LONG BEACH, Calif. – One of the ongoing storylines in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the battle between the three “big teams” of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport and the remaining teams in the fight for overall supremacy in the series.
In Saturday’s qualifying ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, CFH Racing was the lone team to break the stranglehold of the “power teams,” joining KVSH Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, who put a car apiece into the Firestone Fast Six in St. Petersburg.
Josef Newgarden qualified sixth in the No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, which actually is worse than starts of second (2012) and fourth (last year) in Long Beach but still an impressive result in the team’s third race as a merged unit.
Newgarden estimated there is still plenty more to come.
“I think Penske looks the strongest. They’ve really got a strong car looks like underneath, they have good power down. We’ve been inching towards that. We started off a little slow. We found some setups that get us closer. So I think we can challenge,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk during the post-race press conference.
“For instance, today in Q2, we were really strong. We were right behind Simon there, just a nick off of him. I needed new tires to be able to do that. There’s a little bit of a gap there when I start to wear the tires out. Can’t quite keep the grip underneath me. There’s something there that we need to tweak a little bit more, then I think we’ll be closer to Penske.”
The young American thinks Penske’s early season qualifying stranglehold won’t endure as the year goes on. Thus far, Team Penske has secured seven of the available 12 Firestone Fast Six appearances.
“Penske came out of the gate strong, but everybody is going to close the gap throughout the season,” Newgarden estimated. “No one is going to stay ahead. Each weekend you have to be fighting to find more and more out of the car.
“It’s crazy. You think you find a setup, it works well, you keep running it, it’s successful. That’s not how it works. You need to keep pushing forward, not big chunks, but you have to keep developing. Everyone is doing that, too.
“I think you’re going to see more competition for the Penske guys as the season goes on. You’re not going to see anybody run away with it.”
Newgarden’s results have not matched his pace at this track. He made a bold, if low-percentage, passing attempt on Dario Franchitti in his first Long Beach start in 2012 and was eliminated last year following contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay. But he’s in a good position on Sunday.
The CFH team banked its first double top-10 result last week in NOLA. Newgarden’s teammate, Luca Filippi, will roll off 14th Sunday in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.