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Pole “would have been amazing,” but Newgarden race-focused from P2

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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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”