IndyCar: Newgarden comes from 21st on grid to finish 2nd at Iowa (VIDEO)

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Going into Saturday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300, the results had not been there for Josef Newgarden this Verizon IndyCar Series season. But the American and his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team finally put a big one on the board in the Heartland.

With 17 laps remaining in the 300-lap event, Newgarden took advantage of a caution period to pit for fresh tires in hopes that they’d help him make a late push for positions.

Ryan Hunter-Reay made the same decision and when the green flag came back out, both Honda-powered Americans sliced their way to the front of the field.

In the end, Hunter-Reay was victorious, while Newgarden captured his second career IndyCar podium by finishing second after starting 21st.

“I knew the laps were clicking down and at about five to go, I realized, ‘OK, this is going to get really good,'” Newgarden told NBCSN (for more of his comments, check out the clip above). “But there just wasn’t enough time to get Ryan. So, it’s really cool – obviously, finishing on the podium is a great job for our whole team, especially after qualifying. We made a bit of an error there.

“[But] we just did an amazing job tonight. Our team was solid. We had such good pit stops, really good strategy, just kept our head in the game the entire way.

“We didn’t have the best balance all race long, but there were parts where we were really fast. We just kept with it, and at the end, we made it when it counted.”

Prior to Saturday, Newgarden has suffered five DNFs in the first 11 races of the year and his best finishes were a pair of eighths from Barber Motorsports Park and Pocono Raceway.

Time will tell if Saturday’s result will be what he and the single-car SFHR team needed to begin a second-half charge. But Newgarden did note that instead of running into bad luck like he has repeatedly in 2014, the breaks went his way this time.

“It was great to have a run that I think was representative to our pace,” he said. “We were definitely a Top-10 car tonight, probably got a little more than we needed there by doing the new tire strategy.

“But this team deserves it…To get a result – every now and then, it’s something you need obviously, and we’ve been waiting for it.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne