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

Photo: IndyCar

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.

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
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Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor BitNile.com: “It is great for BitNile.com to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”