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


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:

American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida