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.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.