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Newgarden follows up his 2015 Barber win with third this year

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Josef Newgarden took a third-place car, where he qualified third, and finished third in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

It’s not quite the third he wanted – a third win would have been an ideal scenario to match his first at Barber and second in Toronto last year – but a third place still has the potential to kickstart his 2016 campaign after three respectable but not standout races.

“It was a long day,” Newgarden reflected post-race after his first podium of the year, seventh of his career and first podium since ending second at Pocono last August.

“I mean, I thought we had a good race car. It obviously wasn’t enough for (Simon) Pagenaud or Graham (Rahal), but we were close. I think that’s why we were able to get third was that we were close to those guys. I think we were just about as good as (Will) Power if not a little better on blacks. Really our second stint killed us on the new red tires. I just wore them out really badly, and I couldn’t hold onto the thing. Graham got past me, we lost a lot of time, and we were just trying to play catch up after that.

“I think that’s what really hurt today, but it still wasn’t enough for the top two. I think we were a third-place car, and that’s good. That’s nothing to be mad about, but we’ve got to be a little better for the next round and try and get first.

“I think the Fuzzy’s guys are capable of it. We were here last year and we did the job, so we’ve got to find a little bit more, but I think the Fuzzy’s guys can do that going into the next race.”

Newgarden made it onto the podium for the last race in the commemorative livery No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet following a late-race pass of Power at Turn 16, with just two laps to go.

“In Turn 16, for me that was the good place to do it. I think 5 was tough because you just — everyone was braking really deep, and unless someone made a mistake, it was going to be hard to do it,” he explained.

“16 is always a good place. Will looked like he was super loose in 13, so I was watching him those last 10 laps, and I was like, this is the place where it’s going to happen.”

“It was just that we caught that whole train. It was difficult; he just caught me in the last turn there,” Power told NBC Sports post-race, from his perspective.

Newgarden also expanded on how physical the race was, which was a concern from some drivers going into the race.

“I think I’m putting on a big persona right now, trying to act like I’m not tired and exude energy. I feel great, but I’m super tired,” he admitted. “I hope someone drives me to the airport tonight and I can just get on the plane and listen to some music and fall asleep!

“I wish we could convey it more so how physical these cars are. I mean, they’re not easy to drive. This is one of the most physical tracks we go to, and what makes it tough, you’re driving around here averaging 120 miles per hour, some corners you’re doing 150, 160 into the corner.

“You’re pulling five G’s. It’s massive loading on your body. It’s hot, like you said. We have to wear all this fireproof closing. The cockpit of the car gets really hot. You’ve got no assistance on the steering wheel. They’re really beasts to drive.

“When you don’t have any cautions to break it up a little bit, you get thirsty, you get dehydrated, you get worn out, you get short of breath. It’s all this that comes into effect.”

Newgarden moved from 12th to eighth in the championship standings after this result.

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).