Newgarden playing the long game

Image by LePage/LAT

Newgarden playing the long game

If Josef Newgarden wins the 2019 NTT IndyCar championship, he can look back to the last two races – Long Beach and Barber – as his salvation.

A week after qualifying a lowly 16th but charging to finish fourth in Alabama, the current points leader got the absolute maximum out of his Team Penske Chevrolet again on Sunday at Long Beach.

Lined up fourth, Newgarden pitted early, got a great stop, and forged ahead of Scott Dixon and teammate Will Power – and that’s where he stayed. Like everyone else, he had nothing for winner Alexander Rossi, but he racked up 40 points for second and increased his lead to 28 heading into May.

“Today was really a nice race,” said the winner of the season-opener at St. Pete. “It was really well-executed by the boys and they did a good job. We’ll take P2. We just fell a bit short, but Alex was simply too quick.

“It’s tough when you’re not able to compete at the very, very front, and you always want to be competing for first place. But we maximized what we had and that’s what you have to do every weekend in this series.”

Stuck behind Dixon and Power, Newgarden was called in by team president Tim Cindric as the pit window opened for all the two-stoppers. As they did in Alabama, the No. 2 team responded with a great stop and a big gain.

“Great call by Tim – we managed to leapfrog Scott and Will,” he said.

A year ago, Newgarden’s only three podiums were all victories as he battled mechanical gremlins, a couple of untimely yellow flags, some suspect strategy, and one big mistake at Toronto.

“We certainly have had a lot of good fortune this year compared to last year,” he said. “We haven’t had many yellows go away from us, and it seemed like every other race last year toward the end of the season, we couldn’t get the strategy right – we couldn’t get the breaks when we needed them. This year it seems to be flowing pretty easy. We’re not getting odd yellows or mix-ups that put us back. It’s been very solid, and the car has been good.”

Just not on the same planet as Andretti Autosport’s NAPA Honda with Rossi wheeling it around at The Beach.

“We’re chipping away at things trying to find out how to have a good street-circuit car and a good road race car,” Newgarden said. “We’ll find out next month where we’re at on ovals.”

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