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Newgarden secures his first podium for Penske at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Such are the expectations of you at Team Penske that podiums come first, wins come not much later when you arrive.

Josef Newgarden checked the first one of those to-do list items off the list in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Chevrolet with a third place finish, behind the Honda-powered pair of race winner James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais. His previous best finish at Long Beach was seventh in 2015 and he was eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg.

And he hopes his bosses, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric, are pleased.

“I hope they’re happy enough so far! I’d like to stay… I’m not ready to get fired yet,” Newgarden laughed in the post-race press conference.

Newgarden started only eighth and found some performance today after a tough weekend trying to dial in the setup. But he said the comfort level comes from the team even though he said he didn’t feel that comfortable with his car.

“The great thing about Roger and Tim is they’ve let me settle in,” he said. “They let me know how to interact with the teammates and engineers. I feel really good about gelling with the team. This was the most eye opening weekend. I wasn’t super happy. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with the car. And that’s OK. There’s gonna be some weekends where I’m uncomfortable. But it feels great.”

For the race, Newgarden explained the mix of strategies between two versus three stops shook everything up, even though Newgarden and Scott Dixon had two of the fastest cars.

“It got a lot more mixed up with the strategies. Me and Dixon were on something different that the front guys,” Newgarden said. “We had a car that was capable of challenging for the win. That last yellow allowed everyone to catch up on fuel. So our strategy of trying to run those guys down wasn’t really able to play out. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes.”

Newgarden and Dixon could have had time to catch the drivers had it not been for a seven-lap caution caused when Alexander Rossi stopped on track with a mechanical issue on Lap 63. Everyone was locked into the same strategy though when this caution flew. Newgarden said his car was solid at both fuel saving and making speed.

“We were strong saving fuel and going fast. I think we were the fastest saving a lot of fuel,” he said. “We closed right back up while saving a ton of fuel. We had a really quick car. It was hard at the end. It was tough for me to get by Sebastien to get to James. Everyone was even. When we had clean air, we had a very fast race car. I had no complaints.”

Even though this is the first time none of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Andretti Autosport have won the first two races since the Champ Car/IndyCar merger of 2008 occurred – Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have opened the 2017 account with wins – Newgarden said the so-called “big three” aren’t struggling so much as the series is just providing a showcase for multiple teams to star.

“It seems like typical IndyCar to me,” Newgarden said. “It’s not bad…  Bourdais didn’t qualify at St. Pete, so you don’t know his qualifying pace. We’re all capable. Who’s to say they wouldn’t qualify in the top three? Here, I think with James.. the Hondas looked strong. The Hondas were tough to beat. James was good all weekend.

“I’m not sure it’s been super shook up. It’s typical IndyCar. Anyone can win.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.