Photo: IndyCar/Chris Jones

Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday night’s IndyCar race at Phoenix

Leave a comment

Here’s what all 23 drivers entered in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix IndyCar race at ISM Raceway had to say after Josef Newgarden took the checkered flag:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, winner: “We had everything, we had the whole package with Team Chevy power. We had the fuel mileage from Team Chevy that we needed. Just being able to have Verizon on the car finally and get victories for them feels so good. They’ve done so much for the sport and for Team Penske. It’s a Team Penske win tonight, I’ll tell you that. It wasn’t me. This was a team effort tonight that got it done.”

ROBERT WICKENS, finished 2nd: “It’s a dream come true. All I wanted to do was finish every lap of my oval debut. So, to come home P2 and even lead tonight, you can never expect that as a rookie. It’s so hard here, but the team did a great job. The car was great all day. James (Hinchcliffe) and I were quick so I think it’s really encouraging for things to come.” (About if there was anything he could do to hold off Josef Newgarden): “I did as much as I could without crashing both of us, so I don’t think there’s any stopping him. I think once he built up the courage to just out brake me around the outside, it was pretty easy. But congratulations to him. You know, these INDYCAR races are so much longer than what I’m used to. It’s confusing. I didn’t know where he was at one point and then he popped up in the lead and (Ed) Jones got ahead of me there. But I’m still happy with how it turned out.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI, finished 3rd: “We had a strong start but then had a mishap on the first stop. It was unfortunate, but the important thing is that my crew is okay, that’s always my first concern. I didn’t challenge the box that hard, it was a stop under yellow so there wasn’t a need to – I went to turn right to line up and (the car) just went straight. Then we didn’t get the yellow we needed, so we had to completely unlap ourselves and come back through the field. The Military To Motorsports Honda was by far the best car on track, I think, and it deserved to win. It wasn’t meant to be today, but I’m happy to stand on the podium.”

SCOTT DIXON, finished 4th: “We just didn’t get the run we needed to on (Alexander) Rossi there at the end when it counted. All in all, it was a good day for us. The weekend didn’t start out great, but we survived with the PNC Bank car and got some good points tonight.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY, finished 5th: “I’m disappointed not to finish P2 tonight. I think we had the car to do that. A top five is nice, but we’re looking for podiums and wins. We had some issues in the pits tonight. I made a mistake on the first one – then we pitted a little bit too early, a little bit too late on one of them. But, it was an exciting race at the end and congrats to Josef on the win and to Alexander on the podium. I just wish we would have gone green a little bit sooner there at the end of the race; that would have made the show, I think. I’m not really sure what took so long that time to get back to green, but definitely a shame to not get back at it soon and have more time to get the DHL Honda to the podium it deserved.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, finished 6th: “Not the ending we wanted, but that last restart starting second – huge credit to the team. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have done an incredible job since the test here in February when we were at the bottom [of the time sheets], to get two cars in the top six in both qualifying and the race. Huge congrats to Robbie (Wickens) on his first podium. I think the Arrow Electronics guys really did an incredible job today, picked up a lot of spots on pit lane which is huge for a short oval like this. Restarting second on that last restart, I thought maybe we had a shot at it. We took a gamble, other guys took a gamble – it’s tough to tell how it went in terms of stopping for tires on the last restart; Alex [Rossi], Robbie and I decided not to. Ultimately the new tire guy won, but track position is key at a place like this, and we made a call – that call was right. I’m proud of the guys. Stinks to lose a couple spots so late in the race like that when we were running at the top all day, but good points day, and huge for the team.”

ED CARPENTER, finished 7th: “This was really a race where you had to race your own car. We were able to get a top 10 out of it and stayed on the lead lap, which is really hard to do when you start at the back on a short oval. We were just trying to have a clean race. I felt like that would give us a chance to work forward and it mostly did. We just ran out of steam at the end. I screwed up a little bit on my in-lap on the second-to-last pit stop and that maybe cost us a position. Then, I just couldn’t get Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) after that last restart. I really don’t like the blocking rules on ovals, I don’t think there’s a place for it in oval racing. We can’t seem to get away from it, but it is what it is. There’s a lot of positives to take away from this. The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys had great pit stops all night. We ended last season on some bad luck, so it’s nice to be able to roll the car on the truck. We have a little more work to do on our short oval package, but I’ll take tonight’s finish.”

