Paddock Buzz: Newgarden’s Overcut Not Quite Deep Enough

  • Racing News
Josef Newgarden Will Power Scott McLaughlin

For the 14th time since 1946, an INDYCAR SERIES team finished 1-2-3 across the finish line. Team Penske accomplished the rare feat for the 10th time, sweeping the podium in Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America.

Runner-up finisher Josef Newgarden rued not being the victor among his teammates in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. The two-time defending Indianapolis 500 winner said the decision to bring him to the pits a lap earlier than eventual winner Will Power cost him the victory as both used the “overcut” strategy of pitting later than rivals to gain an advantage.

“That’s the difference,” said Newgarden after earning his 19th career runner-up finish. “It was a really good team day. One, two, three: I don’t think we can be dissatisfied with that. We did a great job.

“Both things can be true as a great team day, and I think we let that one go. That’s what’s hard about it. We gave it away. We probably misstepped there at the end. I feel bad I came in a lap early. I probably should have stayed out.”

Newgarden nailed the strategy early as the only driver in the top 10 of the starting lineup to begin the 55-lap race on the softer Firestone alternate tire. Three early-race cautions totaling six laps in duration helped Newgarden get more life from the less-durable tire.

He drove to pit lane on Lap 17 for the more durable Firestone primary tires. Then, the Lap 31 pit sequence when Newgarden could go with the black sidewall tire again compared to teammates Power and Scott McLaughlin having to do a green flag stint on the Firestone red-sidewall alternate tires, the race swung toward Newgarden.

With varying strategies throughout the field, Newgarden inherited the lead on Lap 36 over McLaughlin. Power was third in his No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet.

McLaughlin bailed first in his No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet for his final pit stop on Lap 42. Newgarden came in one lap later. Power pitted at the end of Lap 44, and that extra lap was decisive.

Still, Newgarden took pride in the work of all three Team Penske crews to prepare his backup No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet for the race after he suffered a massive, high-speed crash in the “kink” area of the back straightaway during Firestone Fast Six qualifying Saturday.

“Big thank you to the entire team,” Newgarden said. “That was a team effort to get that car out there, and it was just as good as the day before. That’s what you get at Team Penske.”

McLaughlin Proud of Penske

Three weeks ago, for the first time since 1988, Team Penske swept the front row for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with McLaughlin, Power and Newgarden earning starting spots 1-2-3, respectively.

Two weeks ago, McLaughlin led a race-high 66 of 200 laps in a sixth-place finish while Newgarden made a daring last-lap pass by Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward to claim his second consecutive “500” victory, giving Team Penske its record-extending 20th win in “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”

One week ago on the streets of Detroit wasn’t one of the finest hours for Team Penske with Power finishing sixth, McLaughlin 20th and Newgarden 26th. The team rebounded Sunday for a 1-2-3 at Road America.

McLaughlin finished third, his first podium at Road America.

“I’m super stoked,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll take the points and move forward, but it was a nice rebound from Detroit.”

McLaughlin leaves Road America fifth in points, trailing Power by 57. This is the highest McLaughlin has been in the standings all season, climbing from 29th after Long Beach.

Six of the last seven years, the eventual NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion finished on the podium at Road America. If that trend continues, a Team Penske driver will hoist the Astor Challenge Cup championship trophy in September.

Palou Stays Strong at Road America

Two-time and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou admitted he didn’t have a race car to challenge the Team Penske trio at winning Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix at Road America.

To bring the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda fourth, 16.7118-seconds behind race winner Power and eight seconds behind third-place finisher McLaughlin, is something Palou said he will take as the “best of the rest.”

“They were just on another level today,” Palou said of Team Penske. “Happy with our race. It was a bit frustrating to run alone for most of the race, but it was a good day for us.”

Palou chopped 13 points from his deficit to the lead after trailing teammate Scott Dixon by 18 points entering Road America and leaving five points behind new NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Power.

Kirkwood Continues Ascension

Kyle Kirkwood climbed from fourth in his No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Global to second after the opening-lap, opening-corner incident from NTT P1 Award winner Linus Lundqvist, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Armstrong and Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta.

Kirkwood lacked the speed to hang around with Team Penske trio but had enough pace to finish fifth. It was his fourth NTT INDYCAR SERIES top-five finish in his 41st start, including two in a row following a fourth-place result in last Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

“We executed super well,” Kirkwood said. “Great strategy. We just didn’t have the outright pace that we needed to be able to challenge for a win or even a podium. We’re good here, maybe not the best today, but overall, we’ve been really solid. We will take the points.”

Kirkwood hasn’t finished worse than 11th in seven races this season. He is sixth in points, 57 behind leader Power.

NBA Finals on Drivers’ Minds

The Larry O’Brien NBA championship trophy was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge race weekend last month, with drivers getting a close look at the 15.5-pound trophy.

Ahead of Sunday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, AJ Foyt Racing driver and Dallas resident Santino Ferrucci is rooting for his Mavericks to topple the Celtics in the finals overlooking the 107-89 drubbing the team took in Game 1.

“The Mavs better win the NBA Finals,” he said. “I’ll be so mad if they don’t. I’m a big fan of the Mavs because I never followed the NBA until I moved to Dallas. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people there. Also, growing up in Connecticut, I’m an anything but Boston fan.”

His AJ Foyt Racing teammate, Sting Ray Robb, is a big Luka Doncic fan, so he has a rooting interest for the Mavs.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner and driver Helio Castroneves is picking Dallas to rally from its 1-0 deficit and win the series because he’s friends with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Andretti Global teammates Herta and Marcus Ericsson are siding with the Boston Celtics to win. Both are fans of the Indiana Pacers, and Herta said he hopes Boston wins so the Pacers can boast they lost to the best team.

Arrow McLaren driver O’Ward recently had dinner with the Celtics’ owner, so O’Ward said, “Boston Celtics, don’t let me down.”

Odds and Ends

  • Andretti Global driver Jamie Chadwick became the third female to win an INDY NXT by Firestone race Sunday at Road America and the first since Pippa Mann in 2010. She also becomes the 13th different winner in the last 25 INDY NXT by Firestone races. There were seven different winners in the 29 races prior to that stretch.
  • Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Power took the points lead. The Team Penske driver becomes the fifth driver to lead the points in seven races this season. O’Ward led the standings following St. Petersburg, Dixon led leaving Long Beach, Herta leaving Barber Motorsports Park, Palou leaving both the Sonsio Grand Prix and 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, and Dixon after Detroit.
  • Sunday was the first visit to victory lane in 736 days for Power with his last victory coming June 5, 2022, at Belle Isle Park in Detroit.
  • With three natural road course starts this season at Barber Motorsports Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America, Power has an average finishing position of 1.66. McLaughlin and Palou are tied for second-best with an average finish of 3.33.
  • McLaughlin was the seventh different driver in as many races this season to finish third. McLaughlin follows Herta at St. Petersburg, Palou at Long Beach, Lundqvist at Barber Motorsports Park, Christian Lundgaard in the Sonsio Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dixon for the Indianapolis 500 and Armstrong on the streets of Detroit.
  • Since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES return to Road America in 2016, today's race featured a race-high 13 lead changes.