“Our car has been really, really great this weekend,” Newgarden said. “It was really good in Long Beach. Like I said, the key indicator to that is when you see your performance at the top every single session of practice. That’s when you can tell you have something working for you. If it’s one session where you’re quick, you’re slow some other sessions; it’s generally not a good sign.
“For us we’ve had consistent speed, which is critical. I think we’re getting closer, we really are. We’re working hard. I got new engineer this year. James Hinchcliffe stole mine from last year. I kind of want to shout out to that a little bit. I have a new engineer who was my assistant the first two years, Jeremy Milless. I got to tell you, the guy is just super talented.
“He’s actually never been a race engineer before. He’s been an assistant his whole career. He’s been around good teams. He’s incredibly brilliant. We mesh really well together. He understands what I want. I understand what he’s going to give me a lot of the time. When you have that good combo, it’s critical within a group that you’re working in a cohesive unit. I think we’re clicking well. He’s doing a great job. He’s making me look better so far this year.”
With this race being so close to Hendersonville, Tenn., there is a “Newgarden Caravan” of friends and family that follow the young driver to his race. But the driver tries to stay focused despite competing in a race so close to his home territory.
“It’s not that big,” he said. “When you get to this level, you want it to shrink. You have so much going on, you can’t have a bunch of people around. It’s almost easier when you’re in the junior category to have people come visit you. When you’re in IndyCar, if you have three people, it’s too many.
“It’s a tight-knit group. I have my mom, my dad, one of my sisters is going to be able to make it down. That’s it. There’s no one else that are going to be here. That is all I need. My parents are great to have around, but you don’t have time to have too many people around aside from the sponsors and all the commitments you’ve got going on.”
Newgarden could be a star of the future but Power is a star of today. After getting off to a fast start this season he will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.
“I was thinking it was going to be very tough to beat the Andretti boys, they’ve been so fast around here,” Power said. “But I was able to do one lap each time on my tires, so I had two shots at it. It was awfully close. Nothing between everyone, but very happy to be on pole. It was definitely the aim. Puts you in a much better position to keep out of trouble on the start. Try to get another win.
“I don’t even think about it (the points) anymore. I used to care so much about that. At some point you got to be looking at it, but right now just racing to win every time. That’s just what it’s got to be. Got to be an animal, man. No prisoners.”
And what kind of animal would Power be?
“I’d be one of those honey badgers, man,” he said. “Or kangaroo, you know.”
As for Newgarden, if things had worked out differently at Long Beach he may already be a Verizon IndyCar Series winner. So it was rather ironic that in the post-qualifying media conference he was seated next to Hunter-Reay, the man who took Newgarden out of the race with an uncharacteristic impatient move to trigger a multi-car crash that changed the nation of that race.
“I was just sad,” Newgarden admitted. “It was a sad event. I think it was sad for everyone.
I get it, though. It was just one of those deals. It happened. It’s a racing deal. I understand Ryan’s position. To me it looked more like a racing incident than anything that just shouldn’t have happened.
“It’s a tough day for everyone when that happens. There are a lot of dudes that got taken out. It was a tough day for Honda. We actually had to visit Honda the next day, which was entertaining in some respects. But it’s a tough situation. It’s going to happen.
“The one thing I thought about, though, is I’m not that worried about it. I’d rather be up there more often having a day like that than just having one shot to finish on the podium or challenge for a win.
“When I looked at it, it was a sad opportunity that that happened. Immediately I wanted to go to the next one, like I think any racer would. I want to be up front again. You don’t just want one opportunity to finish well in a race. Over a year you hope to have eight or 10 opportunities to capitalize on it.
“No big deal. It’s racing. It happens. We’re here now and it’s turning the page for everybody.”
And Newgarden is getting closer to turning the page and getting the first victory of his Verizon IndyCar Series career.