Newgarden’s race debut with Penske thwarted by first yellow

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If not for an untimely caution period, Josef Newgarden might have battled for the win on his debut with Team Penske. Instead, after starting fourth, he ended eighth – which also ended the respective streaks of winners at St. Petersburg starting fourth and the No. 2 Penske Chevrolet in victory lane at four and two years in a row, respectively.

A lap 26 caution, caused by contact between Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin that spread pieces of bodywork across the track, put the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at a strategic disadvantage. Newgarden ran mid-pack when racing resumed on lap 30 and, like everyone else caught out by that caution, had difficulty moving forward. He did manage to finish eighth, a respectable result all things considered.

Newgarden was not overly disappointed by the outcome, noting that cautions are a part of racing and that he has benefited from them before.

“We were on the bad end of the yellow today. We’ve been on the good end before,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “I’ve certainly been on (the good end). Some days it helps you, some days it hurts you, and today we were just on the bad end of it, which put us in the back,” Newgarden said of the caution’s impact on the team’s strategy.

Surprisingly, eighth is actually Newgarden’s best finish on the streets of St. Petersburg. His previous best was a ninth place finish in 2014, his only other top ten at the Florida street circuit. “I’ve never had much luck at St. Pete,” Newgarden quipped. “It’s always been one thing or another, today it was the yellow.”

Yet, while the 26-year-old acknowledged that he wanted a better result, he walks out of St. Petersburg happy with the performance of the No. 2 team. “It would’ve been nicer to walk away with something better here. But, I’m happy that we got a solid result to stand on,” he asserted. “Top 10 in our first race together: not bad, but we want to be better. So, let’s go to the next one and we’ll try and get some redemption on the results side and just keep marching forward.”

The newest member of Team Penske, Newgarden also needed to adapt to extra responsibilities away from the race track, such as an increase in PR appearances for team partners and sponsors. However, Newgarden described them as nothing out of the ordinary and he is not bothered by the extra responsibilities.

“We try and look after all our partners and there’s a lot,” he explained. “There’s a lot of partners within Team Penske. But, it’s just like anything I’ve experienced in the past with ECR and teams before. You’re working hard to please everyone on the team. This weekend was a little busier, but not too different from what I’ve experienced in the past.”