TONY KANAAN, finished 8th: “It was a big improvement for the team. We’ve been aiming to finish in the top 10 and we did that tonight. We have our struggles, and there are things we need to fix and we’re doing it one piece at a time. I think we had a great weekend. We were in the top six all weekend long. I’m happy with the progress, but there’s a lot more work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL, finished 9th: “It wasn’t bad. I’m a little disappointed that we lost spots there. We were trying to go really long on our stints – which was the whole goal – and frankly, it should have worked.  There were a couple of times there that yellows should have come out and they didn’t, and because of that, we paid the price running on old tires. Strategy and history shows that that’s the best way to do it, so we stuck to our plan but it didn’t quite work out today, but ultimately we got a top 10 for the One Cure team and that’s a heck of a lot better than we did last year here. We will just keep our heads down and keep pounding away. We’re not bad, but we need to continue improving on a day-to-day basis. We need to show up close (to the right setup) at Long Beach and we should be able to.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, finished 10th: “We practiced on pit road all weekend long, and I don’t know, for some reason it was super slippery tonight. I was honestly taking it easy on pit road because I knew that I had good track position and a good car. There was no need to push the limits. There was nothing I could have done differently in that situation. In fact, I’ve been replaying it over in my head and I would have done the same thing every time. It is what it is and we got shuffled back and had to make the best of it, but the car had too much understeer. I couldn’t get rid of it. It was better at the end of the race, but it was too late at that point. Congrats to Josef (Newgarden) and Team Penske on getting a win early in the season. A little disappointed and frustrated though because we had a good car this weekend.”

TAKUMA SATO, finished 11th: “It was a tough weekend.  After we had the positive test, we came here and had a difficult time. Going into qualifying there were so many unknowns and we had to change the car so much. After that, it was the same scenario in the race. I never got comfortable. It was very tough out there, and in the end, the strategy did not play out well. We started 13th and finished 11th, so not a good weekend at all. The timing of the pit stop was key and I think we stayed out too long. When the tires started to go off, there was quite a battle. I was able to overtake a few cars.  It was a frustrating night.”

MARCO ANDRETTI, finished 12th: “Nice work to the Oberto Circle K crew for getting me in and out of the pits smoothly all night. We had a big day ahead of us from the start, starting 20th after a dropped skid in qualifying. Tonight, I think we were just down on COP all day. The number was just so low that we didn’t trust it – I think we were around five percent low off of what my teammates were running. We were just way behind on front wing all day and just kind of hanging on. I’m not thrilled to finish P12, but with what we were working with all day it was a decent result for us. We put the 98 to its limits tonight for sure.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, finished 13th: “We were pretty much in control of the race and things were looking good. Then the first and almost only yellow came out. We paraded around for two or three laps and all I was thinking about was hitting my marks when we pitted. I didn’t scrub my tires. I didn’t pay attention that my tires loaded up with a bunch of junk and next thing I knew I was on the concrete in the pit lane. I tried to slow down and locked up the wheels instantly and nothing happened. Nothing. I just skated and two guys left with me. That was the failed moment of the race because after that there were no yellows until all the pit stops were completed. So, that was that. We just never recovered from going down a lap because of the drive-through penalty. I made a bunch of passes and recovered a decent amount of positions, but nothing to put us where we belonged. So, pretty disappointing overall for sure.”

SPENCER PIGOT, finished 14th: “That was definitely a difficult race. At the beginning, it was so tricky and I was really on edge. We made the car a bit better throughout the race. We just struggled with having the grip and balance to get close to guys and run in the pack after the peak grip of the tires wore off. The good thing is we finished the race and brought the car home. Now we have to look forward to Long Beach and get back to running up at the front.”

GABBY CHAVES, finished 15th: “It was a long and trying night for us. In spite of not having the race we wanted to have, we were able to learn a lot of things that will help us develop the car and move forward faster. We hung in there, learned and gained a lot. Now we’ll keep our heads up and look forward to the next one, turn the page and keep moving forward to Long Beach.”

