Josef Newgarden was left fuming after missing out on a chance to battle for pole in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix.
The two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion was already facing a six-place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change entering the weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which was compounded after he failed to make it out of Round 1 during qualifying on Friday.
A unique two-phase format saw a massive 28-car field split and battle between two groups in Round 1, with only the top six from each advancing to the Firestone Fast 12 battle for pole. Newgarden, who was part of the second group, was pushing on a set of alternate (red sidewall) tires in an attempt to break into a transfer spot when he came up on the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda of James Hinchcliffe. That blunted the flying lap of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet, leaving Newgarden seventh, 0.1113s behind sixth-placed Marcus Ericsson, and the first driver on the outside of the transfer spot.
“I’m just frustrated because I thought I had enough gap on Hinch,” said Newgarden, who won the fall race on the IMS road course last year. “He was just too slow. I caught him literally going into Turn 7. It’s probably all me. I probably should have gapped him a little bit more, but I had pressure from behind me going out and you’re just trying to work the gap. So, I lost probably three-four tenths just in the final sector of the track.
“Sucks, man. I don’t know what to say other than that. We’ve got a good car. Pretty pissed. I hate that we just caught him; he was just too slow. It’s on me. I’m just frustrated because we should have had a bigger gap on him so we didn’t catch him too quick. I can’t back off on my third lap, because I’m going into my third lap and the money lap is the second lap when you are trying to complete it, but I caught him too close.”
Newgarden took ownership of the outcome, and although he qualified 14th, the addition of the grid penalty means he will start tomorrow’s race from 20th.
“It’s not on him,” Newgarden said. “I can’t help that he’s not quick enough; that’s his problem. It’s not his fault. Like I said, you come out of the pits and you’re trying to gauge, I’m getting pressure from people behind me and everybody is jockeying for position. It’s just kind of a dance, and you either get that dance right or you don’t. I didn’t get it right today. It is what it is. I’m not going to go and get mad at him. It’s not his fault he was going slow.”