Newgarden emerges from Detroit with fourth in both race, points

Photo: IndyCar

It hasn’t necessarily been chronicled too much but for Josef Newgarden, Detroit has not been a kind place throughout his Verizon IndyCar Series career.

Heading into 2016, Newgarden’s run of results at Detroit was this underwhelming batch of finishes: 15th, seventh, 16th, 20th, 17th, eighth and 21st, with several accidents peppered in.

But this year, things turned the corner a bit. The driver of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet led Saturday’s morning warmup (officially practice two, but for all intents and purposes it was a warmup) before late-race electrical gremlins in fuel-save mode resigned him to a 14th place finish in race one after starting in the same position.

Sunday was an interesting one. A driveshaft issue forced him off in qualifying but Newgarden remained parked off course and out of harm’s way, which avoided a local yellow being thrown and thus meaning he wouldn’t lose his fastest lap. Even despite starting 17th, Newgarden avoided the Turn 1 fracas and was up to 11th, made it into ninth before his first stop at Lap 24 and then gained a handful more spots late in the race once the top four pitted.

Again it speaks volumes about the expectations for the talented young 25-year-old out of the Nashville area and his Ed Carpenter Racing team that fourth can be considered a disappointment.

But after a third in Barber, the hard-luck third in the Indianapolis 500 and now this, Newgarden remains firmly in title contention in fourth place in points heading into the second half of the year. He’s just 18 points behind second-placed Scott Dixon (277-259).

“It’s always been tough here for us. I think we had one of our best cars ever around this place,” Newgarden told NBC Sports post-race. “It’s just a tough weekend. I put us on the back foot in the first qualifying session. I think we had a great car, and touched the wall. Then the race, we had some gremlins towards the end. I think we could have had a top five yesterday.

“Qualifying today wasn’t perfect, with some more issues. I think it was the driveshaft in the end. In the race here it was a great result with fourth. We just didn’t have quite the track position we needed. I think my guys, we kept fighting. We had really fast cars, definitely could not have done a better job of preparing the cars from ECR. We took what we could, maintained our championship position of fourth which is strong for us. We’ll just keep going, chugging along, try and do better at the next round.”

Newgarden was lucky to make it through the opening lap mess that saw two cars out on the spot and a couple more sustain damage.

“I was on the inside of (Alexander) Rossi,” he explained. “We were just touching, I think Rossi was trying to avoid everything to his left and he was running into me side-by-side. Fortunately I had the good position being on the inside. Everything was happening on the outside, so I kind of got through all clean. Just settled in and tried to do something from there.”

Heading to Texas next week (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Newgarden is confident that after two tests the team will be able to atone for its nightmare 2015 race weekend there.

“We actually have had two tests if you count the October one and then we went this season as well with everyone. I think we’ll be good there. Ed has been very good there historically, he’s a great driver around that place,” Newgarden said.

“I’ve learned some tips from him and I think we’ll have great Ed Carpenter Racing cars with Fuzzy Vodka. I don’t see why we can’t challenge for a win next weekend.”

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”