INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden stood, waiting, wondering whether his four-lap run of 230.700 mph would stand as the pole-winning speed for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
One by one, with Townsend Bell, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, they came up short of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet.
The tension was the polar opposite of the polar bear car – it was hot.
And in far less than the amount of time it took for an ice cube to melt, Newgarden’s pole opportunity also slipped away.
By all of 0.060 of a mph and 0.0407 a second after four laps, and 10 miles. James Hinchcliffe beat him.
Not that Newgarden minded, that much.
“Pole is incredible. I wanted to win it so bad. It would have been amazing,” Newgarden said in the post-qualifying press conference.
“But the main thing is, we gotta win this race. We’ve done a great job of getting to the top nine. Getting a good starting spot today was the goal, and we got a good second. We were second best.
“You can’t take anything away from James and the Honda and the whole team. It’s a stout operation. Amazing four laps. We all had an equal opportunity. They deserve everything they got today.”
Newgarden’s Ed Carpenter Racing team gambled on strategy a bit. He qualified Saturday at a higher downforce rear wheel pod configuration, with extra winglets on both his left and right pods. His Saturday speed of 230.229 mph – run in that higher downforce configuration – was still good enough to make it to the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday.
That being said, come Sunday when Newgarden took the winglets off and qualified more trimmed out, the speed was bound to come.
A 231.551 mph first lap, the fastest of the day and the only qualifying lap in the 231 mph range, was still hard to fathom.
“I was shocked when I saw the first lap,” Newgarden admitted.
But he said the run was about what he could have hoped for.
“The run itself wasn’t terribly bad. Thought we had the car sorted. It wasn’t easy,” he said.
“We were running with a bit more (downforce, than it may have looked) today. But we kept the speeds up. It wasn’t as on the edge as it could have been. Putting it on ragged edge hasn’t been as successful this weekend.”
The reference to it not being as much on the edge as it could have been goes to the aero changes this year, particularly the “infamous” domed skids on the underside of the chassis and the rear wing beam flaps on the rear wheel guards.
Drivers and teams have noted the cars have been tougher to drive, but it has also provided a great test of driver talent.
For Newgarden, a better race is the goal, because this has been a race where he’s struggled results-wise.
He has prior starts of seventh, 25th, eighth and ninth — but his finishes have been only 25th, 28th, 30th and ninth.
After a playful jab from fellow front-row starter Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will roll off third next Sunday, Newgarden said he’ll have to study the 2014 Indy 500 champion’s past races.
“I’m gonna get a glass of milk and study his strategies. See what I can do to be like Ryan tomorrow,” he joked.