IndyCar field hails Newgarden, who then hails Hildebrand, ECR team

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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:

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”