ZACH VEACH, finished 16th: “I’m extremely thankful. I think we had a much better showing tonight than in St. Pete. It was really hard to fight for 16th. We had a small mishap at the end, running 13th or 12th so I think we should have finished a little bit better. My Group One Thousand One guys have done a great job all weekend. We started a little behind with a mechanical issue earlier in the weekend and in qualifying. Starting last was tough, but we did the best we could to work through the field. The important thing, as Michael says, is every race I just have to complete every lap. We completed every lap here, and in St. Pete. If we do that, we’ll be pretty strong at the end of the year.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL, finished 17th: “Tonight’s race was definitely a step in the right direction for us. We made some progress with the set-up and by the end of the race the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet felt the best it had all weekend. We learned a lot and we got a huge amount of information that will help us moving forward.”

MAX CHILTON, finished 18th: “It was a tough weekend for the team, but every time we’re on track we’re learning and making progress. That race was just tough. We didn’t qualify well and starting so far back on the grid on a track that’s already difficult to pass on made it even harder to gain any positions. By the end of the race we had quite good pace, we just couldn’t move forward at all. I’m ready to move on from tonight’s race and get to Long Beach to see what we can do there.”

MATHEUS LEIST, finished 19th: “My first oval done, my first complete race in the Verizon IndyCar Series done, so lots of new stuff learned. We made a lot of passes which was good, not too many guys were passing. I was feeling good physically in the car, I’m not tired at all. Today wasn’t our day, wasn’t my day, but I want to say thanks to the team. I think we had a car to finish in the top seven. On to Long Beach now.”

ED JONES , finished 20th: “Obviously it was a long race and we didn’t know what to expect coming in with the NTT DATA car. The car actually handled a little better than expected. The tire degradation wasn’t that bad and my guys did some great pit stops tonight. Every time we came in we made up positions. I just got into the turn, and it just started going straight and there was nothing I could do. We were second and having a great run, and I’m looking forward to improving upon that and getting better for the next race.”

KYLE KAISER, finished 21st: “Obviously, I’m a little disappointed with the way things ended, but I am extremely happy with how the car was and effort from the team. I think we had a really nice race car. We had strong pace and were running times with the guys who were running up front. The Chevy engine was great the whole time. We had some good runs and got some good passes in and I learned a ton. I’m a rookie with a rookie team, so we are out here on a super steep learning curve. Being able to go out there and run that many laps and learn as much as I did was very valuable. I’m looking forward to getting back in the car at Long Beach and building on what we learned from this weekend.”

WILL POWER, finished 22nd: “I was having a good race, actually. I felt like we had a pretty good Verizon Chevy. (Alexander) Rossi ran up on the inside of me pretty late and I got on the brakes once I saw him go to the inside because I knew the marbles were pretty bad. I was going pretty slow and still got up into the wall because it was like being on ice. Disappointed for the guys, but we will just have to move on, have a couple of good races and get back in the hunt. I am determined for Long Beach, Barber, the Indy road course and the Indy 500. Happy to see Josef (Newgarden) in victory lane tonight, though.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI, finished 23rd: “We were running well, but then I caught a group of cars and I ran a bit hard. There was a lot of turbulence, and with that group of cars I wasn’t expecting that much difference, and the Paysafe car just went away from me. Once you get in the gray, you just go straight into the wall.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan: Stressful second title is a soup good for Josef Newgarden’s soul

Leave a comment

MONTEREY, Calif. – At her family’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, Tina Newgarden always keeps an extra stash of corn chowder in the freezer.

She never knows when her son, Josef, unexpectedly might drop by in desperate need of his go-to comfort food.

“It’s just in case I’m not at home, and he just goes in and grabs it himself if he’s coming home from out of town,” Tina said with a knowing smile. “And then you’ll catch him down there eating his favorite soup and watching a movie.”

