IndyCar Phoenix Postscript
AutoRacing1 will take a look at those stories and more in today’s Phoenix IndyCar Postscript. Enjoy!!!!
Don’t look now, but in the 19 races since the start of 2017, Josef Newgarden has won 5 times, and finished on the podium 10 times. For reference sake, no driver has won more than 2 races or recorded more than seven podiums in that stretch. In short, Newgarden not only won the championship in his first year with Team Penske, but given the results clearly established himself as the driver to beat.
Now, while Newgarden has been the most successful driver since the start of 2017, let’s also be clear: with a few notable exceptions(Mid Ohio, last season) he hasn’t exactly been dominant either. During this stretch, Newgarden has earned only one pole position and led the most race laps three times.
What Newgarden has been -again a few exceptions aside (e.g. Watkins Glen) incredibly clean and opportunistic. For example, last year at Barber, Newgarden scored his maiden win for Team Penske after running second much of the day before capitalizing on a puncture incurred by teammate Will Power, who had dominated much of the race, in the closing laps. A fortuitously-timed caution likewise gave him the lead last season at Toronto, when it appeared his teammate Helio Castroneves was set to dominate the proceedings. Newgarden again, closed the deal and took his second win at Team Penske.
Saturday, Newgarden qualified a somewhat disappointing 7th and spent much of the race in the top-5. However, the combination of trouble befalling contenders such as pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais and Alexander Rossi combined with some top-notch pit work by the No. 1 Team Penske crew, meant Newgarden found himself at the front of the field which meant Newgarden found his way at the front of the field with 44 laps remaining. And when the yellow flag flew on lap 232, Tim Cindric made the gutsy (and correct) call to pit Newgarden for fresh Firestone rubber. When the race went green again, Newgarden was able to make quick work of James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens, all on worn tires, to score his 8th career IndyCar win.
And Newgarden capitalizing hasn’t always necessarily come in the form of a race win. Last month, at St. Petersburg, the Hendersonville, TN native qualified a disappointing 13th. However, on what was a forgettable weekend for Team Penske, Newgarden soldiered home with a somewhat non-descript 7th place finish, a best for the Penskes.
Anyway, the point to all this, is that while Newgarden isn’t killing people with blind speed, the No. 1 Team Penske squad seems to finding lot of different ways to put their driver in victory lane at the moment. And while there are bound to be many contenders in what is shaping up to be one of the more exciting IndyCar seasons in years, Newgarden is the one everyone has to find a way to beat.
You might remember during the latter part of last season I began noting that Rossi was beginning to emerge as the lead driver at Andretti Autosport. At this point, I don’t really think it’s a matter of debate anymore.
Saturday, after falling behind a lap due to a pit violation (a somewhat questionable one in my opinion), Rossi put on an absolute show, blowing past a number of cars on a track in which passing was rather difficult and drove his way back to a second consecutive podium to start the 2018 season.
Yes, Newgarden and the No. 1 team are optimizing their results. But Alexander Rossi isn’t too far behind.
We know about his record in Champ Car with Newman/Haas but lets take a look at some more recent history with Bourdais. Dragon Racing scores exactly zero podium finishes in five IndyCar seasons, before Bourdais jumps in the car in 2012. Bourdais scores three podium finishes in two seasons with Dragon.
KV Racing wins a mere one race in the previous five seasons before Bourdais arrives. Bourdais wins four races in three seasons from 2014-2016.
For 2017, he joined Dale Coyne Racing, a team that had four wins since its inception in 1984, and has promptly 2 of his 10 starts, while also scoring the team’s first ever oval pole this weekend.
In other words, if we don’t even bother to account for his fine record in sports cars or Champ Car, the last three teams he’s raced for have been instantly better the moment Sebastien Bourdais joined.
I’ll say one last time: why again, do we never hear Bourdais’ name linked to the top teams in the paddock?
No, Wickens did not come to IndyCar with the hype and resume of a Nigel Mansell; nor the promise of future greatness a la Juan Pablo Montoya. Further, you have to acknowledge Wickens entered the series in a year in which the learning curve for a rookie is assisted by the fact first-year drivers don’t have to unlearn an old car. But make no mistake: in what appears to be a similar duck-to-water type scenario, Wickens has taken to Indy Car racing in much the same way those two legends did.
One of the things that assisted Rossi in picking off so many cars to get back to the front was undoubtedly the lower downforce/less aerowash updated Dallara DW12. In particular, contrast the IndyCar model with the money-draining, over-engineered parts on an F1 car that make overtaking all the more difficult. There’s not much to say here: Jay Frye and his team absolutely nailed this new car.
As a safety worker approached his car, Leist spun the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet around, presumably in order to make his way around the track and back to pit road. Thankfully, he missed the safety worker and his crew came to his rescue.
Leist was crushed on Twitter and presumably elsewhere for potentially endangering a safety worker. And while I don’t want to minimize the need to keep track marshals and safety personnel, many of whom are volunteers, out of danger, I have to ask: what exactly was Leist supposed to do? Stay in the middle of pit road and possibly expose himself to and/or block oncoming traffic? And considering the track was green when Leist spun himself around, would he not be reasonable in assuming a worker was not there? Would he not be doing the field a service – again, noting the track was still green - by somehow attempting to get his car out of harm’s way? Furthermore, what protocol would have a safety worker over the wall on a green track?
I understand the rush to be concerned about the worker, and the ensuing anger at Leist. But if you think about it for a moment, I’m not sure such anger was rooted in a lot of reason.
There seems to be this narrative out there currently that IndyCar is growing. Yes, IndyCar has some things going for it at the moment such as the new car, that deserve our praise and admiration.
But when it comes to the notion of “growing,” I have to ask: what evidence is this based on? TV ratings? St. Petersburg – flat, Phoenix, down slightly. 2017 Indianapolis 500 viewership was an all-time low?
Yes, I know we’re in a different era in which television ratings aren’t the end-all-be-all. But acknowledging that, what are the metrics that indicate growth?
Attendance? Getting firm numbers from any track promoter is akin to accessing a nuclear missile silo; but if you go by the visuals there seems to be no discernible difference.
Is IndyCar doing some things right? Absolutely. Is the sport on the verge of some breakthrough and revival? While there is reason for optimism, let’s pump the brakes on that one.
One last thing: AR1’s Lucille Dust, who many of you know, will not be at Long Beach this weekend, as she is caring for her ailing mother Lucille Borgetti. If you are of the prayerful persuasion keep Lucille and her mother in your prayers during this difficult time.
Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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