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.”

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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