LONG BEACH, Calif. – Such are the expectations of you at Team Penske that podiums come first, wins come not much later when you arrive.
Josef Newgarden checked the first one of those to-do list items off the list in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Chevrolet with a third place finish, behind the Honda-powered pair of race winner James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais. His previous best finish at Long Beach was seventh in 2015 and he was eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
And he hopes his bosses, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric, are pleased.
“I hope they’re happy enough so far! I’d like to stay… I’m not ready to get fired yet,” Newgarden laughed in the post-race press conference.
Newgarden started only eighth and found some performance today after a tough weekend trying to dial in the setup. But he said the comfort level comes from the team even though he said he didn’t feel that comfortable with his car.
“The great thing about Roger and Tim is they’ve let me settle in,” he said. “They let me know how to interact with the teammates and engineers. I feel really good about gelling with the team. This was the most eye opening weekend. I wasn’t super happy. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with the car. And that’s OK. There’s gonna be some weekends where I’m uncomfortable. But it feels great.”
For the race, Newgarden explained the mix of strategies between two versus three stops shook everything up, even though Newgarden and Scott Dixon had two of the fastest cars.
“It got a lot more mixed up with the strategies. Me and Dixon were on something different that the front guys,” Newgarden said. “We had a car that was capable of challenging for the win. That last yellow allowed everyone to catch up on fuel. So our strategy of trying to run those guys down wasn’t really able to play out. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes.”
Newgarden and Dixon could have had time to catch the drivers had it not been for a seven-lap caution caused when Alexander Rossi stopped on track with a mechanical issue on Lap 63. Everyone was locked into the same strategy though when this caution flew. Newgarden said his car was solid at both fuel saving and making speed.
“We were strong saving fuel and going fast. I think we were the fastest saving a lot of fuel,” he said. “We closed right back up while saving a ton of fuel. We had a really quick car. It was hard at the end. It was tough for me to get by Sebastien to get to James. Everyone was even. When we had clean air, we had a very fast race car. I had no complaints.”
Even though this is the first time none of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Andretti Autosport have won the first two races since the Champ Car/IndyCar merger of 2008 occurred – Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have opened the 2017 account with wins – Newgarden said the so-called “big three” aren’t struggling so much as the series is just providing a showcase for multiple teams to star.
“It seems like typical IndyCar to me,” Newgarden said. “It’s not bad… Bourdais didn’t qualify at St. Pete, so you don’t know his qualifying pace. We’re all capable. Who’s to say they wouldn’t qualify in the top three? Here, I think with James.. the Hondas looked strong. The Hondas were tough to beat. James was good all weekend.
“I’m not sure it’s been super shook up. It’s typical IndyCar. Anyone can win.”