IndyCar Phoenix Post-Race Press Conference
1 - Josef Newgarden, Chevy
Press Conference - Newgarden
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with our post race press conference. Joined now by Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet for Team Penske this weekend.
I think the first stint was actually my best. We kind of were dialing it in, dialing it in. We definitely got there at the end. I think that last stint was really good for us, but we were saving fuel, so we didn't really get to see how great the car was there.
But I hope it was a good race. I hope people enjoyed it. It was challenging from the driver's seat, no doubt. If that translated to TV, to the audience, I don't know. I mean, I haven't watched it yet. It was very difficult inside the car.
Whenever you have a situation like the end there with the restart, you have different tire strategies, that always makes it more fun. If it wasn't a good race, I hope we saved it there at the end with a huge mix-up and a little bit of fun to the finish.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking of the tires, you've been very complimentary of them tonight. Firestone-Bridgestone's 500th win since their return to IndyCar racing. What does that mean to you as a driver to know you've notched their 500th win?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's cool. I'm not big into stats, but that's a cool stat for sure. We have a lot of trust and faith in Firestone, and the parent company Bridgestone. They've done a great job in the IndyCar Series for many years, dating farther back than '95. To be a part of the series with them has been a lot of fun.
You learn a lot about tires, a lot about different types of racetracks. You have to be a solid manufacturer to make tires that work well at street courses, road courses, all different types of ovals. Firestone nails it for us. They give us a lot of confidence, especially on oval tracks.
Congratulations to them. Hopefully we do another 500 together. It should be a blast. They've always delivered for us. I have nothing bad to say about Firestone, they're one of the best in the business.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Josef.
Q. You said earlier you gained position at the pit stop. Until the first caution came out when Fittipaldi crashed into the wall, there were no changes in the front. Looked like all cars nearly went the same speed. Hunter-Reay was in front of you. Was there no way to catch him?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It was tough. I would have some runs on Hunter-Reay sometimes, couldn't really do it. Same thing for him. We were trying to get through lap traffic. He couldn't do much either with the conditions directly in front of him.
I just felt like we were sitting there biding our time. It felt like it turned into a track position race. I think that's what hurt us on the second pit stop. We pitted way too late. We sort of figured that out. Then we pitted early, won the track position game at the end. That was really the game of the race. That's what it turned into.
I think for me not feeling as confident to attack tonight. That's what I just tried to do, was be methodical and make sure we played the game right. It worked out for us.
Q. Did you also prove in the battle of track position with warn tires, fresh tires always win? You were on the other side of that once at Iowa.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, yeah, no, I think we were -- no, we were on the new tires at Iowa. Me and Hunter-Reay were the attackers. He started out front. I always seem to be on the attacking side, most of the time. He was on old, exactly.
Honestly, I didn't know if that was the right call. I felt like we finally got our car where we needed to be on the final stint. I don't want to question Tim. He normally doesn't let me down, the team doesn't normally let me down. Whatever they say to do, I'm always going to do it.
I always think, Did we do the right thing? It's natural to think that. I think after running the race, we did the right thing. It was good to have new tires. For me it made the difference. I'd rather be the attacker there with people that had 50 lap old tires. I could make something happen there at the end.
That was the best car we had all night, was the final stint. I think we were ready to kind of drive that way toward the end, and it was the right moment.
Q. Talk a little bit about your thoughts of Robert Wickens, how strong he has been at the start of the season as a rookie.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: No, he's a stud. I'm sure you guys think so. He always has been. He's not new to motorsports. Robert has been one of the best drivers in the world I think for many years. He probably should have been in IndyCar a lot sooner than this. People will argue that. He's a North American guy. One of the best out of Canada that we've had over the last 10 years, in my opinion. It's good to have him in the series. He deserves to be here.
I think he's already proved his worth for driving in IndyCar. He's come at a great time. It's a new car. It's been very challenging, and rookies seem to be shining. Robert is very capable.
He drove really well tonight. He gave me a lot of racing room, raced me hard. Hopefully we have some more battles. I have a feeling we're going to have some more battles this year, and I look forward to that.