When he gets done this week with the whirlwind of media obligations required after becoming an NTT IndyCar Series champion for the second time, you probably will find Newgarden curled up on the couch with a warm bowl of old-fashioned goodness in his lap and an inspirational flick on the TV (perhaps a screening of “Return of the Jedi” for a Star Wars fan).

He was crowned Sunday as the best driver on a highly competitive circuit after a season of excellence (average start of 5.5, average finish of 5.6), but Josef Newgarden really has had a tough couple of months.

That was evident in the tears that flowed immediately after he exited his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and seemed ready to collapse in a pool of relief from the mental exhaustion and high anxiety that had followed his quest to become a two-time champion.

“I don’t ever cry,” Newgarden, 28, said Sunday after gritting out an eighth-place finish that clinched the championship in the season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway. “Actually, it infuriates my fiancée because I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of her. It disturbed her in some ways. She’s like, ‘You never cry! I don’t know why you don’t do that. You should cry at some point.”

If there’s anyone who knew how the 2019 points battle weighed on him, it was Ashley Welch and the rest of Newgarden’s family – the outlet that was emotionally invested and supportive of his career but also provides a release from the tension.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with his father, Joey (left), his grandmother Karen Rasmussen (front), his fiancee, Ashley (second from right), and mother Tina (right) after his second championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

They were all on hand Sunday (including his father, Joey, and his “Mormor” Karen Rasmussen, the 80-year-old maternal grandmother who came from Denmark to attend her second IndyCar race) and shared in the culmination of what’s been a very emotional and eventful year (which still has wedding bells ahead).

Josef Newgarden with his grandmother (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Was it stressful?

“To say the least,” a beaming Welch said as she watched her fiancé hoist the Astor Cup on the championship stage. “The level of competitiveness in this sport is unreal. Any different guy can come in and win any different race.

“For him to be leading all of those different guys who had just as much potential, if not more sometimes. It means so much. We had a friend tell him after the first one, anyone can win one championship, but they remember you if you win two. So I think he feels like ‘Oh, it’s not just luck. I’m meant to be here.’ And that is …”

Welch paused and her voice briefly quavered as she watched Newgarden, whom she has been together with for seven years (they were engaged last October), hoist the Astor Cup above his head.

“Beautiful,” she smiled. “So I think you see all his emotion coming from it. I know him, and he’s thinking about how many people put their neck on the line to get him to where he is today. He talks about when he was little and starting to watch IndyCar racing, Penske was his pinnacle. Getting to drive for them but being able to perform and make an impact on their history, he feels it so much.

“You saw all the outpouring of “My dreams have come true! I’ve worked so hard, and they’re here!”

It certainly was a different feeling than two years ago when Newgarden won the pole position at Sonoma, led 41 laps and won punctuated his inaugural championship with a runner-up finish in the season finale.

Sunday’s drive was indicative of the weight – and wait — that Newgarden had endured while leading the championship standings for virtually six consecutive months since winning the season opener at St. Petersburg (he was out of the points only once – after a fourth in the Indianapolis 500 that now is the only void in his career).

“The first (championship), it was shocking and overwhelming,” Tina Newgarden said. “The second time it’s almost like he had this mark on his back because he’s been leading the points the whole season. So it would be really sad, devastating if he didn’t get it at the end of the season. But I’m so proud of him. He’s very disciplined. He just loves it so much.”

“If he’s down and has a bad day, then we’re down having a bad day as well. It’s terrible, but that’s just how it is. This is a good year, so now we can all breathe. The last two months has really been a little stressful. So yeah. We’ve been trying to keep the mood up, but God, I’m so happy!”

Newgarden, who qualified fourth and never had winning pace all weekend, said he felt “more nervous because I felt like this one was more ours to lose, and I thought we deserved (the championship). I didn’t want to make a mistake. I got a bit nervous in the middle of the race because I thought we were going down a rabbit hole we didn’t want to be down.”

But the very un-Newgarden-esque eighth – only the fourth time in 17 races he finished outside the top 10 this season – was the outcome of a sound pit strategy that delivered the title by 25 points over Simon Pagenaud, who proclaimed his Penske teammate “the most deserving guy” to win the title.

