Josef Newgarden’s career took a giant leap forward last season when he won twice and led the most laps, 345, driving for middle class team CFH Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He jumped from his status as a driver with vast potential to the top young prospect in the game.
The 25-year-old from Hendersonville, Tenn., was a free agent at the end of the season and admits he had offers from other teams. He decided to remain, signing a one-year contract with Ed Carpenter Racing, which reverted to its original name following Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman’s decision to fold their half of the operation.
Newgarden’s value on the open market skyrocketed Sunday with his dominant victory, third in IndyCar and first on an oval, in the Iowa Corn 300. He manhandled his Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet around the physically demanding .894-mile Iowa Speedway a month after breaking his right hand and right clavicle in a 200 mph crash at Texas.
IndyCar’s owners knew Newgarden had tons of talent at the end of last season. Now they know he’s tougher than nails and capable of overcoming painful adversity with a smile on his face.
Newgarden led 282 of 300 laps. He started on the outside of the front row and passed pole sitter Simon Pagenaud on the outside on the first lap. Newgarden put third-running Helio Castroneves a lap down before the first caution arrived just past 100 laps. This wasn’t a race, it was a rout.
“I think we all felt we had Indy Lights (cars) and he had an IndyCar,” Tony Kanaan said.
Added Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Managing Director Mike Hull: “He’s in another solar system the way he’s driving,”
Newgarden had led 111 laps at Iowa a year ago and was relegated to second place behind Ryan Hunter-Reay by a poor final pit stop. It’s essentially the same personnel from a year ago and the team used the same aerodynamic and mechanical settings.
“It was the best car I’ve ever had,” Newgarden said. “It was just incredible. I could run it anywhere I wanted. My right hand was killing me, but having an amazing car helped a lot. It was tough … but I was going to bring it home.
”I'm just so elated that we were able to get that oval win. We've been so close finishing second here twice the last couple of years and second at other ovals but this team, they got it done.”
Newgarden has had a strong season and it’s reflected in the championship. He climbed into second, 73 points behind Penske’s Pagenaud with six races remaining. Newgarden was third in both the Indianapolis 500 and Barber (Ala.) Motorsports Park.
Penske’s Will Power rallied in the closing six laps to finish second, 4.2 seconds following a restart on lap 260. He’s third in the championship, 75 behind Pagenaud.
Power started eighth. “It was good,” the Australian said. “It took us all day to get to the front, basically. We kind of went really long on the first stint, lost quite a lot of positions there, then slowly made our way back.
"We needed long stints to get back to the front because our car was really good over a long distance. I'm not sure we would have had anything for Newgarden. He was on his own, on another planet. Really happy with second, though. Really, really happy."
Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon kept his outside championship hopes alive, 88 points behind Pagenaud, by finishing third. He started second on the final restart.
“I knew all day that he (Newgarden) was running very fast, but it wasn't until the end that I got up to the pointy end of the field,” Dixon said. “I kind of hurt my race toward that latter part there—I was trying to keep up with Josef and burned the front tires up."
Pagenaud did what he needed to do to retain a commanding lead, finishing fourth.
“It was a good day for the championship, to be honest,” he said. “I'm very pleased with second in Phoenix and fourth here. Our short oval program has improved massively compared to last year.”
Rossi’s sixth place finish salvages Andretti’s day
Rookie Alexander Rossi, the shocking winner of the Indianapolis 500 in May, finished sixth on the second short track he’s ever raced upon and was the top finisher at Andretti Autosport, which fields the entry in a partnership with Bryan Herta Autosport.
“Starting 17th made our life hard,” the 24-year-old from Nevada City, Calif., said. “I think we were unlucky in terms of the yellows when they came out because our strength today was in the second half of our tire life. We had really, really good tire life and everyone else was struggling. We were able to stay out but we were never able to take advantage of that. Nonetheless a good result from where we started and we're looking forward to Toronto."
Andretti’s Carlos Munoz finished 12th, Marco Andretti was 14th and Hunter-Reay was 22nd, dropping out with an engine failure.
"Man, that was the longest race of my career in IndyCar,” Munoz said. “We struggled a lot for grip. I didn't have any confidence in the car. We were just chasing the car the whole race, changing and never could get the balance in the car. We have to now think about Toronto. This was a tough race for the whole team."
Long-running Toronto next for IndyCar
IndyCar heads north to Canada for one of its longest running and most successful events on the streets of Toronto. It will be the 32nd year for the event, which bridged the transition from CART and Champ Car to IndyCar. It was off the schedule in 2008, the first year of the consolidation of the former competing ownership groups.
Newgarden won last year, Sebastien Bourdais and Mike Conway in a doubleheader weekend in 2014 and Scott Dixon in both races in 2013. It is a race with tradition and history with winners like Bobby Rahal in 1986, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1987, Michael Andretti (seven times), Al Unser Jr. (twice), Paul Tracy (twice) and Alex Zanardi in 1998.