With 2016 plans undetermined, Newgarden focused on finishing 2015 strong

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – It seems with every passing year in Josef Newgarden’s Verizon IndyCar Series career, one thing has come better the next.

His rookie season in 2012 featured some speed but no results. Qualifying took a dip in 2013 but results improved. Then there was the mix of some speed and some results in 2014. This year, there’s been yearlong speed, yearlong results, but not the full consistency needed to make what’s been a career year even better.

Still, with two wins, a third podium at Iowa (runner-up finish), eight total top-10 finishes and a series-high 296 laps led through 13 races, Newgarden is enjoying his best season to date in the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet.

He sits eighth heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC).

“It’s been a good year in a lot of respects,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk in an interview at Mid-Ohio this weekend.

“Where we are in the points is a result of Indy GP, Detroit, Texas and Fontana. Those four killed us in points. When we haven’t had bad races we’ve had good ones. Iowa was strong. We had the car to beat over long runs and over the whole night. We missed it a little bit. It’s probably a good thing if we’re disappointed with second.”

Newgarden, who drove for the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team the last three years before SFHR and Ed Carpenter Racing came together – seeds of which were sown at Mid-Ohio last year – said there hasn’t been as big a performance leap as it might seem.

Both teams had been thorns in the proverbial “bigger teams’” sides as single-car outlets, and they’ve only grown stronger as the combined CFH Racing unit, featuring Newgarden in the No. 67 car and Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi sharing the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

“I don’t think our performance has been a huge leap, and I say that because we were good last year, particularly at the end of the season,” Newgarden said. “We came on so strong. We had fast racecars and we could never execute. This year we’ve continued to have fast cars. We made them even better. Built on the speed and executed better.”

Newgarden’s future, if it isn’t already, will become a major talking point over the next month or so.

Mid-Ohio is traditionally the kickoff to the silly season, but the nature of this year’s condensed schedule means deals might not be happening until the Sonoma weekend or even post-season.

Newgarden signed a one-year deal to remain with CFH Racing for 2015, with a team option for a second. While he’d be keen to stay, it stands to reason he will be exploring the market and other options when the time is right.

“Next year’s hard, because I think everything will happen later, with the way this season has gone,” Newgarden explained. “There’s time after the end of the year. I don’t think movement will happen until late August or September before people do stuff.

“For me, I’m looking at it as I want the best situation possible to win races, and a good environment. To be fair, CFH Racing has provided that for me. They have provided me all the tools they possibly could to be successful. Jeremy (Milless, engineer) is one of those tools.

“This whole group would like to have me back and I’d like to be back. But I have to look for the best opportunity for me, too.”

Newgarden hailed Milless, his second-year race engineer, who has been the young buck upending the veteran engineers and more veteran drivers in this first year of manufacturer aero kits.

“Jeremy is young, yes, but he’s very intelligent. I love working with him,” Newgarden said. “It’s a big reason I stayed with CFH this year, he was going to be my guy again. We have a good combo. He saw my career from the beginning in 2012, but he hasn’t been a primary race engineer that long. He’s put experience in for 10 to 15 years. He’s plenty talented and you see what he’s done. He’s really shined over two years.”

Heading into Mid-Ohio this weekend, Newgarden has a chance to win his third race of the season at the biggest one that got away from him last year. Coincidentally, the other two have been Honda-sponsored races at Barber and Toronto.

“It’d be nice to have a good result here after last year,” he said. “It looked like we’d get the first win last year and it didn’t materialize. I know we’ve executed well. I think we should be in the mix.”

Brown: Dennis would have made same decision on McLaren-Honda split

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Zak Brown believes former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis would have made the same decision to cut ties with struggling Formula 1 engine partner Honda had he still been in charge at the team in 2017.

McLaren executive director Brown helped engineer a deal for the team to split with Honda at the end of the 2017 season after three tough seasons that had seen the Japanese manufacturer offer little in the way of performance or reliability.

The decision split opinion, with McLaren spurning a significant annual financial injection from Honda in order to link up with Renault, believing its on-track fortunes had to be prioritized over its commercial interests.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Brown was asked if he believed Dennis – McLaren’s long-running team chief before stepping down at the end of 2016 – would have made the same decision to cut ties with Honda.

“I think he would have,” Brown said.

“He was here when those conversations were ongoing and I think Ron always has and always will have the best interests of McLaren in his heart.

“He is Mr. McLaren. It burns him inside as much as us not to see us winning races.”

Brown also elaborated on the decision to break off the much-lauded relationship with Honda, saying the first signs of trouble with the 2017 power unit were clear in pre-season.

After a number of attempts to try and rectify the situation, Brown and his fellow team bosses felt there was no alternative but to end the Honda deal for 2018.

“We knew we were in trouble in testing in Barcelona and we worked really hard for six months to try and find solutions that would give us confidence that we’d be much more competitive in 2018,” Brown said.

“Ultimately, after trying many different things and many different ways we felt we couldn’t get there.

“Three years is a long time in Formula 1 and so we needed to change the direction to get our team back at the top.”