WEST ALLIS, Wis. – If the old adage “it’s better to be lucky than good” applied to Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing at Iowa, when the team finished second, then their day at Milwaukee was a case of being good better than lucky… and then lucky again.
Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay had taken tires on the final caution at Iowa and the two rocketed through the field to the top two positions, in what Newgarden called a “video game.”
But this weekend in Milwaukee, in the Direct Supply-backed No. 67 Honda, Newgarden was consistently the best Honda-powered entry throughout the weekend. During the 250-lap Verizon IndyCar Series race, he was a top-five staple.
The only problem was, an off-sequence strategy negated what was a potential podium result – Newgarden ran third for most of the final stint – to a near finish outside the top 10.
Newgarden pitted on Lap 236 and on new tires, was the only driver in the field able to slice his way through traffic like a knife through butter. In doing so, he recovered six positions to get back to fifth, capping off the comeback with a last-lap pass of Ryan Briscoe.
“We had to stop for fuel and we weren’t planning on it,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk post-race. “I thought we’d run third to the end and we had to stop… so that put us all the way down a lap down in 11th place, and we had to take tires.
“Once we took tires, then was the advantage, and we could smoke as many people as we could. I can’t even believe we made it back to fifth. It’s awesome we didn’t lose as much.”
Newgarden was surprised to begin with that they even needed the extra stop.
“I didn’t realize it was that close. I thought we were good,” he said.
“We stopped I don’t know when before the (lone) yellow, but it was 15 laps or so, than stayed out with Montoya and Power. I figured we were good. Power stayed out, so I figured we were good to do so.
“We were taking a risk not taking tires at the time, but I thought we’d be able to make it work. It just didn’t pan out. We didn’t have the tires to make it. For us, we had a strong car.”
Team co-owner Sarah Fisher said the team was “evaluating their delta” in terms of figuring when to pit on the final sequence. A potential stop could have occurred 10 laps earlier and had it happened, Newgarden may well have had more time to drive back to the front.
But all told, between the Iowa runner-up, his near-miss at Mid-Ohio, and several other solid runs this season that haven’t produced results worthy of his pace (Long Beach and Barber immediately come to mind), it seems that Newgarden and SFHR are finally starting to hit their stride as a group, which is timely given his free agent status and SFHR’s integration with Ed Carpenter Racing to form CFH Racing in 2015.
“I think we were stronger here than Iowa. We were definitely a podium car,” Newgarden said. “Here, we were podium on pure pace. Iowa we were strong, top-five, but we’re a tick better here.
“We’ve had our ups and downs as a group. Made our miscalculations. But it seems like things are starting to gel. All we have to do is string two more together at Sonoma and Fontana.”