IndyCar: Newgarden, good, unlucky, then good again en route to Milwaukee P5

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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.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).