MADISON, Ill. – Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has been the center of attention this week.
He threw out the first pitch in Thursday night’s Major League Baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies. It was a perfect strike.
He saved his best speed for Friday evening’s qualifying session for Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
The Team Penske driver who won this race in 2017 scored the eighth pole of his career Friday with a two-lap average of 186.508 mph in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet.
So far, it seems that Newgarden can do no wrong as he attempts to add to his 35-point lead over Alexander Rossi in the NTT IndyCar Series standings.
“Give it time,” Newgarden warned. “Just give it time. We all can mess up, as everyone has seen from me.
“So far, so good. It’s the same drill every weekend. Sometimes you start off hot and you stay hot, sometimes you start off hot and you get cold. We’re going to try and stay in the good side of the temperature for this weekend. But we’ll just see. I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know anything about the car in traffic. That’s the biggest unknown for me. I was good by myself. Are we going to be good in race conditions; that’s kind of the next thing on our list.”
For much of Friday evening’s qualification session, Sebastien Bourdais had the fastest speed with two laps at 185.927 mph. Newgarden, however, was the last driver to make an attempt and was the only driver to go faster than Bourdais.
“My teammate (Santino Ferrucci) jinxed it,” Bourdais said afterwards. “He just told me before the last one, ‘That pole will be yours,’ and I told him, ‘Man, you just jinxed it.’
“Massive commitment by the team. Obviously, we came, tested here last year and felt like we had a really good car. Unfortunately, we couldn’t put it to use at all because we got wiped out qualifying, and I didn’t make it past Turn 2 in the race, so that was a very short weekend for us, very disappointing.
“But we unloaded quick, as we were hoping, and yeah, really worked out very well for us in qualifying for both cars. Santino did a great job and gave me good feedback that we definitely were in the window as far as balance was concerned, and yeah, just kind of went for it, and really happy with the result.”
Team Penske driver Will Power, who won last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway after the race was called after 128 laps because of rain, qualified third at 185.896 mph. Another Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, was fourth at 185.143 mph, with Takuma Sato rounding out the top-five at 185.050 mph in a Honda. The top four drivers were in Chevrolet-powered cars.
Alexander Rossi, who sits second in the NTT IndyCar Series standings, qualified 11th after two laps at 184.070 mph in his Andretti Autosport Honda. Pagenaud is third, 40 points out and five-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is fourth, 52 points out.
Dixon will start eighth after qualifying with a two-lap average of 184.293 mph.
So far, Newgarden has played it cool despite being in the spotlight. He believes looks are deceiving.
“I’m just dying slowly,” Newgarden said. “Years are just coming off me. You can’t see that, but…
“I did actually feel a little bit better today because Sebastien knows this, when you roll off with a car that is just fast and it feels comfortable, you don’t have to do too much to make it more comfy, it gives you a lot of confidence. I can’t remember the last time — probably Iowa, we had a really good car like that, too. And you don’t know, because in ’17 we had a really good car here, ’18 we dropped off with the new aero kit; we just ran out of time and didn’t hit it right.
“And then we looked at everything, and we came with a completely different philosophy, and right off the truck it was just perfect. I mean, it was like right on. It’s hard to do that. It’s really, really hard to do that.
“You try every weekend to make that happen, and it’s like maybe once or twice out of the year you go, okay, we don’t have to do much there. The only problem is I don’t know how that’s going to translate to the race. By myself it was fine, qualifying was fine, but in traffic I kind of hope it’s the same thing.
“I think we’ve only gone through half the journey this weekend. We need to go through the race simulation and then see where we really end up. But I feel pretty confident that the PPG car is going to be strong, and Chevy has obviously done their homework and given us a great package.”