Josef Newgarden in his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet devoured the rest of the 22-car Verizon IndyCar Series field in Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300 much the same as a hungry individual would down an ear of roasted corn – quickly and comprehensively.
Yet to hear the talented, popular, 25-year-old out of Hendersonville, Tenn. tell it, Newgarden was quick to extend the thanks to everyone else for making such a dominant performance possible.
Newgarden led 282 of 300 laps after starting second at the Iowa Speedway and at one point had lapped the entire field bar polesitter and second-place runner Simon Pagenaud.
In the post-race press conference, however, Newgarden said while he was good, he was only one part of how big the beatdown was.
“It was a lot of fun, I will tell you that, maybe because the car was so good,” Newgarden said Sunday. “I mean, it wasn’t really falling off much. It just seemed really good. So it was fun.
“Some stints it was like a video game. You put on new tires, catch people at the right point, you could just slice and dice. I think that’s a lot of credit what we’ve built at this team with Ed Carpenter Racing. We had a good car here last year. We had a good shot at winning it then. We had a great race, but we were disappointed we couldn’t get it done last year. We really wanted to get it done this year. We finally got it done, like you said.
“The car was amazing. Absolutely what we needed. I think we were a little tick better. I have to give a shout out to JR Hildebrand. He made it that much better. Unfortunately we weren’t able to test. But JR, I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to have someone like him at our disposal whenever we need it.
“We took a great car that we had last year that I think was a race-winning car, he made it better with his input. Thanks to JR Hildebrand. We got a great crew, great people. Finally got it done today. Happy to get that oval win for the team.”
Newgarden hailed Hildebrand, who like Newgarden is a talented, young American under 30 years old with a past Indy Lights championship win on his resume.
The only problem is, Hildebrand’s availability to Ed Carpenter Racing this year comes with the fact he isn’t in a full-time ride, and hasn’t been in one since 2012 (into 2013, before midseason change). And Newgarden would like to see that change.
“I mean, to me JR Hildebrand should be in a car right now,” he said. “I think he should be driving full-time personally. That’s easier said than done. It takes a lot of money to put these cars on the track.
“The caliber of driver that he is, he should be driving already. He’s not a test driver. I think he’s just a great driver. So for us to have him available to us is pretty fortunate.
“If we ever had to test again or races where I wasn’t going to be there, I’m sure JR would be the top of the list for them. He’s the best guy available. That’s kind of why I mention it. He did a great job at the test. Great teammate, great driver. Love to see him driving full-time at some point.”
Another element that stuck out Sunday was that Newgarden’s pit crew with ECR was flawless. There have been races in the past where bad pit stops have cost Newgarden wins – sometimes on ovals, sometimes on road or street courses.
That said, pit stops were never an issue Sunday, and the fact Newgarden banked as big of gaps as he did on track allowed him to have slightly extra time for stops and not lose the lead on any pit cycle.
“I’m a big believer that you learn from your mistakes, you learn from your experiences,” he said. “That happened in the car with me. That happened with all our guys on the pit crew. We knew we had a car to win here today. I think all those guys had their game together for sure.
“I had complete faith. I never come into the pits and think that we’re not going to get it done. I never think that. When it happens, some of it’s normal. Everyone has bobbles every now and then. I make mistakes on the track, too. You can’t really get down on people.
“Like you said, they were clutch today. No hiccups. The car was perfect. Made great changes. They were aces in the pits. There was really nothing left on the table. I don’t think we could have done much different today to get the job done. I was just so happy for everyone. I think we fired on all cylinders.”
The IndyCar field, though, was quick to compliment Newgarden on the performance. Here’s a sampling from Twitter, which was abuzz with congratulations from his peers, including Hildebrand: