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Josef Newgarden now planted in IndyCar’s champions field

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The spelling of his first name is abnormal, with an -f instead of a -ph ending. The spelling of his last name is the closest in racing to a Belgian wheat beer, Hoegaarden.

But much like wheat, hops, and yeast, on Sunday Josef Newgarden’s completion as the finished article has finally brewed to the surface.

And like one of his sponsors at Team Penske, Miller Lite, Newgarden is an American home-brew who goes down smooth.

At 26 years of age, and after his sixth season, Newgarden is the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first champion under 30 years old since Scott Dixon at 28 in 2008, and the youngest overall since Dixon again in 2003, at 23.

Dixon is well on his way to being regarded as the all-time elite driver of his generation, but Newgarden has laid the first major layer to being the pre-eminent driver of the next one.

Fellow champions Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais are all in their late 30s or early 40s, along with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud who are Newgarden’s teammates. Along with the possibly-getting-moved-out-of-IndyCar Helio Castroneves, they’re all closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.

Newgarden, whose former social media presence was under the “Racer of Tomorrow” moniker and who famously debuted on the IndyCar video scene as a rookie in 2012 going “incognito” at Long Beach, is the driver who can lead a generation of perhaps a dozen recent Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires graduates to the big time. Along with 25-year-old Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion, IndyCar has two potential huge, young American stars to build with for its future.

Newgarden’s title, driving the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, comes after his own decade-plus of growth from a teenager racing go-karts starting at New Castle Motorsports Park in Indiana to returning home to the U.S. after his brief sojourn in Europe, and evolving year-by-year.


Racing journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Shaw is regarded as perhaps the unofficial “patron saint of American driver talent scouting.” Shaw is a racing lifer and since establishing the Team USA Scholarship in 1990, and working with the scholarship’s partners, has gone on to discover a number of eventual open-wheel and sports car winners, champions and stars. Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Memo Gidley, Tony Renna, Buddy Rice, Joey Hand, Andy Lally, Bryan Sellers, AJ Allmendinger, Charlie Kimball, JR Hildebrand, Dane Cameron and Joel Miller were among notable recipients from 1990 through 2007.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe and Zach Veach attend the 2012 Stars & Strikes Celebrity Bowling Bash at Western Bowl on February 2, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

And then came 2008, when two bashful, dorky young teenagers named Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly were both named Team USA Scholarship recipients in the same year (pictured far left and second from left, in 2012).

It was perfect symmetry given both had developed a friendship and rivalry that still exists to this day, having began in karting. This gave them both their first shot in Europe, racing with Cliff Dempsey Racing for the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy.

Shaw explained what he saw in Newgarden.

“I couldn’t be happier for Josef. It was plainly obvious back in 2008 that he was especially talented — both in and out of the car,” he told NBC Sports.

“He and Conor Daly were already great friends from their karting days, so that chemistry certainly helped to bring out the best in both of them during their trip to the UK as representatives of the Team USA Scholarship.

“They spurred each other on, working fabulously well with the team, Cliff Dempsey Racing, and brought home the desired results as Josef won the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and then a couple of weeks later Conor added the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.”

Both drivers’ form back then laid the groundwork for their eventual journeys to IndyCar, though how they got there followed a winding road.


Newgarden completed an eleventh hour deal to race with Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Indy Lights team in 2011, returning home to the U.S. after a single year in Europe in GP3. One of his teammates? That was Daly, who’d won the Pro Mazda championship a year earlier in 2010, and had scholarship budget with which to move up to Indy Lights. But what followed will remain one of the greatest unanswered questions in open-wheel racing the last decade or so.

Daly won Long Beach, but headed to Europe midway through year. Photo: IndyCar

Daly led the points after the first three races, with a win at Long Beach coming on a day when Newgarden crashed out. As Daly had not yet given up on an F1 dream though, his season was split between there and GP3, and so he didn’t run the full Indy Lights season. Newgarden promptly won the next round – the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis – for his most crucial win yet of the season.