Q. You made the final lap after the caution, the last six, seven laps, very exciting. Were you really taking a lot of risks because you seemed to get up to Robert but not quite past him, then finally got by him? I didn't know if there were a lot of marbles up there. Talk about getting by him.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: The last pass was risky. I didn't know how that was going to go. The first one I felt pretty confident in. I analyzed it. I was, like, I think that will work. It was premeditated. The last one, I didn't know I had to do that. When I was sizing him up, I was like, Man, this is the only way this is going to work out. I didn't know if it was going to work, but it was good.
The tires make a huge difference. I had 50 lap newer tires. With that, with how much he had to check up in T1, he gave me just enough room. I didn't have to get crazy high. That one I definitely took risks. I think sometimes you have to do that in the right position, and I think it was the right time to do it tonight.
Q. It's almost like the three drivers on the podium tonight could be a preview of the three drivers battling for the championship. Do you feel those two guys are going to be in it?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yes and no. I mean, I think both Rossi and Wickens will be strong all year. Honestly, I'd be surprised if you don't get a lot of yo-yoing between the whole field this year. Seems like this with new car, until everybody figures it out, there's going to be a lot of back and forth with the grid. People will make mistakes, people will mess up in qualifying. I think you're going to see a very mixed-up grid more times than not this year.
But Rossi and Robert specifically, yeah, I think they're going to be in the battle. They're both very good. Yeah, I'd be surprised if they don't keep up their pace like they had at the beginning of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Josef, congratulations. We'll see you next week.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Thanks, everyone.
Press Conference - Wickens and Rossi
Joined now by our second- and third-place finishers, Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi.
Robert Wickens driving the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Your first time out on an oval, you end up on a podium. What does that mean for you knowing this was a new experience for you?
ROBERT WICKENS: It means a lot. My goal coming into this was to finish every lap. Even on that last restart, leading, knowing there is only the three of us that stayed out, my thought process didn't really change.
Even if I finished fifth, I would have been kind of, well, a little bit disappointed but still happy that I got even a top five on my first oval race.
I feel like I'm setting the bar a little bit high for myself. But I never would have expected the first two races to go as well as they did. Hopefully we can get our season going now.
THE MODERATOR: You and your teammate James Hinchcliffe running together for a lot of night. What does that say to the strength of your team this season?
ROBERT WICKENS: I think it means a lot. I think we made up so many places through the pits like tonight on both of our cars. We came into the pits under yellow in fifth, I came out fourth. Then on the green flag stops, recycled out P1 and P2. It was a remarkable job by the guys, by the team.
I think our pace was really strong tonight. Traffic was always an issue. I don't think -- well, I know I actually didn't have a single clear lap without a car, at least five cars, in front of me the whole time.
It was a tough night. It went by actually a lot quicker than I was expecting. When I saw it was 250 laps, kind of strapping in for an endurance thing. I had a lot of fun out there, especially the middle part of the race when James and I were fighting for the lead, had a good little battle a couple times. I was smiling under the helmet. It was fun.
THE MODERATOR: Also joined by Alexander Rossi, who finished third tonight. With this third-place finish, that vaults Alex to second in the points standings. It is Alex's best finish at IMS Raceway, driving the No. 27 Military to Motorsports Honda. Alex has the most passes of every driver tonight at 53.
It's good to be here with him, and obviously Josef has proved what he's capable of already, carrying the No. 1. Yeah, we all have a very long season ahead of us. By no means does this mean that we've figured it out. A whole new set of challenges approach us in about five days.
ROBERT WICKENS: I'm still going day by day. We're gelling right now, I guess, at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. By no means, I can't expect this throughout the season. I think it's going better than anyone expected, better than I expected.
But nevertheless, we're just going to keep doing the job that we're doing. Yeah, like I said, take it day by day. Motorsports, things can turn so quickly, you just have to do the best job you can each day. Sometimes that's a podium, sometimes that's a 10th, sometimes you can't even crack the top 10. We just have to take what's given to us and go from there.
Q. Robert, how do you prepare or have you prepared for the oval? Never raced on an oval before. Is there any, for example, possibility to do it with computer stuff or with a simulator?