“It didn’t really start weighing on me until we got (to Laguna Seca),” Newgarden said. “I knew it would hit me here because it was double points. You know it’s going to be a very difficult situation. It’s just that intensity and that unknown, where if you make a small mistake, it can turn into a very big mistake. At another event, it wouldn’t be that way.”

Team owner Roger Penske noticed Newgarden had butterflies on the race morning before he would join Sam Hornish Jr. as the only American to win multiple IndyCar championships in the past two decades. “I think there’s so much emotion inside for someone like that because you’ve got to be perfect,” Penske said. “And I think the fact that he was able to execute the way he did, it was just a time to let it all out.”

Newgarden now is among lofty company on a list of multi-time champions at Team Penske that includes Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Al Unser and Gil de Ferran. And his four-win season helped him take a critical step toward putting his name with true IndyCar legends such as A.J. Foyt (seven championships), Scott Dixon (five) and Mario Andretti (four).

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s harder to win a second championship than a first,” he said. “And I think in a lot of ways, that’s true. It’s very difficult to win a championship. But then to follow it up and make it happen again, it seems like a bigger mountain almost.

“I don’t know what causes that. But I just had it in my mind that if we could get this done, it’d be the achievement of the year.”

It’s especially impressive considering everything Newgarden is trying to accomplish in 2019. Besides winning a championship, he also:

–Will be getting married Oct. 26 to Welch in Nashville;

Moved from Davidson, North Carolina, (near Team Penske headquarters) to his hometown;

–Began building a house with Welch, who also brought home a rescue pup named Zoomer (or affectionately known as “Zoom” around home). “They say a year, but it’s going to be a year and a half” to finish, Welch said with a laugh. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment. I told him I don’t want to have kids in a one-bedroom apartment.”

–Underwent several oral surgeries to correct some improper dental work from childhood.

“We could have taken a couple things off the plate,” Newgarden said. “But you know what? Everything needed to be done. We wanted everything to get done, and we’re doing it all. I don’t know how the year worked out, because (racing) is the priority. You do all those things and decide, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make the plate this full.’ But something still has to take the cake at the end of the day, and the racing is what does that. And everyone knows that’s the program, and this is the most important part of the year, because you don’t get that back.

“If you have an opportunity to race and compete for a championship, when it’s there, you’ve got to take it. So I tried to keep that at the forefront of my mind all year, and I made it the priority, but it was just a little more difficult with all the other things going on.”

Josef Newgarden kisses his fiancee, Ashley Welch, after winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Welch, who knew nothing about racing while working as a princess cast member at Disney World when Newgarden “swept me off my feet,” provides a release valve. Though she is comfortable with being a knowledgeable member of the paddock (“I know what push to pass means. That was a big thing for me”), Welch also can help distract him from the pressure of IndyCar.

“I think it’s better to know less, because then he is able to escape at home and make home be home, and then work be work,” she said. “Because when you’re in a professional sport, you can’t really escape the work. It comes home with you whether in interviews or social media, or just obligations in general, or practice, or research. You’re always living in it, so I think it’s really smart to just have your home be home.”

In that sense, staying busy in his personal life has been good for the extremely affable Newgarden, a self-described introvert who gradually has withdrawn from social media in his late 20s.

Though he is as articulate and eloquent as any driver in auto racing, he also is happy to defer to his teammates on promotional opportunities because “I go home and am happy to be away from all of it. … I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just my introverted-ness that’s getting worse. I really try to do the best I can for the series and team and partners. It is so important to represent in the right way, but at the same time, it’s gotten harder” to be on social media in a professional setting.

“It’s all the racing,” Tina Newgarden said when asked about the source of her son’s stress. “Him building a house and all that, that’s nothing. That’s easy. (Winning a championship) is not easy. Anything else is easy.

“He got it, so I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the very lucky ones that made it here, because for every one, I’m sure there are 500 (drivers) looking in, wanting to have that. But he worked hard, and I just told him one time, ‘Don’t be so moody about it when it doesn’t go well.’ He’s still moody about it if it doesn’t go well! He’s still the same.”

That’s why the bowl of corn chowder still is waiting in her freezer.

A hearty meal for two-time champion who finally can relax.