Newgarden after his Freedom 100 win. Photo: IndyCar

Newgarden never looked back the rest of the way en route to that year’s title, and a graduation to IndyCar with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in a rare three-year deal. Daly would spend parts of the next four years making his way back home, and only had his first full season in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing – as Newgarden entered his fifth.


LONG BEACH, CA – APRIL 15: Josef Newgarden driver of the #67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara Honda leads Dario Franchitti of Scotland driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda at the start of the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15, 2012 on the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The Fisher and Wink Hartman partnership allowed Newgarden’s seed to grow over three years. Mistakes were made, obviously, but the signs he could become a star – fearless, brash, yet humble and grounded as well – were obvious from the third race he ever drove in IndyCar.

A bizarre scenario had occurred in qualifying thanks to IndyCar’s rules at the time that assessed 10-spot grid penalties to any car that had changed engines. So although Dario Franchitti and Josef Newgarden had qualified only fourth and seventh, engine penalties to all Chevrolet-powered cars – who had changed engines – meant they’d start on the front row.

Newgarden channeled his inner Tom Petty and did not back down. He went to Franchitti’s outside at Turn 1 going for the lead. But Franchitti’s tactical defense was the racing equivalent of telling young Newgarden, “don’t do me like that,” and Newgarden crashed into the Turn 1 wall. It was the first sign of his aggression that has served him so well in his championship year.

Hartman, Newgarden and Fisher before 2012 announcement. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we knew long before then that we had a gem,” Fisher, now IndyCar’s pace car driver, told NBC Sports on Sunday.

“At 20 he couldn’t even have a beer – not that he drinks! But he grew up, fast. When you’re put in that type of situation, you grow up a lot quicker. He works as hard out of the car as he does in it, and that’s what makes him first class.”

Though Newgarden’s first win didn’t come until 2015 at Barber, after a number of heartbreaking missed opportunities over 2013 and 2014, his initial years at SFHR gave him room to grow.


Newgarden was left to soak up a tough P3 in 2016 Indianapolis 500, his last with ECR. Photo: Getty Images

It was the two years that Newgarden took the next step, driving with Ed Carpenter, into becoming a driver set to graduate to one of the top three teams. And with the looks, partner savvy, pace and performance at his disposal, he was always destined to drive for Team Penske – it was just a matter of when.

In a 2015 interview at Mid-Ohio, when he hadn’t yet re-signed for CFH Racing (before it reverted back to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2016), Newgarden thanked his current employers profusely, but also teased his desire and ambition to go bigger.

“This whole group would like to have me back and I’d like to be back. But I have to look for the best opportunity for me, too,” he told me then.

His one year re-signing with Carpenter for 2016 was that best opportunity. Carpenter hailed what Newgarden did in 2015 with CFH as they sought to build together for 2016.

“He had speed and raced well everywhere. At the end of the season at Sonoma, he was one of seven guys that were still eligible for the title. That was really, I think, important for him to know that he can be in that discussion, be a part of that championship mix,” Carpenter said going into the 2016 season, with his next line proving prescient.

“He is one of the few guys in the series that has the versatility as a driver and the pace on all circuits to be able to contend for a championship.”

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 12: Conor Daly, driver of the #18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, slides after contact with Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedways)

Newgarden’s improbable Road America quick return, and Iowa crushing dominance, after his devastating accident in Texas – with Daly – provided one of the stories of the 2016 season.

Penske knew it had to have him and threw out one of the most naturally gifted drivers of this generation in Juan Pablo Montoya to do so.

“It obviously wasn’t an easy decision when we decided that Josef was available, and Montoya had done a really good job for us along the way and we needed to make a decision if we were going to build for the future or what we were going to do, and we sat down and talked to Juan, and he said, ‘Look, I don’t like it, but if I was in your shoes I’d do the same thing; he’s the guy that I would pick,'” said Tim Cindric, Team Penske president.


Josef Newgarden celebrates after winning at Mid-Ohio. Photo: IndyCar

The Newgarden of 2017 is not the Newgarden of 2012, but retains those elements that made him a fascinating driver to cover from the start.