ROBERT WICKENS: Yeah, we tested here in February, as I'm sure you're aware, at the open test. That kind of got my eye in for the ovals a little bit. Then just simulator work, a lot of home studying. I mean, I think I watched Phoenix races from, like, 2004 through present, every onboard you could find, trying to figure out anything I could.
I don't know. I'm just kind of a guy that I feel like there's always trends. If you watch stuff, you might find something. I don't know. I think I watched one video of Tony Kanaan passing, like, 28 people on the outside after a restart. I'm like, Probably not going to try that one.
No, honestly I think the team is doing such a great job getting me up to speed. They're carrying me. It goes from my teammate with Hinch, both car crews, the 5 and 6, are doing such a strong job. The camera team is phenomenal. James is taking the brunt of the work for us because he's the one basically setting up the car because he has a lot more oval experience than me. I'm kind of doing the basic stuff, but he's taking the job list of the tough things.
He's building us a great car. I'm just reaping the benefits of driving a well-balanced car. Hats off to him. I don't actually know where he ended up in the race. I think it shows that we're a strong team here. Yeah, the team is just doing a great job getting me going.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I think you're right. We were quicker than them. I didn't really feel the need to try to force the situation. I obviously would have taken it if it was there for me. But we weren't -- we didn't have as big of a margin in terms of better performance on people as we did through the middle and end of the race. It wasn't as easy as that in the beginning.
It was just kind of about staying in touch with the leaders and working our way through lap traffic in the beginning, finding our feet with how it was going to be tonight.
I mean, this is all very new for us still. Every day is a learning experience. We went into this race, you know, even having two tests here, we went into it with a lot of question marks. The first stint wasn't about trying anything too crazy, then just getting the car under us the next couple, hopefully being there in the end.
Q. Alex, I went outside and watched the middle section of the race as you were chewing through cars while nobody else was doing anything. You were being aggressive. Was there any anger in there, feeling like you needed to make up that pit road incident? Not bad driving, but you were getting after it.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: We had to. We were two laps down. No yellow coming to save us. We had to unlap ourselves and try to do something.
I mean, I don't care how frustrated or how much you want to pass cars, if you don't have the car to do it, then you're not going to do it.
The only reason I was able to do that was because the team gave me an unbelievable car. As I said, we spent so much of our time and brain effort and research in the time between the open test and here on focusing on tire life. Hopefully it's something that we can keep an advantage on people going forward for the next short ovals.
But in this series, it's amazing how people catch up, figure things out. You got to take the podiums when you can get them. Unfortunately we probably gave away a win today, but that's the way it goes. We have another shot in five or six days.
Q. If the series gets to renew here and come back next year, are there any changes that you would like to see made, or do you want to leave the package just as it is?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I mean, I'd love to see more banking, wider. I don't think that's really the changes they had in mind.
I think the track is doing what they can. I think the series did a great job. Obviously I think we, the 27 team, were a representation if you nail it, you can pass. But, I mean, it's very hard to do that week in and week out.
I think it was a much better race than last year. I mean, I haven't seen it on TV, so I don't know that. But from my side, it was a lot easier to pass cars than last year. I think that's a shout out to Jay Frye, his team in the competition department at IndyCar, for the changes they made. It's a moving target. It's a very difficult job to come up with aero packages and changes.
I think St. Pete was the most passes we have ever had at a street course before. I think there's probably quite a few passes here. So that's all steps in the right direction.
ROBERT WICKENS: This is the only oval I've ever driven on so far. I don't know what more banking would do or that.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROBERT WICKENS: I don't think I'm -- I mean, I don't --
ALEXANDER ROSSI: More grip.
ROBERT WICKENS: Yeah, more grip would be good.
I mean, again, I don't know the old car, but I feel like we can follow pretty closely, then if someone makes a small mistake, you can capitalize. Any pass I made was having a good corner while someone made a small error or didn't get a great exit. I mean, I never had I guess the need to do like a high-risk pass, which I'm sure Alex tried to do a couple throughout the night.
No, I mean, from my side, it was all pretty controlled and pretty relaxed. Sounds like it was an exciting race. From my side, it was kind of being patient and just trying to make it to the end.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. We'll see you next week.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Thank you.
ROBERT WICKENS: Thank you.
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