LEXINGTON, Ohio – Like at Long Beach back in April, all the stars seemed set to align for Josef Newgarden and the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda team during Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
And then, as it seemingly always happens, circumstances outside Newgarden’s control conspired to prevent the talented 23-year-old third year driver from capturing an elusive – and deserved – first career victory in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Although Newgarden started from second on the grid on reds, he then burned off the primaries for his second stint and was all set, back on the reds for the duration to hunt down then leader Scott Dixon.
He got close but not past the Ganassi driver, but was poised to jump ahead on fuel strategy. But unfortunately his plans were foiled in a Lap 65 pit stop, when a crew member fell down, his air jacks failed to engage and he hit an air hose – all of it culminating in a drive-through penalty that dropped him to 12th.
Yet just after Long Beach, when he could have had every reason to be visibly frustrated or incensed with what had transpired, Newgarden displayed maturity, temperament and calmness well beyond his years.
“We didn’t get it right; it’s a shame,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk and IndyCar Radio post-race. “We had such a strong car and man we had great strategy. It was a killer idea going blacks. We hung on (Sebastien) Bourdais, he was on reds, and then it fell right into our seat. I knew it was happening the whole time. You don’t always stick with the plan, and we did today. It was perfect. Everyone knew we were strong today and we had a shot to win. We’ve had a couple of those this year and a couple more to come.”
Race winner Scott Dixon hailed Newgarden’s drive, although Dixon was still saving fuel and able to hold back the challenge.
“Josef came at me with a pretty big charge, but we were saving a lot of fuel,” Dixon said. “Yet we could still hit the number we needed to achieve. So long as you’re good through (Turns) 1 and 2, it’s impossible to pass. Then you can save.”
The air in the media center was nearly sucked out upon Newgarden’s pit stop and then insult to injury. Yet again though, it was the Nashville native now residing in Indy who remained more upbeat than a wealthy number of people on the ground at Mid-Ohio.
This moment reminds me a bit of 2003, when another talented, up-and-coming driver named Michel Jourdain Jr. was poised to win his first ever Champ Car race at Long Beach, driving for Bobby Rahal. Jourdain grabbed the pole, lost the lead but was in position to win before a gearbox issue on his final pit stop cost him the race.
Jourdain would then break through three races later to win his first career race at The Milwaukee Mile.
Guess where IndyCar’s heading in two weeks.
We said it after Long Beach and we’ll say it again after Mid-Ohio – his first win is coming, and ideally sooner rather than later.