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.”