Significantly more mature, Newgarden is very much team and partner-first, really integrating himself into the Penske mold. He’s not the comedic tour de force that James Hinchcliffe is, or that both his own PR staff or IndyCar was trying to build him as – but that’s good, because it allows Newgarden to be himself, first.

He’s bonded immediately with new engineer Brian Campe, also newish to IndyCar but who in a short amount of time has now won both an Indianapolis 500 with Montoya and a title with Newgarden in three years. That they’ve started from scratch on setup this year but gelled as they have speaks volumes of their working relationship.

He’s adjusted to living in Charlotte, being near the Penske shop and two of his teammates, after returning to the U.S. and being based in Indianapolis.

SONOMA, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 hum by Verizon Chevrolet, is congratulated by team owner Roger Penske after winning the Verizon IndyCar championship following the Verizon IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 17, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

“I would agree it’s been my biggest year of change. It’s been my biggest opportunity,” Newgarden said Sunday night.

“I’ve had so much to — I think live up to in that you have champions around you, you have guys pushing you every week that are making you get the most out of yourself and you have to match them. So it’s given me the biggest opportunity to grow and to prove myself in that environment, and that’s been fun. It’s been really fun and challenging for me.

“I feel like starting out as a one-car team and trying to figure things out myself was very beneficial to me. I think it’s given me all my strength that I have in racing is that when I first started, you know what, it wasn’t the best situation. I loved driving for SFHR and they did so much for me, but I’ll be honest it wasn’t the easiest situation.

“We had our backs against the wall a lot of times. We were a brand new team, it was a brand new car. We were a one-car team, so it was hard to go through those times with no previous setups, no information, no data to look at, no real thought process. You just had to formulate it yourself. And I think all those moments prepared me to get to this point with Team Penske and being able to sort it out with the best of the best.”

Yet the aggression needed to deliver in key moments has still been there.

His four wins this year came via opportunistic luck at Barber and Toronto, and then two would-not-be-denied moves on his two champion teammates at Mid-Ohio and Gateway.

Newgarden dropped a wicked fade on Power on the backstraight at Mid-Ohio and then delivered the defining move of the season, the sidepod-banging dive on Pagenaud at Gateway, which swung the title 25 points in one move. Newgarden won the title by just 13 points.

He bounced back after that mistake in Watkins Glen, leaving the pits, responding in a way worthy of the title at Sonoma.

And when Pagenaud beat him to the Sonoma win on Sunday, Newgarden admitted he was “steaming” – but that speaks to his competitive fire, and was good to see.


Newgarden begins his championship-winning media tour this week. It might be the accolades from his peers and contemporaries – plenty of tweets and other social media posts came in on Sunday night – that showcase the type of person he is, there for his family, his friends and teammates. He’s even got a wedding to officiate of a couple friends in the coming days.

His emotion Sunday came from thanking his family, mainly his parents Joey and Tina, his girlfriend Ashley Welch and his siblings.

“I come from great parents to start with. I’ve got great, great people that guide me in life. I think me and my two sisters did. So that makes a world of a difference with whatever you’re choosing to do in the world,” he said.

Shaw, who helped put Newgarden on the map a decade ago, summarized Newgarden’s appreciation of others.

“He really is a very special person, intelligent and thoughtful, so it’s been very satisfying to see him capitalize on his strengths and continue to develop his skills,” Shaw said. “A lot of people have helped him along the way but he never fails to acknowledge anyone who has helped him achieve some of his goals.”

Many other columns have been written in the now 24-plus hours since Newgarden won the title Sunday afternoon about his role – and IndyCar’s – in being the champion and embracing the task ahead. He’s fully down for it.

“I’ll carry the flag happily. I love the IndyCar Series. I think it’s got the whole world in front of it,” he said. “It can go so many good ways. I’ll do the best that I can to help spread the word and show people how great this sport is.”

The greatness for Josef Newgarden in IndyCar may have only just begun.

SONOMA, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Josef Newgarden of the United States driver of the #2 hum by Verizon Chevrolet celebrates on stage after winning the 2017 Verizon IndyCar series on day 3 of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 17, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”