Josef Newgarden says tire strategy, fuel strategy, swift pitstops, quick out-laps, a crucial move on Scott Dixon and Will Power’s puncture were all contributory factors to him nailing his first victory for Penske at Barber Motorsports Park.
Newgarden started only seventh after trying and failing to reach the Firestone Fast Six running only the harder primary tires in Q2. However, from the first round of pitstops, his inherent pace with the #2 Penske-Chevrolet turned the race into a three-way fight with his teammate Power and Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda.
After passing both James Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda and another teammate, Simon Pagenaud, in the opening stint while still running blacks, Newgarden pitted early for reds and then set some scorching laps that saw him leapfrog not only fourth teammate Helio Castroneves but also Dixon to move up to second behind Power.
The final pitstop, under full course caution, saw Ganassi jump Dixon back ahead of Newgarden, but an aggressive move on the penultimate corner following the restart paid off, leaving Newgarden in prime position to win once Power pitted with a punctured rear tire.
“Obviously, we got a little bit of help there at the end with Will,” said Newgarden. “I don’t think I know how it would have played out. Will had a great shot, was in a great position to win this race.
:To see him have an issue is always tough to see. I know that goes both ways in racing. I’ve certainly had days where it’s not worked out for me like that.
“Whenever you get opportunities, I think you’ve got to seize them. We were in a great position to do it.
Talking of his decisive move past Dixon, Newgarden said: “I think it’s actually a great spot to pass people. I’ve always liked passing people around there. I think I got Hinch there early in the race, too.
“I think I snuck up on him [Dixon] is what helped get it done. It was early on the restart. He was focused forward on the traffic in front of him. So was I. But I think I was able to capitalize when he wasn’t looking, just got a nose in the door.
“I tried to push him offline so he didn’t have any grip. That seemed to work out. I got him offline and out of position enough to where I could take advantage.
“I think to me it was a deciding factor of trying to win the race because then I could just focus on Will. It turned into a fuel battle at the end. We all had to save a little bit of fuel. I knew what Will had to save. It’s unfortunate that Will wasn’t able to see that to completion. He had an opportunity to win the race, too – it would have been a great fight.
“But it was everything. I think our first stop was really good and got us up to second place. The boys in the pits were awesome. Our strategy was awesome. Tire selection was awesome. When we pitted, how we did our out laps – that was good, too.
“Certainly through the first stint, the blacks were much, much stronger. I think it was a good call for us. It helped us get off sequence and figure out how to race with these guys and beat them.
“Going to the reds the next stint, it helped us close the gap. We came out in second behind Will. We were just racing one guy pretty much. Then Dixon obviously closed up, and it turned into a three-way battle. That first stint of going blacks, getting off sequence, that’s really what helped us be in a position to win the race. It was a great strategy call by our team.