On the days where Josef Newgarden has lacked front-running pace, his Team Penske pit crew, engineers, and strategists have lifted the NTT IndyCar Series points leader to impressive heights.
A three-time race winner from nine rounds in 2019, Newgarden’s five podium visits have, at times, had more to do with the No. 2 Chevy’s supporting cast than the young star working the steering wheel and pedals.
Motivated by a team-first approach, the 2017 IndyCar Series champion hails his race strategist, Penske president Tim Cindric; his race engineer Gavin Ward; crew chief Travis Law; and everyone attached to the effort that has the Tennessee native positioned to vie for his second IndyCar title.
“These guys are incredible. They really are,” he said. “Tim [Cindric] is the man. In my opinion, he’s one of the best, if not the best, strategists on pit lane; and we have the entire crew to support that, whether it’s the engineers that are pitching in and helping create those decisions or the team executing on pit lane — everything that we’re doing, we’re really in lockstep.”
Newgarden’s win Saturday night’s DXC 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was another strategy-fueled effort where the No. 2 Chevy employed an alternate approach to pit stop timing that allowed the 28-year-old to pounce late in the 248-lap event.
“Honestly, we game-out everything before the race, as much as we can,” he explained. “You have to adjust. There’s always changes. You can’t be locked into one thing or another. But we try and look at everything that could possibly happen, and then we have some scenarios put in place. The really cool thing is, when we have all our strategy meetings, for the most part, what we talk about generally comes to fruition. It’s crazy.
“I don’t know how this always happens, but we will talk through some different scenarios and most of the time one of the scenarios we talk about ends up happening. So we end up following the procedure that we laid out beforehand and it just ends up working out.
“The preparation is incredible and the guys executing and their ability to adjust on the fly when they need to and they see something happen such as a caution or whatever it is — they’re just so good at adjusting and making the right call. This year they’ve just nailed it.
“I hope that we don’t change,” Newgarden continued. “I hope they continue to have their mojo because they have been on it and I’ve just been trying to do my part as well to support that. So far it has been clicking fantastically this year.”
Creeping into the conversation after Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Scott Dixon led the majority of the Texas race, Newgarden takes much delight in playing the role of spoiler.
“Well, first off, what I love is, I think we continue to surprise people in races, which is great,” he admitted. “That actually puts a smile on my face because we go about our work very well, but we’re a little bit stealthy by doing it. I can tell you this, though: If you want to know how, it’s all out there in detail. If you go look at the analytics, it is there to be seen and you will understand easily why we were able to do what we did.
“It starts with having a fast car — you’ve got to be quick at the right points in that race. What we did strategy-wise, and where we positioned ourselves from a fuel standpoint on our second-to-last pit stop, enabled us to be in a position when everyone pitted to run quick laps; to have the best in-lap; to have the best pit stop; and then to leapfrog to the front and just capitalize on that attack mode.
“We were willing to attack when everyone was on defense, trying to make enough fuel.”
Once the No. 2 Chevy was out front, Newgarden wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to stay there. The misfortune of another contender and a lack of grip in the second lane would eventually tip the win in his favor.
“With [second-place Alexander] Rossi on the [final] restart, it really started with Scott Dixon,” he said. “And I was very nervous about that. Normally, when the weather cools off and the cars become draggier, that’s when it’s very difficult to hold people back — especially on a restart — and I was really nervous with both Dixon and Rossi, once we got going, if I was going to be able to hold them going into Turn 1. Fortunately, we held just enough to where it didn’t become a problem.
“But, Alex was so good that night and so was Dixon,” Newgarden reflected. “If Dixon hadn’t got caught up in the incident with Colton [Herta], then I think it would have been a battle with him. And Colton and Rossi — I mean, it just would have been hard to hold anybody off. But our car [being] out front was where it needed to be. In traffic, we suffered a little bit more than others, but out front, our car was very good. And as long as no one cleared me then I thought we were going to be just fine.”