INDIANAPOLIS — Josef Newgarden was quickest in each of the last two years on the overall Indy 500 open test speed chart. That didn’t end up meaning all that much. He’s qualified 21st and 14th respectively and finished 12th and 13th in those races.
This year, he was once again quickest overall (227.686 mph). last month What makes this year different than the last two?
He hopes everything. He feels the momentum. He won Texas last year but didn’t win equate to a win either at Indy. He did so again last month.
“I think Indy, there’s a lot of recipes that can work here, and I think our approach of trying to get the details right has always been true at this team,” Newgarden said on the morning of Fast Friday. “I don’t think we’re going to change that.
“But sometimes there’s different elements that we may not look at the right way, and we go back and we look at them again and say, can we look at them differently.
“I think that has been a core thing for us, just trying to reassess every little detail in the way that we’re examining it, and hopefully we’ve got a better recipe this time around.
“I think our approach is similar to always; this race, this team knows how to win this race. They’ve won it the most of anybody. They’re very successful at doing it.
“I think the core principles need to stay the same as always, but we know we need to elevate our game with regards to speed and we’ve been chipping away at it. There’s been a tremendous amount of effort from everybody. There’s no shortage of effort.
“We’re excited for this weekend. Hopefully we’re going to have enough, and then obviously the big show is next weekend, so let’s see where we land.
“I thought we were on a much better path last year. I think unfortunately we didn’t get to show the full potential of the work that went into last year. I really think we should have had a couple more cars in the Fast 12.
“Generally, not just saying that for trying to paint the picture better, but we made a lot of progress last year, and I think this year is more of an evolution of what we did last year.
“We can go back and pick apart 2022 and we can make it look a lot better I think if things go differently, but we can’t. We landed where we did. Just to reiterate, I think we made a big step, and we’re just evolving within that step again this year. We obviously need a little bit more than where we were last season, and we’re going to find out this weekend if we fully get there.
“I feel pretty confident at the moment that we’ve done a lot of good work to get there, and we’ve just got to execute now.”
Newgarden feels their offseason work has finally paid off. So does teammate Will Power.
“Yeah, we’ve worked extremely hard in the off-season development-wise,” Power said. “Just sort of two days in of running I feel like we’re in a pretty good place, definitely in race work.
“The no-tow laps look good right now, but you never sort of can rely on that. I think today we’ll get a pretty good idea of where we stack up pace-wise.
“There’s so many good team-driver combinations now, people — all these teams turn up, they just improve every year, and the car doesn’t change. So there’s a ceiling.
“I think Ganassi was the top, and everyone is sort of getting up there now. I think it’s going to be one of the tightest qualifyings in history here, especially to get in the top 12.
“I think we’ve done the work and I think Chevy has improved a bit, and I’m really hoping all three of us are in that top 12, and if everything goes really well, fighting for a pole.”
Power is a 68-time pole winner in INDYCAR. That set the new record. However, he’s not yet won a pole here. With starting position meaning so much to this race again, that’s partly the reason Penske has slumped in this race lately.
At one point, Power made the Fast 9 in 11 straight years here, including four front row starting spots (2010, 2014, 2015, 2018), but none of those resulted in a pole. He’s finished 14th or worse in 4 of the last 6 Indy 500 starts.
“Man we we’ve done everything we can to get qualifying speed there’s not at the end of the day, you’re at the mercy of the speed of the car simply,” Power told me. “Then you’ve just got to put downforce to match.
“Honestly, it has you have to have the car. You have to have that that you have to have cars capable of doing it then it’s up to you to how much you want to trim. But unless you have that you just simply so you know, just at the mercy of what you want what car it is. Because very finicky here, you can just have a fast car and it can be the best of the team. They’re all built the same. One just slightly faster. So I would be waiting to have that car for many years. I’ve had it been close then. Yeah. Been on the front row. But yeah, yeah, it’d be nice.
“Like to get for flat out lap so team has worked I’d say last three years extremely hard on that. So we’re hoping to get all cars and the top 12 this year and closer to the front, but obviously it matters in the race because I got the top 12 and went all the way back to last with a loose car so I think I think we’re all pretty keen for a good run this month.”
Roger Penske bought the Speedway in late 2019 and turned the ultimate flex up to a whole new level. See, his parking space is located just outside of the media center in the shadows of the pagoda. Everyone else’s space is known through initials. Mark Miles’ is MM. Doug Boles’ is DB. Penske’s? It’s 18. Not RP. The 18 stands for Indy 500 victories.
At the time, he had won two straight Indy 500’s. A third seemed likely in the very near future. But, as we sit here today, he’s 0-for-3 and surprisingly hasn’t even been close. He’s 0-for-4 in the GMR Grand Prix too.
Heading into last year’s Month of May, Team Penske was off to a successful start to the 2022 season and everyone was talking about them being the ones to win last year’s Indy 500. They had won each of the 1st 3 races, started on the front row in 4 of the 5 and have taken 6 of the 15 podiums spots available.
They were once again, nowhere to really be found in Indy.
That included another winless Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
They failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).
Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day. A year later, they’d qualify 17-21-26-32 and finish 3-12-20-30 with just 3 laps led all day.
Newgarden has won everything but this race. The 26-race winner in INDYCAR competition is 0-for-11 in this race with just five total Top-10 finishes in it. 3 of those 5 top 10 results were in the top 5 however, but Newgarden has yet to drink the milk here.
Power is one that has won the race (2018).
Scott McLaughlin is the relative newbie. He’s only 0-for-2 here but is eyeing his first top 10 on the 2.5-mile oval. He was 10th in the test.
“There’s always room to grow,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been an up-and-down few years, but obviously last year was fantastic in terms of my development, and then this year having a win already before coming to Indy is a nice feeling.
“But as the guys have said, I think as a team, I think we’ve really worked together well between the three drivers, between the engineers, between everybody that’s behind the scenes and put in the hard work to make sure we get speed.
“But also, it’s not just here. It’s all the other tracks, as well. I think we’ve really worked together and the camaraderie in the team has been great.
“From a personal perspective, there’s always times where I can find a bit more of myself, and I’ll continue chipping away at that. New stuff will pop up every year, doesn’t matter if it’s third, fourth or the tenth year.
“I feel like I’m in a good place right now, feel comfortable in the car, feel comfortable here at this place, and hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the month.”
They come to the Indy 500 reeling off of a disappointing GMR Grand Prix which saw them qualify 12th, 13th and 16th and have just one car even finish in the top 10. That comes after winning 2 of the previous 3 races and having 2 of the 3 podium finishers in the race prior at Barber.