I left him enough room, he left me enough room, we got through there two-by-two. It was a stellar pass. What we’re doing with building the lanes, making them really nice for oval racing is really cool.
“I’m absolutely disappointed. I felt like we were really solid there today in the daylight. Yeah, sort of lost it there at the end.”