ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – There’s a race weekend’s are just that, weekends. See, it gives all the teams time to figure things out for the most important session of the week – the race itself. Well, for Josef Newgarden, after a trying day Friday, he and his team figured things out Saturday to get their No. 2 Chevrolet in contention for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season opener.
Newgarden, was second in the morning practice session on Saturday. He backed that up with a second place starting spot for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete.
Despite a front row starting spot, Newgarden wasn’t happy. He wanted more. He wanted the pole.
“I was really bummed yesterday,” said Newgarden. “I thought we had a good qualifying position and it was a great team effort being 1-2, but I thought we had pole speed, and I didn’t fully execute on that qualifying lap.”
Newgarden though, thought that they executed a lot better on Sunday. See, he and Tim Cindric had a pre race chat about tire strategy. That conversation led to Newgarden earning his 11th career Indy Car victory and first on his career in St. Pete.
“I feel like we executed today,” said the race winner. “We were very patient in the beginning of the race. We had a right-to-left different tire strategy again today, and it really paid off. I actually think it’s what helped us create the opportunity and we just waited for that, and once it was there, we switched it up, we went to red, probably one of the only cars on Reds at that point and they were new and it really panned out.
“Everything was really solid. We found our footing yesterday and finished it off right today.
The Firestone Reds helped propel Newgarden to victory. See, on a mid race stop, he went a bit further on his first set of Firestone alternates. The track position by staying out, allowed him to pit later. That decision and the one to put on Reds again aided in the deciding factor to win Sunday’s 110 Lap race.
Josef Newgarden wins the IndyCar season opener in St. Pete – INDYcAR Media Site
That decision goes back to the pre race conversation.
“Everyone seemed quite timid on the Reds today,” Newgarden continued. “Everyone started on Reds like they were just gun shy about what was going to happen with them. You know, whether it was they were going to go off or they just didn’t think they were good on the Reds.
“We saw that, and honestly, when we saw the sheet that everyone was starting on basically new Reds, it made a stink about our decision, and because we started on used Reds and that essentially locks you in. You have to run a set of new. So we knew he had to do two stints on Reds but we wanted to be different. We wanted to have the ability, once the track rubbered in to do something different and put those on and jump people.
“That’s why at the beginning of the race I was just patient. I knew we had something up our sleeve there and that was really our strategy. What you saw us do today was our strategy going into it. I tend to think everyone was really scared of them today, that they didn’t think they would be as strong on the red compound but we felt very good on them. I thought it was a very good decision.
“We were literally talking about (tire strategy) right before the race. We were trying to figure out, should we go used (tires) or new Firestone reds (alternate tires) and we made the call at the last minute to stay with used (tires). We’ll have that advantage if we need it and we used it. It just worked out perfectly. I just can’t thank Chevy enough for all their support and what they put in this weekend. We had an incredible engine, we had everything we needed in fuel mileage and reliability and all the power. I’m telling you, we really figured things out on Saturday and it was a rocket ship. I’m so thankful to our group. We have the best of the best working at Team Penske.”
Newgarden, looks the part to earn his second championship in three seasons with Penske. If he can keep this up, he’s going to be a force in 2019.